Business leaders receive honors at annual gala

The Chamber’s Polly VonEschen hugs members of the late Pete Kruer’s family and business family. They were recognized at the Chamber’s annual dinner with a presentation in Pete’s honor.


Chamber of Commerce hosts dinner, awards


Milestones of success, business innovation and philanthropic efforts were recognized Friday, January 20 at the Rockford Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards ceremony and dinner. The event was held at the dining hall of the Rockford American Legion Hall with sixteen tables of eight sold out to community, civic and businesspeople in attendance.

The evening featured a relatively warm temperature for the first time in the event’s history. On all previous occassions the weather for the mid January evening meeting has included winter storm conditions and extremely low temperatures.

The social hour began with hors d’oeuvres from local restaurants, before guests sat down to a Taste of Rockford including Grist Mill chicken, winter roast vegetables and Kilkenny cabbage salad, Ramona’s Table wild mixed greens strawberry salad, The SCORE tenderloin with sauce and rosemary roasted potatoes, The Grilling Company beef brisket and quinoa salad, Uccello’s vegetarian lasagna, Flo’s asiago garlic mashed potatoes and the Cedar Spring Grilling Company spatzel mac. Live music was performed by a father and sons musical team.

Dr. Michael Shibler of Rockford Public Schools and member of the Chamber Board of Directors introduced the evening’s speaker, State Representative Rob VanHuelen. He noted VerHuelen’s resume included time on the board of General Council for Meijer, membership on the West Michigan Sports Commission, board member for Mel Trotter Ministries and other philanthropic board memberships. VerHuelen is also a past major for the City of Walker.

The business portion of the meeting for the Chamber included voting on a new board members, Tom Rich, with one member voting against him, spouse Tracie Rich. The meeting adjourned at 8:14 p.m. to be followed by the Year in Review and awards ceremonies. Jeff Lewis (my middle name is audio visual), introduced the annual wrap up of events in Rockford.

“I had the chance today to listen to the inauguration and Trump’s presidency starting today,” Lewis said. “Starting today America is first, but the first day is Monday, so we have a little time. Tonight Rockford is first.”

He noted the caliber of people in attendance and among the Rockford community. He said the people here represent businesses valued in the billions, and in attendance was the full city council. “These are people you are proud to rub shoulders with. I’m proud to be a member of the Rockford community.”

Chamber Executive Director Linda Southwick followed, noting the Chamber membership outgrew its 2016 goal of having 300 members and currently sits at 313, representing 44 new members in the past year.

“For the third year in a row we had sunshine for every chamber event, except the golf outing,” she noted. Last year there were so many ribbon cuttings for new businesses it was hard to keep track.

Attendees played a game called Rockford by the Numbers using headlines from the Squire issues of 2016. The room was split into two sides and played against each other with the goal of matching an issue of the past year to the listed dollar amount. Topping the list was $7.5 million dollars (the cost of the Tamarack Run Condominium project). $4.5 million dollars was how much Relay for Life raised in the 2016 Rockford event. Nine hundred is the weight of the bull elk shot by Carl Stites and onehundred forty one was the number of gallons of paint it took to paint the town of Cannonsburg. Forty was the number of years the Rockford Historical Society has been in existence (since 1976 when the museum opened). Five K was the distance of the Color Run (colorful and a bit runny). Four, one, twopeat were state championships for Rockford sports and world championsips for Rockford Odyssey of the Mind teams last year.

Lewis noted that August is often a month with fewer than normal activities in a community, but here in Rockford the following events took place in Rockford in 2016. National Nite Out was August 2, BridgeWay Church Rockford Ninja Warrier took first in August, with the largest challenge in the United States, August 19 a ceremony recognizing the late John Sjogren took place, Mitchell’s Run Thru Rockford was in August, raising $75,000 and included 1,200 runners. The Kelly Miller Circus took place in Rockford on August 23 and will be returning in 2017, and Paul McCarthy visited Rockford in August, stopping into Kayla Rae Cellars for a bottle of wine.

Lewis noted the Squire article about McCartney’s visit ended in a string of puns of Beatle’s songs. “I thought I could do that too, but then I decided to just Let it Be.”

Finally, Melissa Young, Cheryl Scales and Terry Konkle joined Jerry Coon and Mayor Steve Jazwiec on Rockford’s City Council. He pointed out the value of having a Rockford Forward Political Action Committee, and finally recognized the sad loss of one of our community’s most dedicated and beloved members, Pete Kruer of Rockford Ace Hardware, who died in 2016.

Recognitions included Lewis for his efforts in leading the Rockford Chamber of Commerce. He was given the annual Leadership Award for his many years of impressive talent and energy. Volunteer of the Year went to National Print Company’s David Lang. The award is for someone who sees a need and lends a hand. “The chanber could neither succeed nor strive without volunteers,” said Chamber Board Member Blaine Kellermeijer.

The Chamber’s Rosemary Jeruzal spoke of two women who earned the Chamber Networker of the Year, North Kent Community Service’s Claire Gusfriedi and Signs with Design Alexis Aider.

New Business of the Year was a crowded field of qualified candidates, Ramona’s Table, Rockford Family Eyecare, Bailey and James and Business Coach Kevin May. The Chamber said two eye doctors named Sees won the field and Rockford Family Eyecare’s doctors Theodore and Carrie Sees accepted their award.

For Business of the Year, Loren Brown said he kept this year’s winner a secret even from himself. The final award of distinction “Best Exemplifies the Rockford Way,” he noted. The winner is a business which creates jobs, supports the Chamber, offers talent and time and collaborates to give back to the community.

Candidates included Antor Travel, Byrne Electrical Specialists, Gild the Lilly, H & S Companies, Macatawa Bank and Story Pointe Independent Living.

“This company could have won any award,” said Brown. “They contributed financially to Harvest Festival, the Golf Outing. It’s hard to remember an event they didn’t lend a hand. I’m proud to award the Rockford Business of the Year Award to Macatawa Bank.”

Kim Neveau accepted the award. “I live a dream, I really do. I live in this community, my family goes to school here, I work for this fantastic bank. Anytime I need anything, they say, ‘What do you need’ I volunteer here and have a lot of fun. Come volunteer with me.”

Chamber President Mike McGovern ended the evening’s events, “There is something about this community. We know what it is, even if we can’t explain it.”

Chamber President Mike McGovern talks about the Rockford community during the Chamber’s annual meeting last January.
Terry Konkle accepts the award for the Rockford Area Historical Society on its 40 years in business. The society was founded in 1976.
David Lang of National Print Company is recognized as Volunteer of the Year. Blaine Kellermeijer presents his award.
Kim Neveau presents the New Business of the Year Award to Rockford Family Eyecare, represented by husband and wife optometry team Ted and Carrie Sees.
Rosemary Jeruzal presents Claire Gusfriedi, Director of North Kent Community Services, with the Networker of the Year Award.