Chamber celebrates business successes, residents who give back to Orleans
GAINES – Some of Orleans County leading businesses and citizens were recognized during an awards dinner on Saturday, and several testified that they have overcome challenges to contribute to the local community.
Brunner International five years ago put on an addition only to have the economy be gripped in a recession. Brunner had to scale back from five days of three shifts a week to only one shift for three days a week.
Brunner weathered the recession, and is expanding again, with a new addition currently under construction. The company expects to grow from 390 employees to 450 that make axle shafts and brakes for the trucking industry. Brunner was named “Business of the Year” by the Orleans County Chamber of Commerce.
Brad MacDonald, the company vice president, said the award and expansion wouldn’t be possible without dedicated and skilled employees. Brunner faces competition in its industry from China and other countries with lower costs of doing business.
“There aren’t too many heavy manufacturers left in the United States,” MacDonald said. “We’re very proud to say we make a product that is American made.”
The Chamber recognized two residents with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Marcia Tuohey was a successful entrepreneur before she entered local politics and was the first woman elected to serve as Medina mayor and then the first woman elected to the Orleans County Legislature. She served 10 years as Legislature chairwoman.
“She was a woman who never accepted that glass ceilings existed in the business or the political arena,” said her friend Gabrielle Barone, vice president of business development for the Orleans Economic Development Agency. “If she thought it existed she took a sledgehammer to it.”
Tuohey was 84 when she died at home on Aug. 7. She set a high standard in local government and in her businesses, Barone said, which included a construction company, rehabbing houses, a manufactured housing park and a restaurant.
“She was full of drive, dedication and determination,” Tuohey’s son Craig said Saturday during the awards dinner at Tillman’s Village Inn. “She loved this county.”
Bruce Krenning started a farming career after graduating from Cornell University. He was an orchard manager for George Lamont before Krenning started his own farm. Krenning Orchards was decimated by a hail storm on Labor Day in 1998. Krenning was forced to go out of business.
He had already served on the boards of education for Lyndonville and Albion. But after the storm and the loss of his business, Krenning said he wrestled with self worth.
“I thought after the hail storm that life was over and nobody would want me,” Krenning said. “But that’s not true. I’ve had opportunities with great boards.”
Krenning didn’t stay down long after the storm. He was elected vice president of the New York Farm Bureau, a state-wide organization with 30,000 members, and helped get crop insurance approved at the federal level for fruit and vegetable farms.
He is currently chairman of the board for Orleans Community Health/Medina Memorial Hospital. He will retire in a few months as an insurance agent with the Southcott Agency. He is active with the Orleans Renaissance Group and wants to help with the restoration of the Bent’s Opera House in Medina.
The Chamber also recognized J.J. Heideman as “New Business of the Year” for BAD-AsH-BBQ. Heideman has brought an innovative style to the food business, taking his food business on location. He has an “unstoppable work ethic,” the Chamber said.
Heideman thanked the community for its support. He dedicated the award to his mother.
“This is awesome,” he said. “I never dreamed it would come to this.”
A building that had been vacant for nearly a decade found new life the past year as Fairhaven Treasures. Ray and Linda Burke, owners of the building at the corner of routes 98 and 104, upgraded the house from 1834 with help from many volunteers. The Burkes were recognized with the “Phoenix Award.”
The site sells high-end crafts and art, and is available for concerts and other events.
The Chamber honored Precision Packaging Products in Holley for “Entrepreneurial Excellence.” The company has grown from 30 to 35 employees when it moved to Holley in 2003 to the current workforce of 115. It also has made many innovations in the plastic packaging market for food companies.
Lake Ontario Fruit, a packing and storing facility on Ridge Road in Gaines, was recognized as “Agricultural Business of the Year.” The company has invested $7 million since 2008 in additions for storage and a new high-tech packing line. Lake Ontario Fruit packs 1.1 million bushels of fresh apples each year.
“We’re a vessel for the growers in Orleans County,” said John Russell, managing partner for the business. “This is one of the best apple-growing regions in the world. We’ll continue to invest in the county. We’ll continue to invest in our facility and we’ll continue to invest in the future of Orleans County agriculture.”
The Chamber also recognized two residents with community service awards. Anni Skowneski works as case manager for Community of Orleans & Genesee, assisting many families in crisis. She praised the Community Action team, including her boss Annette Finch and her predecessor Joni Dix for being great role models.
Ken DeRoller of Kendall was recognized for his years of service to the Kendall Lions Club, and his service on local Planning Boards, the Orleans Economic Development Agency and now as county legislator.
DeRoller said he always wanted to give back to the community, and he first did so as a volunteer firefighter. When that role became too physically taxing, he switched to service on the boards and through connecting with residents and other local officials.
“Orleans County is a great place to live,” he said. “I enjoy being here.”
The Chamber also issued a surprise special recognition award to Lisa Ireland, the outgoing director of the United Way of Orleans County. She was the first director of the United Way when the eastern and western Orleans chapters merged about three years ago.
She also worked as executive director for the Genesee-Orleans Ministry of Concern and community relations director for Hospice of Orleans. She is leaving the United Way to work as director of donor relations and scholarships for the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“We consider ourselves lucky to work with such a powerful voice for our community,” said Kathy Blackburn, Chamber executive director.
Ireland said she agonized about taking the RIT job because she wants to stay invested in her home county. In her new role she wants to help more Orleans County residents have a shot at attending a prestigious college like RIT.
She thanked the business community for supporting the United Way, which directs money to 20 local agencies.
“We’re not a huge county, but we have huge hearts,” she said.