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GTK, St. Croix Industries and Westfields earn top business awards Wednesday evening

New Chamber Executive Director Lisa Woletz honors GTK Services owners Ken and Lisa Bessac for their achievements since opening six years ago. Steve Dzubay photo.

New Richmond Chamber members celebrated a year's successes and outlined plans for a new season of commerce and community-gathering at Wednesday evening's annual banquet.

Outgoing board president Angela Olson of Eckberg Lammers law firm welcomed new president Scot Destasio, manager at Family Fresh. Among highlights Olson recounted was New Richmond's role in the successful advancement of new St. Croix River crossing, south of Stillwater, Minn.

"John (Soderberg), do you agree?" Olson quipped, referring to the First National Community Bank chairman's leadership role in the project's approval. "Obviously, it's really going to benefit New Richmond and we're all very excited about it."

Olson also acknowledged the work of former executive director Russ Korpela and Paul Mayer, who served as interim leader before the board hired Lisa Woletz.

"It took the village and the time, patience and generosity of Paul Mayer. We thank Paul for taking the reigns and bridging the gap."

Olson welcomed new Chamber executive director Lisa Woletz -- five days into the new job --who said she was "genuinely honored" to have been chosen as the new leader. Woletz said she sees her job as "to help your business grow" and promised to improve communications, develop new committees to foster more member involvement and to grow membership by 25 percent.

Incoming board president Scott Destasio took the podium to recognize Olson's year of service and honor member Jonathan Timm as "Ambassador of the Year". He also presented a crystal plaque to Mike Schultz -- recognizing both Schultz and wife Kris -- with the distinction as Chamber Member of the Year.

Ken and Lisa Bessac, owners of GTK Services LLC, were named "Mom & Pop Business of the Year". GTK, which provides "neighborhood towing and locksmith services", among others, was established six years ago, Ken told the some 250 people gathered at R & D's Catering. "It takes all the businesses for us to be successful. Our success is from you guys!"

The award for "Small Business of the Year" was presented to St. Croix Industries, a 39-year-old organization that provides work opportunities to individuals with developmental, physical and mental disabilities.

Clarke Schroeder, executive director, offered his thanks to all the organization's clients and their parents for trusting St. Croix Industries "to provide services to their children and trusting that we can give them what they need."

Westfields Hospital earned the Chamber's "Large Business of the Year" honor. President Steven Massey accepted the plaque on behalf of more than a dozen employees and board members present.

Destasio also called attention to Citizen of the Year, Vernon Conrad, whose honor was announced shortly after Christmas. Conrad came forward and took the microphone to thank the community for the distinction. Conrad seemed excited to learn he'll also serve as grand marshall for the 2013 Fun Fest parade in mid-July.

Businesses represented by some of the attendees spent more than $14,000, bidding on a mouth-watering selection of gourmet desserts ranging from cheesecakes to a 30-inch tall chocolate-caramel creation that sold for $3,000. All proceeds from the donated desserts go to help pay for Chamber operations for the year ahead.

Mike Montello, a former Chamber president and employee with Bernard's Northtown, served as auctioneer, teasing and challenging various firms to rival competitors by paying a premium for the desserts.

A large chocolate cake with hazelnut filling, smothered in caramel frosting and large shavings of chocolate, was sold for $3,000 to Bosch Packaging, Inc. The cake was made and donated by Family Fresh.

Another group -- J.A. Counter, First National Community Bank and Bakke Norman law office -- also paid $3,000 for two-tiered layer cake made and donated by the Wal-Mart bakery.

Another dessert -- the White Russian Cake, donated by Brady's Brewhouse -- brought $2,800 from a business "partnership" of Family Fresh, the City of New Richmond, WESTconsin Credit Union and Eckberg Lammers law firm.