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Chamber lauds businesses, boasts membership growth

Brady’s Brewhouse owner Chris Polfus (center) poses with staff members from the downtown New Richmond brewpub and restaurant. Polfus was presented the Small Business of the Year award Wednesday by the chamber. Also pictured (from left) are Christina Cunningham Johnson, office manager; Peter Elkin, general manager; Luke Nirmaier, brewer; and Adam Leisenheimer, executive chef. (Photo courtesy of NP Design & Photography)1 / 7
Denise Johnson, owner of High Point Framing & Art Gallery, was recognized as Mom & Pop Business of the Year. (Photo courtesy of NP Design & Photography)2 / 7
Sheri Soderquist (left) from First National Community Bank of New Richmond was named Volunteer of the Year, and Jenny Larson, from WESTconsin Credit Union, earned the award for Ambassador of the Year at last week’s New Richmond Chamber of Commerce Gala. (Photo courtesy of NP Design & Photography)3 / 7
Rob Schettle (center), general manager at Liquid Waste Technologies of New Richmond, accepted the Large Business of the Year award on behalf of the firm, Wednesday evening. Pictured (from left) are Rod Haffner, Ted Suo, Andy Drill, Schettle, Steve Panasuk, Amanda Quade, Carey Kuehl, Holly Butler, and Rae An Ailts, director of business operations. (Photo courtesy of NP Design & Photography)4 / 7
Ross Johnson (center) from the New Richmond Golf Club, was recognized as Chamber Member of the Year. Also pictured (from left) are Tom Schumacher, Brian Campbell, Scott Cole and Chris Wheeler. (Photo courtesy of NP Design & Photography)5 / 7
Family and friends of the late Stuart Nelson accepted a plaque that recognized Nelson as New Richmond’s 2013 Citizen of the Year. Pictured (from left) are Patty and Dan Draxler; Kara and Chris Gaspord (Kara is Stuart’s daughter); Bonnie Trudell (Stuart’s sister); Chelsea Knauf and Eric Nelson (Eric is Stuart’s son); and wife Sandy Nelson. (Photo courtesy of NP Design & Photography)6 / 7
New and outgoing chamber presidents Chad Derrick (left) and Scott Destasio pose with a three-layer carrot cake from Table 65 following Wednesday’s awards gala. (Photo courtesy of NP Design & Photography)7 / 7

About 300 members and guests of the New Richmond Chamber of Commerce spent Wednesday evening wining, dining, celebrating a growth year and lauding citizens and volunteers for all they’ve done to build local community and commerce.

The leadership honored a number of local people and businesses including the following:

— Denise Johnson, owner of High Point Framing & Art Gallery (Mom & Pop Business of the Year)

— Chris Polfus, owner of Brady’s Brewhouse (Small Business of the Year)

— Rob Schettle, general manager and the 70-member staff of Liquid Waste Technologies (Large Business of the Year)

— Jenny Larson of WESTconsin Credit Union (Ambassador of the Year)

— Sheri Soderquist of First National Community Bank of New Richmond (Volunteer of the Year)

— Outgoing Chamber president Scott Destasio and board member Mike Giese

Executive Director Lisa Woletz told members she’d been on the job for just five days when she took the podium at last year’s annual meeting and award gala.

“It’s so much different this year! 2013 is the best year the Chamber has had in a very long time,” she said.

She recalled pledging to try and grow membership by 25 percent. Instead, the organization achieved 30 percent growth, signing 65 new members.

The organization has also grown its second-Friday Chamber Coffee gatherings from a few loyalists to about 35 people who now attend. Likewise, Network New Richmond has become a popular event each Wednesday morning with some members, and the ranks of Chamber Ambassadors have grown from 15 to nearly 30 people.

With last summer’s ground-breaking for the new St. Croix Crossing at Stillwater, the region recognizes “a great opportunity for New Richmond business to grow north, south, east and west,” said Woletz, urging members to commend local banker John Soderberg for his leadership in helping bring the project to fruition. Soderberg, who also serves as president of the New Richmond Area Economic Development Corp., will celebrate 50 years at First National Community Bank on June 2.

Mom & Pop Business of the Year recipient Denise Johnson expressed her appreciation to the chamber and the community for allowing her to do something she loves doing — helping people preserve memories and special artwork. Johnson is preparing to retire after 30 years and recently sold the business to Nate Peterson of NP Design & Photography. He and wife Teresa will take over March 1.

Chris Polfus, owner of Brady’s Brewhouse, teared up when accepting his award.

“This is truly an honor. This is a big deal,” Polfus said. “You guys have supported me, and Brady’s and our staff. I serve you. I love New Richmond and I love the valley.”

Those present offered a spontaneous standing ovation to family members of the late Stuart Nelson, recipient of New Richmond’s Citizen of the Year award, which was announced in December.

Nelson, a resident of the Cedar Lake area, was 67 when he died on Nov. 7. He grew up in New Richmond and worked 25 years at Bremer Bank, serving as Wisconsin Senior Lender from 1987 to 2000. He was also president of the New Richmond branch of Bremer Bank from 2000 to 2005. He loved preserving habitat for wildlife, his brother Scott said during the formal award presentation in early December. Upon retirement in 2005, Stuart took on leadership roles in the Star Prairie Fish and Game group, the Star Prairie Land Preservation Trust and the Cedar Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District.

Nelson’s family will act as grand marshals in the Fun Fest parade this summer on Stuart’s behalf.

Another facet of the annual Chamber gala is raising money — funds to help sustain chamber staff, organize community events like Corn on the Curb, the city’s annual Blues Fest and Fun Fest.

Along with a silent auction and the “arm’s length” raffle, gala organizers continued a tradition of auctioning off fancy desserts, donated by various Chamber members. Cake donors included Westfields Hospital, Table 65, New Richmond Community Education, the Laurel Supper Club, the New Richmond News, Family Fresh Market, JET’s Coffee Bistro, R & D Catering and New Richmond’s Walmart.

Ellsworth auctioneer Jack Hines, a friend of Woletz’, traveled to Ready Randy’s to preside over the charity event, warming up the crowd with stories from other events where he coaxed forth money for worthy nonprofit causes like a new church elevator and hospital equipment.

Hines elicited laughter when he wrapped up a long tale about an elderly woman whose pristine four-gallon Red Wing crock butter-churn brought well more than the $50 she hoped it would. When Hines told her a bidder paid $1,800 for the piece, she gasped — “Oh my goodness Mr. Hines! I didn’t want to give that much to my church!”

Hines’ tactics appeared to work. After a 10-minute back-and-forth volley between bidders from Family Fresh and Bosch Industries, Hines pronounced Family Fresh the top bidder at $3,000. He then turned to the Bosch table and talked them into taking second-pick from the selection of cakes for the same price.

By the time bidding ended, buyers — some solo and some teaming with other tables — shelled out a total of $14,050 for the nine cakes.

Last year, the auction netted nearly the same amount for the the chamber.

Incoming president Chad Derrick will serve as board leader along with new vice-president Debbie Calleja and treasurer Steve Massey. Marie Gremore from WESTconsin Credit Union is a new board member.

Other board members include Destasio, Angela Olson, Pres Lawhon, Jill Schreck, Jil Gorres, Tate Wheeler and Nancy Peterson.

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.