Andrew Keeler, Keynote
Andrew Keeler, The Kat With The Hat, grew up in San Diego with the sound of the mah jongg tiles but did not take up the game until many years later. After running a cookie shop in Amsterdam, teaching English in Istanbul and a few other adventures he returned to California and raised a family. The artistic sets, challenging rules, and social aspects brought him back to the game. After learning from his wife, he took to the game and began teaching groups, hosting events, and collecting sets.
A graphic designer based in San Francisco, Andrew has been traveling the country meeting the wonderful mahj community and playing tournaments and scouring vintage shops for rare sets. In addition to the mahj addiction, he is an avid tennis player, lawn bowler, and recovering hot sauce collector.
Barney Gallassio, Emcee
Barney is a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and currently residing in Bergen County, New Jersey right outside of New York City. Barney is an avid mah jongg player, instructor, and collector! He also runs 80-person tournaments in Manhattan. With his energy and passion for the game, anyone in the audience is in for a treat!
You can connect with Barney on Facebook
Dara Mosher Collins
Dara grew up in New York and fondly remembers the sound of the mahjong tiles during her Mom’s weekly games. Despite learning to play while sitting on her Mom’s lap, Dara never took it up as a hobby. Fast forward several years, she started playing in a weekly game in South Florida and enjoys camaraderie and friendship.
When Dara’s friend Donna purchased a vintage set for herself after Donna’s mother passed away, it contained a somber-sounding dice coffin. Dara searched for a gift of upbeat mahjong dice with a Joker for Donna. When they couldn’t be found, Dara and Donna designed their first pair of custom Mahjong Dice™. They started selling Mahjong Dice™ which complements the beauty of both vintage and modern tiles on their website, Modern Mahjong. Soon, they created other mahjong gifts and accessories including dog and cat toys, a versatile gaiter mask/headband, East Wind Indicators, tile set indicators, a Replica Enrobed Mahjong set, and their exclusive game called Mahjinoes™.
Keeping players connected has been incredibly rewarding. Dara and Donna enjoy building an online Mahjong Community on Facebook, sharing rule and strategy posts, hosting virtual Tournaments, donating to charities, and connecting with players during Modern Mahjong Zoom Talks and Events.
Daron Barness is a Mah Jongg instructor from Scottsdale, Arizona. She earned a master’s in education from UCLA and taught for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Daron has played Mah Jongg for over 20 years. Her deep passion for teaching naturally evolved into becoming an instructor of the game she loves. She has been teaching over 15 years with much of her career teaching American Mah Jongg as a volunteer facilitator to players of all levels. Daron has taught Beginner’s for the local chapter affiliated with Brandeis University, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced Mah Jongg classes for the City of Scottsdale, and numerous classes held at golf communities in the Phoenix and Flagstaff areas.
Using creative teaching methods and unique approaches toward strategy, Daron helps to build and strengthen players’ game skills. In 2019, she developed her website www.majbydaron.com where she enjoys writing about Mah Jongg. She also developed a Mah Jongg game accessory called the Mah Jongg Charleston Assist (MJCA), designed to help players step through the Charleston of the game, a phase often difficult for the beginner player.
Daron is proud to be an American Mah Jongg Instructor Association (AMJIA) certified teacher.
Debbie Barnett, Co-Host
Debbie has been playing Mah Jongg for over 45 years. Her love for the game began as a young woman in her twenties and she has been an avid player ever since. Debbie began her teaching career in 2006 so she could share her passion for the game with others. She now travels the country doing speaking engagements and events. She is a community leader and holds mah jongg tournaments throughout the year. She also operates her online, interactive mah jongg school, the first of its kind in the world. The School of American Mah Jongg opened in January 2020.
Donna Miller Kassman
Donna was born and raised in Miami Beach. She did not grow up playing mahjong but rather played a lot of other games like Rummikub, cards, and backgammon. Donna had to quit practicing law to take care of her parents and children but was lucky enough to find time to learn how to play mahjong. 12 years ago, Donna joined her friends and neighbors who were learning to play mahjong at the temple and her passion for mahjong was ignited.
Donna purchased her first vintage mahjong set shortly after her mother passed away. The vintage mahjong set had very small dice contained in what is known as a dice coffin. This term was very upsetting to Donna since she has just lost her mother. Her friend, Dara Collins, looked to buy some pretty dice for Donna but could not find anything. She & Dara decided to design and make a few pairs of Mahjong Dice™ and their business, Modern Mahjong, was born.
Donna is an avid collector of vintage mahjong sets and loves the history and artistry of mahjong and mahjong tiles. She lives in Hollywood, FL with her husband and 2 sons.
Fern Bernstein, Correspondent
Fern Bernstein was lured to the tiles eight years ago on a hot summer day sitting pool side. She saw some ladies sitting at a nearby table playing mah jongg. She noticed them laughing, smiling and having fun. She turned to her friends and asked, “Hey, do you want to learn how to play mah jongg?” As they say…the rest is history. Fern was hooked and became part of the mah jongg craze sweeping Long Island in New York state. Mah jongg is so much more than just a game. It affected Fern in such a meaningful way she wrote Mah Jongg Mondays, a memoir about friendship, faith and love. Fern’s love extended beyond the written word as she launched her podcast Mah Jongg Mondays in March of 2020, spreading her love of all things mah jongg related to eager listeners across the country and in twenty countries worldwide. Fern lives in Long Island with her husband and three sons.
You can connect with Fern through her website, https://www.fernbernstein.com
Michele Frizzell, Co-Host
Michele has been an avid mah jongg player since 1973. After years of playing with family, she decided to share the joys of the game by running meetups and giving lessons. In 2017, she launched a YouTube channel dedicated to several versions of the game including Wright-Patterson, American Mah Jongg, Hong Kong Mahjong, Riichi (Japanese mahjong), Taiwanese, and Mahjong Competition Rules (Chinese Official). The wonderful thing about knowing how to play these versions is that Michele has been able to adapt strategies and share them with her students to elevate their game.
Stacy Budkofsky has been playing Mah Jongg since 2004. From the moment she learned to play she absolutely loved the game and found a way to spread that love by teaching it to others. Stacy is an AMJIA certified teacher that has been teaching students of all ages, from 2nd graders to senior citizens, for many years at community centers, libraries, recreation centers, assisted living facilities, schools, and camps. Her patience and love for the game shine through in her careful explanations of the rules and strategies when she teaches.
Theresa is a native Floridian, who currently resides on the Treasure Coast. Theresa has been playing Mah Jongg for over 15 years. She has a passion for teaching all levels of play; beginner, advanced and tournament. Theresa also runs an annual charity tournament to benefit The Junior League. Besides teaching and running a tournament, Theresa collects and restores vintage Mah Jongg sets. Her love of the game covers the many aspects of Mah Jongg.
Social Media: Facebook
Zach is a Texas transplant originally from a small town in Indiana and currently living in DFW Metroplex. Although Zach has only been playing various forms of Mah Jongg for three years, you’d never know it. His tremendous love for the game is apparent whenever he takes a seat at a table to play. When Zach is not playing mah jongg he pursues video gameplay and crocheting. He’s been happily married to his husband Nick since 2019 and has 3 fur baby cats.
Social Media: Facebook