Return of the Wadena Chamber’s Community Appreciation Banquet a hit
Ninety people turned out to see business owners and nonprofit professionals honored.
WADENA — Community pride overflowed at the VFW banquet hall Monday night as more than 90 people turned out to celebrate the triumphant return of the Wadena Chamber of Commerce’s Community Appreciation Banquet, which hasn’t been held in more than four years.
The excitement in the air was palpable, as business owners, nonprofit professionals, educators, local elected officials and others all came together to celebrate the eight businesses and individuals who were honored for their outstanding work in the Wadena business community and to serve the residents of the area.
Chamber Director Dana Cantleberry beamed as she welcomed the crowd during her opening remarks, adding that the chamber’s work to revitalize the business community was only getting started with the return of the banquet after a several-year hiatus.
Cantleberry thanked the audience for turning out in big numbers and added: “You are the reason we are building our community. We’re building a positive community atmosphere.”
The director, who only assumed her position in early December after the chamber went without a director for a long period, said the agency’s mission was to continue to support the growth of the local business community and to change the perception “that there’s nothing to do in Wadena.”
“We’re going to prove everybody wrong,” she said. “We do have a lot of good things happening here.”
Wadena Mayor George Deiss, who led the audience both in the pledge of allegiance and in an opening prayer, ramped up the celebratory atmosphere by lauding Cantleberry and the chamber for their hard work and thanking all of the attendees for their contributions to the community.
“This is our town. This is Wadena,” the mayor said. “And there’s something going on here!”
Early in her remarks, Cantleberry celebrated the chamber’s “working board” members including President Renee Frethem, Vice President Joe Randall, Treasurer Katie Condon, Secretary Glenn Whiteford, Director Kent Schmidt, Director Jeremy Sanders, Director Krista O’Dell and Director Jessie Gibbs. And “working” was an appropriate adjective to describe them, as members of the board throughout the night did all of the organizing, cooking, serving and even the bussing of tables.
Various members throughout the evening could be seen filling water and coffee pitchers, donning plastic gloves to serve in the food line, and even clearing the tables of dirty dishes. It was a heroic effort to manage while keeping the program flowing as well, but the chamber staff and directors pulled it all together with aplomb.
Brad Williams of Becker Transport and Aggregate, who joked that he was “on loan” for the evening, emceed the awards portion of the event and kept the program moving with finesse, as one after another award recipient was called up, photos were taken and then the recipients were given a chance to speak.
The awards given were:
- Outstanding Small Business: Oma’s Restaurant & Bakery
- Outstanding Large Business: Kern Laser Systems
- Outstanding Nonprofit: Wadena Food Shelf (Mary Ann Hagen)
- Entrepreneurial Spirit Award: Kyle Davis
- Outstanding Educator: Lori Grendahl
- Community Volunteer: Diane Peters
- Community Service: Ron Greiman, Luther Nervig, and Dan Sartell
- Cornerstone Award: Brink’s Jewelry (Gayle Tabery)
- Bob Zosel Award: Kelly Wong
The acceptance speeches roamed from the very brief, with some just offering a sincere thank you, to the heartfelt — in Diane Peters’ touching reminiscing of how she came to live in Wadena some 45 years ago — to the humorous, when Ron Greiman unrolled a life-sized photo stand-in of Luther Nervig who was unable to attend the ceremony because he was out of town.
When Greiman stepped to the front to receive his award for community service, Nervig and Sartell weren’t present at the banquet to join him. So in his thank you speech, he and Williams, the emcee, unrolled about a three-foot tall photo of Nervig to serve as a stand-in for the night. However, Greiman was unaware that Sartell, who was reportedly missing because of a Lions Club function, wasn’t going to be there.
“Dan is on his own,” Greiman quipped about not having a photo stand-in of him made. “I didn’t know he wasn’t going to be here!”
Teacher Lori Grendahl teared up when she thanked the audience, and said that she loves getting to teach middle school students in the community. “I have the best job in the world, with the best people,” she said.
Gayle Tabery, the recipient of the Cornerstone Award, and the former longtime owner of Brink’s Jewelry, said in her thank you remarks that she is impressed with the new young crop of business owners popping up in town and taking over the torch from the previous generation.
The final award of the evening – the Bob Zosel Award – was presented to Kelly Wong for her countless hours dedicated to the Wadena Empty Stocking Fund.
Wong, overcome by emotion, was brought to tears by the recognition.
“I am so touched to receive this award because there are so many deserving volunteers,” she said. And while she never personally knew Zosel, Wong said she did her research about him. “He loved Wadena; he loved the community; he loved the people. He left a legacy.”
Frethem, the chamber president, closed the ceremony by echoing the comments mentioned throughout the night. She said she was proud of all that the chamber has accomplished in the short three months since Cantleberry was appointed director. And she said there’s more excitement to come.
“We’re headed in the right direction. I’m proud of the chamber,” she said. “We’re continuing to work hard toward more growth.”