By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jun 03, 2022 at 10:21 AM

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Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. CEO Don Smiley will leave his post at the end of 2023, and will be replaced by Sarah Pancheri, who has been with Summerfest since 2015.

Pancheri, who has served as COO at the Big Gig since 2019, was named MWF president, effective today, according to a statement released Friday.

“Don will continue to provide overall leadership for Henry Maier Festival Park, Summerfest and Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. in fulfillment of our non-profit mission,” said Howard Sosoff, Chairman of MWF, in the statement.

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Don Smiley.
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“Don’s contribution to our organization, the Milwaukee community and the state of Wisconsin is remarkable given his vision and execution of rebuilding Henry Maier Festival Park, making it possible to invest more than $160 million, culminating with the redevelopment of the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. The organization will continue to benefit from his leadership.”

Pancheri was hired seven years ago as VP of Sales and Marketing.

“Sarah has been an integral part of the executive team of MWF since she rejoined the organization.  She has been involved in over $150 million in capital development on the grounds since 2015” said Sosoff.

“I am confident that Don, Sarah and our outstanding team are well-positioned for the future of MWF.  The promotion of Sarah is richly deserved.”

According to the statement, Pancheri will work closely with Smiley over the next year and a half managing Henry Maier Festival Park, Summerfest and other related concerts and events.

“Sarah is one of the most talented executives I have ever hired and promoted. She has played a crucial role in our success, building an all-star team that continues to create value for our sponsors, partners, and fans," said Smiley.

"She has forged relationships locally and nationally with a variety of stakeholders who recognize the value of Henry Maier Festival Park and associating with Summerfest presented by American Family Insurance, the World’s Largest Music Festival.”

Pancheri's career has also included positions at the United Performing Arts Fund, Marquette University and The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee.

“I have had the good fortune to grow with this organization and am excited to have an opportunity to further enhance our mission.” said Pancheri. 

“In partnership with Don, I look forward to continuing to deliver a diverse calendar of events which represents the world’s top talent as well as festivals which consistently engender significant civic pride.”                                                  

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.