NAPPANEE — Nappanee Area Chamber of Commerce held its annual appreciation and awards dinner Monday evening, March 26, at Amish Acres.
During the dinner portion of the evening, the chamber’s director, Jeff Kitson, noted the 2018 iteration was the largest in the event’s history, with 280 reservations received. In fact, the number of anticipated guests was so large organizers moved the awards portion of the dinner across Amish Acres’ courtyard into the historic Round Barn Theatre. In past years, both the dinner and the awards ceremony were held in the Nappanee attraction’s expansive Restaurant Barn, which, while large, presented logistical issues for the awards ceremony.
The evening’s keynote speaker was the well-known former local radio personality Vince Turner, who was once an oft-heard voice over the airwaves. Turner, a member of the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame for his colorful play-by-platy descriptions of area basketball and football games. Turner now serves as a regional manager for an Elkhart bank.
The Nappanee Chamber presented its 2017 Citizen of the Year Award to longtime resident Bonnie Hochstetler, who is well known in the community for her service through the Nappanee Kiwanis, the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and the town’s Neighborhood Watch program. She also is an active member of the Nappanee United Methodist Church and volunteers with the Child Abuse Prevention Services, also known as CAPS.
Hochstetler is retired from McCormick Motors in Nappanee, and was actually presented her award by her former boss, Bernie Beer, who himself received the Citizen of the Year Award the previous year. After her name was announced, a video was played recapping in pictures many moments from Hochstetler’s life, including congratulatory video messages from members of her family who were not in attendance.
The highlighted moment was when Hochstetler was surprised by her two children and other members of her family, who came home to Nappanee to surprise her at the event. Hochstetler addressed the assembly by saying “I’ve lived here since 1961 and it’s a wonderful town. Everyone is so nice,” before wryly adding, “Most of the time!”
Following Hochstetler’s award, the chamber also honored Woodview Elementary School teacher Jake Simons with its Educator of the Year Award. In addition to teaching fifth-grade, Simons also is the robotics coach for the Woodview Eaglebots, who will be making their second appearance in the VEX IQ Robotics world championships, to be held later this month in Louisville. Members of Simons’ team surprised their mentor by appearing on stage as his name was being announced.
The chamber also recognized three local businesses with the Excellence in Business Award, including Kemp Electric, Nappanee Family Eyecare and Rentown Country Store. Accepting the awards were Mel Kemp, Darren Minnich and Dennis Hochstetler, respectively.