Chamber dinner focuses on change, remembrance

Chamber dinner focuses on change, remembrance

ELLSWORTH — Hundreds of people gathered on the night of May 18 to help the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce celebrate individuals and institutions that have made an impact both in business and in the community at large.

The theme of the evening was Change, as Board Chairman Tom Wheeler and Chief Executive Gretchen Wilson addressed the crowd on the subject. Wheeler discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and the Chamber’s role in helping businesses adapt over the past three years. Wilson discussed new opportunities presented not only by COVID-induced changes to the business landscape, but also by a generational shift in the needs of the Ellsworth community.

The companies that were nominated for the various awards of the evening were a great reflection of the opening remarks. There were brand new businesses that are the product of the new era that we live in. But there were also examples of loyal businesses that had been members of the community for some time and survived the pandemic by reinventing the way they do business or doubling down on business fundamentals as great customer service.

The first prize awarded was that of the new company of the year. Cute TuTu Dance Studioowned by Rachel Libitzki, received this honor over other nominees Precipice Coffee and something to stir.

In the revitalization category, the Clark family was honored for the work they have done to reinvigorate Mike’s Country Store. Other nominees were The Jackson Lab and First National Bank.

And in the customer service category, Helen’s restaurant took away the plate while Cock Brother and Saunders Automotive received honorable mentions. Melanie Fox, owner of Helen’s, was extremely proud to receive the award.

“This award means so much,” Fox said. “Customer service is our number one priority and to be recognized for it is just an amazing feeling.” Fox also praised the other two companies in its category which it says also provide excellent customer service.

“Saunders Automotive is my mechanic as well, so I know firsthand you’re doing a great job,” Fox said.

Pat’s Pizza received the director’s award for its long history of positive contributions to the community.

“We were an overnight success…after the first 10 years,” owner Gerry Nasberg joked in one of the videos announcing each award. Pat’s team members thanked the community for giving back to the restaurant much, if not more, of what it gave.

The emotional highlight of the evening came with the presentation of the final two awards. Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Gross, who was hit and killed by a vehicle while on duty last year, was posthumously honored as Citizen of the Year. Deputy Gross is remembered for his good-natured attitude and tireless work educating local children as a DARE officer and chairman of the Hancock School Board.

Natalie Knox and Mark Osborne, owners of a family of local radio stations including Star 97.7 and founders of Knox and Osborne Advertising, were honored for decades of service not only to the town of Ellsworth, but also to the county and to the state. The duo received this year’s Top Drawer award, an award traditionally crafted by a local artisan. This year, Larry Tinker of Hinckley Yachts made a wooden reproduction of a tabletop radio, with all stations owned by Knox and Osborne.

Journalist Zach Lanning covers news and features in the Ellsworth area. He’s coming to Ellsworth from New Jersey, which he hopes you don’t mind. Email him at [email protected].

Zachary Lanning