It was a night of laughter, tears and sharing in the success of local businesses and individuals during the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce’s 86th annual dinner Thursday at Celebrations.
A record 344 people attended the event.
The chamber had a successful and busy year in 2016, and many events, activities and some changes are planned for this year, said chamber President Tricia Bechman.
She described the chamber as strong and active with growing membership.
“I’ve seen a number of chambers around the state close their doors in recent years,” she said. “The strength of this chamber can be credited to the board of directors, staff, the strong engagement of members and a great community.”
Bechman said many people don’t understand how chambers of commerce operate, assuming they are a part of local government. The Seymour chamber is a nonprofit organization, she said, but is its own tax designation and therefore is exempt from many grant opportunities.
“Chambers rely on membership investment and nondues revenue, such as events and programming,” she said. “In 2016, our chamber was strong in all of these areas.”
Membership grew last year by 24 new businesses, and retention was 93 percent, Bechman said.
Events, including the annual dinner, chamber picnics, the annual golf outing and One Chamber Christmas, were important in raising money and giving members an opportunity to network and potentially make a sale. They also helped bring the community together for a fun time, Bechman said.
“I only expect these to continue to grow in the future,” she said.
Upcoming chamber events this year include the annual Ag Breakfast on March 15, the Women’s Conference on April 26, the annual golf tournament on June 7 and Savor Jackson County on Aug. 26.
Board chairman Marvin Veatch talked about changes coming this year to membership benefits.
“After a lengthy process, this project is nearing its final stages,” Veatch said. “Like in any business, it’s always good to take a step back and reevaluate items on a periodic basis.”
It has been many years since the levels of membership have been evaluated, he said.
“It is the belief that the outcome of this process will ultimately add value to your chamber membership,” he said. “You will not see a decline in what is offered to you through your current membership.”
Memberships no longer will be based on the number of employees. By implementing a new tiered membership model, businesses will be able to customize their membership with sponsorship opportunities of their interest.
“This revised and streamlined structure will be unveiled later this year and will go into effect in 2018,” Veatch said.
Several awards were presented during Thursday’s dinner.
Outgoing board members honored for their service were Jackie Hill, Becky Schepman, Mark Wischmeier and past chairman Nate Tormoehlen.
The Rising Star Award went to Sara Bane for her volunteer work as chairwoman of the Seymour Area Farmers Market Committee. The market is overseen by the chamber.
Bane helped bring the first local food summit to Seymour and led changes to add structure to and improve the farmers market, including the addition of a paid market manager, the ability to accept SNAP (food stamps) and an increase in market vendors and customers.
“I’m not a farmer. I’m not a nutritionist. I’m not a local foods expert,” she said. “My passion for local foods honestly began as a selfish desire to have more healthy food options for my family.
“But when our committee visited markets in other towns, I was struck by the realization that a great farmers market isn’t just a place to buy produce,” she said. “A great farmers market is a community gathering place and has the power to bring positive change to the community.”
Klaes Chiropractic Clinic received the Small Business of the Year Award for serving the community for the past 60 years. Accepting the award were Dr. Chris Klaes and Dr. Levi Nehrt.
In recent years, the business has added physical therapy to better serve patient and community needs.
Nehrt said it always was his dream and intention to come back to Jackson County to live and work, and he was glad he was able to do just that at Klaes Chiropractic Clinic.
Klaes said his job brings him great satisfaction knowing that on a daily basis he is helping people.
“Chiropractic is not an alternative type of treatment. It is the best method of treatment for certain neuromuscular-skeletal conditions,” he said.
The Corporate Citizen of the Year Award went to Excel Manufacturing, which was founded in 1967 by Delbert Kilgas and Richard Elmore under the name Excel Tool.
In 1996, the business was split into two separate companies with Delbert and his son, Brent Kilgas, forming Excel Manufacturing. The company now has 90 employees and serves customers in and around Seymour.
Excel was chosen for the Corporate Citizen of the Year honor for giving back to the community through employee service on boards and committees, supporting Jackson County 4-H, Jackson County United Way and the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour and working with local high schools to mentor students with career interests in manufacturing.
Brent Kilgas accepted the award on his family’s behalf.
“Our long-term success would not have been possible without the support of our family, friends, employees, customers, suppliers and our community partners,” he said. “In addition to our business responsibilities, we realize that as individuals and as a company, it is important to give back to the community of our county.”
Deb Bedwell, executive director of Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Food Pantry, received the Citizenship Award. She has served in her position for the past 16 years and has been instrumental in expanding the shelter and pantry to serve more homeless families with children.
“I never dreamed that 23 years ago when I came to this community that I would be received with open arms, that I would be allowed to do the work that we do at Anchor House,” she said. “I couldn’t do this without the support from all of you. You are the ones I want to say thank you to.”
Bedwell said all of the work she has put in has not been to benefit herself.
“It’s about the people that can’t talk for themselves, that don’t have the podium to get to and a method and way to be able to reach out (for help),” she said.
Three Seymour Community School Corp. educators also were honored with the Teacher of the Year Award and were featured on Friday’s front page of The Tribune.
They were Kristi Burbrink, a second-grade teacher at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School; Ellen Mirer, music and band instructor at Seymour Middle School and the Sixth Grade Center; and Dave Boggs, physical education and health teacher and swimming coach at Seymour High School.