Entrepreneurs take a bow at Chamber banquet
LYNDONVILLE – They’ve started and expanded businesses, tackled major renovation projects and compiled a record of service to Orleans County.
This year’s Chamber of Commerce award winners have all worked to better the county, often creating opportunities for other people, said Kathy Blackburn, the Chamber of Commerce executive director.
The organization held its 15th annual awards banquet Saturday at White Birch Golf Course in Lyndonville, an event attended by 100 people.
The following were recognized:
Business of the Year: Baxter International in Medina. The company in April 2012 became the owner of Sigma International, a company started by local resident Roger Hungerford. Baxter has added employees, with 490 full-timers and another 60 on contract.
The company is active in the Orleans County United Way with donations totaling $54,000 last year. It contributes to the Orleans County YMCA, and helps fund college education for its employees.
Nelson Patterson, company VP in Medina, acknowledged the community may have been anxious when Baxter took over the Sigma operation, which manufactures smart infusion pumps for the medical field. Previous large employers at the site in the Olde Pickle Factory – Heinz and Fisher-Price – left Medina.
But Patterson said Baxter, a company with a world-wide presence, has many sites in small-town America.
“As a company we are pleased to be a part of Medina and the Orleans County community,” Patterson said. “We are involved in small towns. That’s where our roots are.”
Patterson praised the work ethic of the Medina employees, who do precision labor, engineering, sales and technical work.
“We weren’t just buying a business or a product line,” Patterson said. “We were buying the assets, which included great people.”
New Business of the Year: Hojack’s Bar & Grille in Carlton. The restaurant opened last October by Dan and Brenda Conrad and their family, including son Tony who is the chef. The business has doubled its sales in the past six months and has 15 employees, and is looking to add more to the menu.
Phoenix Award: Roger Andrews, owner of Evan’s Ace Hardware in Medina. Andrews gutted and did major renovations to the former Medina Jubilee, a building that had been vacant for nearly seven years. The site was rundown, leaving a poor impression at a gateway to the community’s business district.
Andrews bought the former Hahn Hardware Store on Park Avenue in Medina in 2011. The former Jubilee allowed him to expand his product line, including a section devoted to lumber.
“The changes in that building are amazing,” said Cindy Robinson, the Chamber president. “He took what was becoming an eyesore and turned it into an asset.”
Andrews said he enjoys reclamation projects and hopes to tackle more in the future.
“We hope down the road we’ll have more projects in the community,” he told the crowd at the Chamber dinner.
Lifetime Achievement: Judy Christopher. When a local cardiac rehab shut down about 25 years ago, Judy Christopher opened a health club and rehab in Albion’s downtown. She owned Phoenix Fitness for more than two decades, and organized popular 5K and 8K races to promote wellness in the community.
Christopher also was co-owner of Four C’s Marina at Point Breeze, and helped the Albion Rotary Club plan annual fishing derbies. She served on the Albion Town Board, the Swan Library board of directors and was active in numerous other causes.
“Judy loved her community and the community loved her,” State Sen. George Maziarz said.
Christopher battled cancer, first at age 47. She beat it then, and fought it off over the next 23 years before dying from the disease on Aug. 3 at age 70. Her husband Gene and their son David accepted the award on behalf of Judy.
Lifetime Achievement: Jodi Gaines. She has built a company from one employee 11 years ago to 650 workers today. Claims Recovery Financial Services employs 570 people in Orleans County at sites in Albion and Medina.
Gaines is an active supporter of Orleans County United Way and serves on its board of directors.
She said Christopher was one of her mentors.
“I’m proud to share this award with Judy Christopher who was an amazing lady,” Gaines said.
Agricultural Business of the Year: Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension. The Extension has teams of specialists that work with local farmers, helping them to battle pests that threaten their crops. Cornell brings other resources, from business planning to technology training, which helps strengthen the local agriculture industry, which totals more than $100 million in sales of ag products annually.
The Knowlesville office has fruit and vegetable specialists, and other Cornell staff from other counties also are available to work with Orleans farmers.
Community Service: Pat Crowley. The director of Orleans United with GCASA has led the county’s efforts to battle teen-age drug and alcohol use. Crowley is a member of the Medina Village Board, the Medina Area Association of Churches, Presbyterian Church in Medina, and other community efforts.
“It’s not a job,” Crowley said about her work and volunteer roles. “It’s so much fun. I do it because I love Orleans County.”
Community Service: Jeff Winters. Three years ago Winters was 27 when he was hired as director of the Orleans County YMCA, an organization that was operating at an $80,000 deficit and faced much-needed capital upgrades at the historic Medina Armory.
Winters has doubled Y participants, expanded programs and the Y is now profitable. The organization has raised $275,000 towards a $400,000 capital campaign and many of the upgrades are in progress.
“We look forward to trying to impact as many people as possible in Orleans County, Winters said.
Entrepreneurial Excellence: Orleans Hub. The online new site, which debuted on April 2, was honored for using technology to quickly report news in the county.
Publisher Karen Sawicz said the site continues to grow an audience of about 2,500 unique visitors most weekdays and about 8,000 page views daily. The site recently added Mike Wertman, a long-time Journal-Register reporter, to cover local sports.
Honorary board award: Carol Culhane. The Gaines town supervisor is an accomplished artist. Her work has been featured to promote numerous veterans’ causes as well as other community projects, including the ongoing Palettes of Orleans.