Dear Chamber Supporters:
 
Chamber friends delighted in an absolutely fabulous evening at the 2021 annual awards banquet last night, hosted at Ottawa University. There was much fellowship and together we honored all our local citizens whose service has been above and beyond self in the last year or two. A big event such as, ohhh, say…a worldwide pandemic didn’t cause some leaders to withdraw…only find a new gear. Without these types of citizens, I’m not sure how communities can thrive.
 
Every year, beginning in December, members begin nominating other Chamber members for their service…which are typically awarded in January. This last January, COVID was surging, and we postponed the original event for 2-months…how fortuitous. It allowed for the biggest turnout for an event I’ve attended since pre-COVID. With nearly 250 in attendance, all participated as we watched our community’s highest awards being presented…the highest honor, the Russel Crites Service award, followed by the Community Builder Award, Entrepreneur of the Year, Horizon Award and The Smile of the Year. Each year, the committee for the nominations is comprised of the 5 previous winners of the Russel Crites Award. After our annual banquet concludes for the evening, I always contemplate the inevitable…we will never have as great a slate of honorees as we did this year… the following year, a whole new set of servant leaders burst on the scene and lead in ways unimagined. This year has been no different. 
 
The 2021 Community Award winners:
 
  •  The 2021 Russel Crites honoree is Dr. Bud Ransom, for 40-years of caring for patients in Ottawa, but more specifically serving as the County Health Director during a pandemic, making unfavorable but necessary decisions and leading county and city leaders in one hard choice after another.
  • Community Builder Award…to the Joe McLiney family for investing in Ottawa since the 1970s when they purchased Kansas State Bank…since then, the family has continued purchasing development ground in South Ottawa which has allowed businesses such as PrimeTime Bar and Grille, Fusion Alley, Home Base, Thriftopia, The Dollar Store to locate in Ottawa. And the family continues to make investments owning more development ground to the south of 23rd Street for future growth for who knows how far into the future.
  • Entrepreneur of the Year, to Dusty and Melody Gentry for their vision for creating a new brewery on Main Street, Not Lost Brewery, and for having the vision and fortitude to manage it through the pandemic.
  • The Horizon Award to, Anna Bricker, an up-and-coming young Chamber member who serves on the Chamber Board and volunteers in the community beyond belief. When the pandemic struck, she worked with her company, American Eagle Outfitters, to pump into Ottawa, $50,000.00 of Chamber currency to ensure local spending by helping their workers with extra cash…and local retailers by making sure it was spent in Ottawa.
  • Smile of the Year…to Paula Patterson, a perineal optimist and always exudes a wonderful, positive attitude. During the pandemic, Paula led children in singing and story hour outdoors at Haley Park, continued to promote library programs, books and movies as a method of coping with the isolation crisis…and always with a smile!!
 
A BIG, BIG thank you and congratulations to all our leaders and those specifically who we honored last evening (here are the pictures). Without their example, we would be less and for sure lacking! Now we can officially begin looking for the next community citizens who rise to the top and lead in 2022!!
 
Additionally at the banquet, we honored retiring Chamber board directors…going off the board after serving the number of allowable years. Maybe the most notable, is Pam Harris…completing her second stint on the Executive Committee; in my ten years of service as President/CEO, Pam has been a member of the Chamber Exec Committee for 8-years. Pam is an Ottawa native and stalwart! Terming off, after serving on the board, were Adam Fritts, with Fashion, Inc., Mary Raley, owner of Maggie’s Popcorn and Nuts, and Tiffany Evans, Director of the Ottawa Memorial Auditorium. Additionally, we honored Terry Chartier for her board leadership as Chair in 2021.
 
Introduced and preparing to begin service, are Ryan Wilkerson, with Impact Wealth Planners, Jacob Boyd, an Edward Jones investor and Shelby John, with Kalmar industries. Mallory Hull will lead the board as Chamber Board Chair, and Donald Anderson, Dean of Students with Ottawa University is stepping on the executive committee. 
 
Legislative Coffee:
 
Please note…the Legislative Coffee scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, April 2 is being changed/postponed. Last evening, Legislators were still on the floor debating bills until midnight. In visiting with our local representative, Blaine Finch, he predicts another long day and into the evening again tonight…this to complete by first adjournment all the work needed to be accomplished to allow the legislature to take a break until May.  We would rather our local representatives be fresh and ready to report back to us…please watch social media, our website, and in all places you receive your news for the new date. Thanks for understanding.
 
