New Richmond's business people and supporters gathered over steak, chicken and pasta Wednesday to reflect on achievements, honor some stand-out volunteers and surprise economic development champion Paul Mayer by naming him the community's "Citizen of the Year".
Mayer, who had planned to attend a business meeting in Iowa Wednesday, said his "sneaky" wife, Vicki, convinced him to stay in town and attend the banquet at R&D Catering instead.
"If my grandchildren were here, they'd say 'whoa!'", said the stunned Mayer when summoned before the crowd of about 300 to accept a plaque.
Mayer reflected on words shared earlier in the day by John Soderberg, president of First National Community Bank, about his father's strong influence on his life.
Mayer offered the same credit to his father, the late Deacon Hugh "Doc" Mayer, who practiced dentistry in New Richmond for many years before becoming a deacon at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
His father often told Paul that "community is not about buildings -- it's about people. "And as he always said upon concluding the Mass, "go forth and take care of one another".
"I'm not going to forget about the first and I'm going to try and adhere to the second," Mayer said, accepting the award.
Mayer serves as president of the New Richmond Area Economic Development Corp., a core group of volunteers who meet regularly to work on recruiting new businesses to town. Under Mayer's leadership, several new firms have started up or relocated to New Richmond and prospects are strong more will follow.
Russ Korpela, Chamber executive director, characterized Mayer as having worked as a tireless champion for the community since he and wife Vicki moved back to New Richmond after many years of running his own firm and serving as a business consultant. Along with involvement in economic development, the New Richmond Area Community Foundation and the New Richmond Leadership Trust Initiative, Mayer regularly scouts Ebay for New Richmond artifacts, then buys and donates them to the Heritage Center, Korpela said.
Recipient of Chamber Member of the Year was Tom Mews, senior vice-president at First National Community Bank, whom Korpela described as an "influential leader", an "ambassador" for the community and a tireless champion for the Chamber of Commerce.
Korpela joked that during last year's FunFest, he and Mews were wrestling to unload a beer keg when the barrel bounced, hit Mews and opened a gash that required stitches to close. A short time later, Mews returned to the 'fest grounds to complete his volunteer shift.
Named "Mom & Pop Business of the Year" was Arch Digital Printing, owned by Bob and Amy Lund. The Lunds came to New Richmond in 1990 and have since acquired another shop and shaped their business into a fully digital, full-service printing operation that donated at least $4,000 worth of services to local non-profits over the past year.
Winner of "Small Business of the Year" was the New Richmond 8 Theatre, owned by Kent and Marlene Rebeck and managed by Mike Peterson. Korpela said New Richmond 8 was cited, in a recent Chamber business survey, as one of the top reasons people visit New Richmond regularly. The Rebecks also sponsor three scholarships for New Richmond High School graduates. Within the next year, the state-of-the-art theatre will feature all digital projection equipment.
WESTconsin Credit Union of New Richmond earned the distinction as Large Business of the Year. Branch manager Russ Blasius accepted the award along with a number of staff members.
Korpela characterized WESTconsin's employees as some of the most active Chamber volunteers, donating hundreds of hours to causes which benefit the entire community.
Recognized as the Chamber's "Ambassador of the Year" was Ambassador committee chair, Jill Schreck with Edward Jones Investments.
During a short business segment of Wednesday night's banquet, members bid farewell to outgoing Chamber president Joe Kerlin and cast a unanimous ballot for new president Mike Giese. Also elected were vice-president, Angela Olson; treasurer Scot Destasio and member-at-large, Darian Blattner.