WALNUT CREEK -- Community members representing Holmes County businesses, organizations and government attended the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau Annual Meeting and Awards Banquet on Nov. 15 at the Carlisle Inn.
"This evening is really about you -- the members of the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau," said Chamber President Kent Miller. "You are what makes this organization successful and unique. Thank you for seeing the value of being part of this organization and for taking advantage of the benefits offered to you."
Executive Director Shasta Mast took the opportunity to say thank you to everyone present.
"2012 was a big year at the Holmes County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau. In addition to all the normal things we do to support economic development in our region -- like sending out 17,000 visitor packets, hosting the Ohio Furniture Market, planning the Christmas Cookie Tour of Inns, running Amish Country's tourism marketing efforts, serving as the region's visitor information center, facilitating Leadership Holmes County, operating the Safety Council and much, much more -- we also renovated a historic building and relocated our offices," she said. "It's the perfect location for a visitor's center."
Mast gave thanks to the Commercial & Savings Bank for donating the former bank on the square of Millersburg, as well as the many local businesses who contributed time, money, in-kind donations and equipment to the renovation, as well as those who took the leap to rent spaces in the renovated building.
"As you look at the list of contributors in your programs, you'll see how many businesses jumped in, rolled up their sleeves and said, 'how can we help?'" said Mast. With help from so many people, now, she said, the project is complete and successful.
Also speaking were State Rep. Dave Hall and Holmes County Commissioner Joe Miller.
The Chamber also took time to recognize outstanding local businesses and organizations during the 2012 Awards Banquet.
"We have some great award recipients this year that carry on a tradition of great Holmes County Chamber businesses," said Miller.
To introduce the winner of the 2012 Small Business Award, Vick Weaver of CSB told the story behind The Voice of Holmes County.
"When two great minds come up with the same idea at the same time, great things are bound to happen. That's exactly how friends Mark Longsinger and Rob Moser developed the idea for thevoiceofholmescounty.com," said Weaver.
Longsinger thanked everyone who made the success possible.
"This is a fantastic honor on a fantastic night for us," he said. "We're most thankful for our friends and clients in the business community, many of them are sitting right here tonight. They have believed in us, they have supported us, but most importantly, they gave us a chance to do this ... Your business has been appreciated, but your friendship is now and always will be treasured as the greatest asset I possess."
The 2012 Medium Business Award went to Berlin Hotel & Suites.
Chris Rouche of Rea & Associates described the story behind the business, a property that was resurrected by local entrepreneur Jerry Anderson from the closing hospital complex on the corner of state Route 39 and County Road 201.
The full-scale renovation to the hotel, restaurant and fitness center included many construction phases, with the final product of 69 rooms, meeting rooms, a 26-seat private movie theater, a 350-member fitness center and renovated grounds.
The award was accepted by Berlin Hotel & Suites Manager Pedro Guzman.
Rob Hovis of Edward Jones Investments introduced this year's Large Business Award winner, Lehman's Hardware.
In 1955, a time of emerging technology, Jay Lehman founded a hardware store to serve the Amish community and others who live without electricity, explained Hovis.
"It was in this climate that Jay decided to market equipment that could only be operated by hand, by horse or by natural gas," said Hovis. "He predicted, correctly, that one day no one would be making hand-powered butters churns, apple peelers and drying racks in large quantities but there would still be a lively market for these items. So he resolved to design, build and sell these generation-spanning items."
Hovis described Lehman's diverse customer base -- which runs the gambit from missionaries and hunters to Hollywood set designers, environmentalists and island dwellers -- culled from all 50 states and 100 different countries.
Hovis also displayed a sample of Lehman's extensive root beer collection.
"One thing that has not changed, despite everything that has changed at Lehman's, is that we are part of this community," said Galen Lehman of Lehman Hardware, noting that the store's electric bill now totals to more than the store's first year of sales. "The great people that are here and the support that we have … are a key part of our success."
Lehman also thanked his father, Jay Lehman, who started the business 57 years ago.
The Community Service Award went to the Holmes County Antique Festival.
"If you lived in Holmes County over the last 50 years, then like me, you have a history with the antique festival," said Lee Miller of CSB.
This year, the Antique Festival celebrated its 50th year anniversary, and Miller shared the history behind the festival's many changes.
"The Antique Festival has made antique status. As time and community marches on, Holmes County continues to set aside one weekend every October to look back and celebrate our past," said Miller. "For more than five decades, the Antique Festival has drawn together community members and leaders to celebrate and display the county's attributes."
Holmes County Antique Festival Board Member Pam Akins accepted the award.
The 2012 Achievement Award went to Atlee Raber, a local entrepreneur who has devoted his life to helping others.
"He feels his life is not about him and what he has accomplished, it's about God and God calls us to help others," said Barry Hummel of Hummel Insurance.
Hummel described the many organizations Raber has his hand in, from helping a start-up cheese co-op in Indiana get on its feet to aiding an old colony Mennonite settlement in Mexico. In fact, Raber has journeyed to the settlement in Mexico -- to help start a cheese factory and heifer project -- more than 40 times since 1995, including this week.
Raber also helped found a clinic for children with inherited diseases in Mount Eaton and helped organize a cleanup effort in Louisiana in wake of Hurricane Isaac.
Accepting the award on behalf of Raber was Sam Yoder, owner of Berlin Garden Gazebos.
For the first time, the Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau presented the Friend of the Chamber Award to the Commercial & Savings Bank.
Miller described how the bank, which first opened in 1874, eventually moved out of the historic building at the corner of state Routes 39 and 83.
"That move left the 26,000 square foot building on the northwest corner of the square of Millersburg empty. At the same time the Holmes County Chamber, a half and a block northeast, had outgrown our headquarters," said Miller, describing how CSB offered to donate its former building for the visitor's center. "This past July the Chamber made its move and currently has six renters sharing the space making an economic impact on downtown Millersburg and the community as a whole. Walk-through traffic at the visitor's center immediately quadrupled. Leadership Holmes County has a place to meet now and the chamber has room for storage, meetings and room for growth."
CSB was the winner of the original Chamber's first Business of the Year Award in 1994, said Miller.
"They've continued to make a positive economic service and social impact on Holmes County. Tonight it's fitting that they once again receive a first: The first ever Friend of the Chamber Award for their vision, generosity and community-mindedness," he said.
"The board had many discussions about, 'What will we do with 6 W. Jackson St.?'" said Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of CSB Eddie Steiner. "But we kept looking for that right organization that could be an anchor to help contribute to and ensure the vitality of the downtown area, hopefully from an economic basis. We needed a better, more visible hub for the Chamber's work."
CSB couldn't do it on its own, said Steiner, but knew the community would make it happen if CSB put it into motion.
"For 6 West Jackson St., we think the best is yet to come," said Steiner.
The Chamber invited everyone to stop in the new visitor's center to see the finished renovation of the historic building.
Reporter Kelley Mohr can be reached at 330-674-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.