Editorial leadership transition underway at BankBeat

Mara Gawarecki

Mara Gawarecki has been named Editor-in-Chief of BankBeat and BankNews magazines and BankBeat.biz, effective Sept. 1. Gawarecki has been managing editor-digital for BankBeat.biz since the community banking-focused news site launched in early 2018.

The 31-year-old Gawarecki has been with NFR Communications, the company that publishes BankBeat, for nine years. As head of digital products, she oversaw content development for BankBeat.biz, delivering news and insights to community bankers throughout the central United States. The Twin Cities native also managed sponsored webinars and published the company’s owned and contracted electronic newsletters. She has contributed editorially to BankBeat and BankNews magazines for several years.

“Mara has the experience, industry knowledge, and love for language that positions her to succeed as editor-in-chief,” said Tom Bengtson, publisher. “Mara knows our readers and will go the extra mile to give them articles and essays that are timely, relevant and thought-provoking.”

Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes, associate editor, will replace Gawarecki in the role of managing editor-digital. The 31-year-old Wilmes joined NFR Communications in mid-2021 to write for its print and digital platforms. Wilmes previously was a news reporter for the Northfield News and the Albert Lea Tribune, both in Minnesota. He started his career in South Dakota with the Watertown Public Opinion. He brings extensive journalism savvy to his expanded role. Wilmes, a native of West Concord, Minn., will be responsible for news delivery through BankBeat.biz and BankNews.com, which will relaunch in the fourth quarter.

“Sam has the reporting skills to serve our digital audiences well,” Bengtson said. “He is willing to pick up the phone, ask the right questions or find appropriate sources for a wide variety of stories he deals with every day. His solid reporting background brings tremendous credibility to our digital efforts.”

Gawarecki has a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts from Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., and a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn. She was named a 2022 “25 Under 35” honoree by Editor & Publisher magazine.

Wilmes has a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass media from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“Mara and Sam are well-prepared to take on their respective new challenges,” said Jacqueline Nasseff Hilgert, current Editor-in-Chief, who will be transitioning to retirement beginning in September. “I know Mara is the right choice to carry forward our imperative to deliver quality editorial content to the faithful readers of our print magazines. She understands the power of narrative and has shown herself to be adept as an editor. 

“Sam will likewise flourish as managing editor-digital; his newspaper background has instilled in him the instinct to deliver stories with accuracy and timeliness,” Nasseff Hilgert continued. “I trust that both Mara and Sam will make a significant impact on these products, and as next-generation leaders for the broader company.”

Nasseff Hilgert joined NFR Communications in 1996 and has served in numerous roles. She’s been Editor-in-Chief and Chief Operating Officer since January 2018. She oversaw the name change for the century-old NorthWestern Financial Review, and updated BankBeat’s editorial focus to center on the people and issues affecting community banking. She also was instrumental in integrating the 2019 acquisition of Bank News Media into NFR.

“I’ve worked hard to tell the multi-faceted story of a quickly-evolving industry,” Nasseff Hilgert said. “My legacy can be seen in having built a structure within NFR to support its growth, in successfully mentoring our next-gen leaders, including Mara, Sam and Taylor Cabine, who will be taking on some of my COO duties, and elevating the profile of the talented women who are banking industry leaders in their own right.”

Nasseff Hilgert expects to remain a contributor to BankBeat in the early stages of her retirement. 

NFR Communications is a publishing, strategic communications and marketing firm focused on serving community banks and the firms that support them. It is the publisher of BankBeat.Biz, and BankBeat and BankNews magazines, the CFPBJournal.com, and many other publications. It also publishes banking data for nearly half the United States. The combined readership of BankBeat and BankNews magazines encompasses the entire central United States, where most of the nation’s community banks operate. The quality of the reporting delivered by the print and digital products under the BankBeat/BankNews brands is unequaled.