Pam Harris:
 
I mentioned Pam earlier when listing members going off the Chamber Board…coincidently, yesterday (Thursday) was Pam’s final day at AdventHealth Ottawa, an organization she has served for 42-years. Here is a picture from her reception. Absolutely no way to replace institutional knowledge of this magnitude. Pam began work at (then) Ransom Memorial Hospital while still in high school before graduation and completing nursing school. At that early time, she worked for her mom Aurelia Johnson, who was director of nursing at the time…a position Pam held for a period during her total tenure at our local hospital. I must mention too, as someone who has served over 20+-years on our hospital board, Pam has been a tremendous friend and confidant. Pam and her husband Rod and I were all in high school at the same time…our history and friendship runs much deeper than is easy to describe. Pam is not quitting…only moving across the street to work in the Franklin County Health Department. Glad we are not losing her healthcare experience…still her, or her mother, has been a servant at the hospital for well over 60-years!! Amazing!! Thanks Pam for all you do not only at the Chamber but for this community. If you see Pam, be sure to thank her for her very broad, longtime, and inclusive service in Ottawa!
 
New City Commissioner:
 
Most know Tom Weigand resigned his city commission seat in February…last week the four remaining commissioners interviewed potential candidates to fill the unexpired term. For my part, I thought they had a deep list of possible citizens wanting to fill the vacancy. Each applicant brought different skill sets and levels of experience to the position. Following their study session and discussion, they indicated through a series of straw polls to choose Zach Clayton (here is a picture). Since it was a study session and not an official commission meeting, the nomination and vote will need to be blessed next week at their official commission meeting on Wednesday. Zach was a candidate in the last city commission race and just finished out of the running…3 candidates were being selected and Zach finished in fourth place in the balloting. His easy demeanor and exposure to the voters during the election process seemed to be the tipping points for commissioners. Cherry use to babysit Zach and his sister Emily years ago…when he was pretty small. I’ve watched him grow up…I’m thrilled to see his interest in public service and anxious for his input. Congrats to Zach…I’ll tell you it won’t always be easy, but it will be good for him to grow in this capacity. 
 
Excitement on Main Street:
 
There was a little more than the usual excitement on Main Street this week. Monday, around 1:00, a car parked on the west side of Main Street in the 200 block, backed out of their parking spot, across 4-lanes of traffic, through an open parking spot and into the Cornerstone Book store at 217 S. Main (picture here). No one was injured seriously…the driver was taken to the hospital. It’s unknown if there was a medical issue, or a cognitive problem…just thankful Cornerstone was closed at the time and no car or person was hit. I visited with Bruce and Joyce Beatty, owners, on Tuesday morning…both were just shaking their heads. As with any disaster, the first moments are only overwhelming. They didn’t know at this point about the driver’s insurance or what the next steps would look like. Also complicating the accident was the fact the gas meter was run over causing gas to escape. The entire block of Main Street had to be evacuated. I just happened to be walking along headed north from the 400 block…in talking with owners and workers from the other stores, most were pretty shaken up…as would be natural in cases such as this. The one thing Bruce offered as advice to all business owners is to install a “knock box” which is located on the outside of the building with a key that only the police have access to. Also, in addition to all the other damage, safety patrolmen had to break the door down to gain access to get to the driver…with a knock box, at least this damage could have been avoided. Prayers for the Beattys as they put order back from chaos…they have been longtime downtown business owners. Always sad when something such as this happens.
 
Ottawa High Track Invitational:
 
At one time, one of the largest high school track and field events in Eastern Kansas…the event now has dwindled into a much smaller competition. Still…it’s a great opportunity to showcase Ottawa and the great facilities we have here for students. What a cold day it was Thursday, the day of the event. Here are a few pictures of the student-athletes performing. Six schools participated and the Ottawa High girls’ and boys’ teams both finished number 1 on the day…good job Ottawa athletes. I also feel sorry for the parents of the high school competitors…it would have been freezing sitting in the stands watching the performers. 
 
Cherry and I are headed south this afternoon to see our Cedar Vale babies…Johnnie, born November 23, is growing so fast! If we don’t get down there she’ll be walking!! I’m sure I’ll have pictures of grandkids next week. 
 
Also…no April Fools jokes embedded today…I know I should have taken advantage of today being April Fools Day but there was too darn much important stuff going on this week. Keep your guard up for all the community jokesters who thrive on this day!!
 
Talk to you next week…
 
Onward ~ John 
John Coen
President/CEO
Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce
785-242-1000