By Lauren Zeugner
SYRACUSE — With COVID numbers plummeting and life beginning to go back to normal, the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce hosted a membership celebration luncheon Wednesday afternoon, July 14, at the Blue Barn Berry Farm, 9139 N. 300 N. Syracuse.
Farmhouse Kitchen and Catering, down the road from The Blue Barn, catered the lunch with Light Rail Café and Roaster, Winona Lake, providing cookies for dessert.
“As you know we do this in January on the coldest day of the year,” Rob Parker, chamber president and CEO, joked. “At least it’s not the hottest day of summer.” After a group shot of all the attendees, Glenn Hall, executive director of Kosciusko Home Care and Hospice, gave the invocation.
After introducing local elected leaders, Warsaw Mayor Joseph Thallemer, State Sen. Ryan Mishler and County Coroner Tony Ciriello, Parker introduced the chamber’s board of directors, ambassadors and staff.
Parker did a quick review of how the Kosciusko Chamber dealt with the pandemic and statewide shut down, which included starting a Facebook page, To Go Kosciusko. Even with businesses opening back up, the Facebook page continues to have 8,000 interactions every day.
Parker told the crowd the chamber intends to create more Facebook pages to help keep the community engaged.
A vaccine video the chamber produced received 44,000 views. “The week we released that video we saw a 35% to 40% spike in people getting vaccinated,” Parker told the crowd.
Last year the chamber board agreed to put $50,000 into the chamber’s Kosciusko Cash program, a gift certificate program. Within 40 days after approving the $50,000, the chamber had $80,000 move out of the chamber through the Kosciusko Cash program.
The Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce was a finalist as chamber of the year for the state. To better serve member municipalities better, the chamber is working with smaller communities in setting up satellite offices, starting with Milford. “We want to make sure everyone has a voice,” Parker said.
The chamber has partnered with K21 Foundation, Live Well Kosciusko and other groups to work together to encourage community members to be as healthy as possible.
LaunchPad, the chamber’s initiative aimed at addressing the lack of child care, is offering fingerprinting for child care workers. “It’s quite busy, it’s challenging but it’s the right thing to do,” Parker said.
The chamber has also met with the Kosciusko County Commissioners and Council to discuss changing zoning laws to encourage more child care facilities to open in the county.
Dave Findlay, president and CEO, of Lake City Bank, the premier sponsor of the event. praised Parker and the chamber’s staff for their hard work during the pandemic. “I know it’s more than a return to normal,” he said about the luncheon. “I’m not a hugger, but I’ve become one.”
Findlay told the crowd how he was recently asked by his board where he saw the bank’s growth coming from, Indy? South Bend? Findlay told his board he expected areas of Kosciusko County would be competitive with larger areas when it came to financial and economic growth in the coming year or two.
After Findlay’s remarks, the awards were handed out.
Polywood received the Business of the Year Award which welcomed 160 new employees last year, and is in the process of expanding its manufacturing facilities.
Winona IT received the Raising Star Award. Winona IT is a fairly new company and has grown in the number of employees and its customer base in its first two years.
The Salvation Army received the Making a Difference Award for the positive impact it’s had on the community.This year the Salvation Army celebrates it’s 100th anniversary in the county.
The Launchpad Family Friendly Business Award went to Wawasee Community School Corporation. The school corporation opened two new on-site early learning programs for their staff and the community at Syracuse and North Webster Elementary Schools.
The Health and Wellness award went to Kosciusko Government. County government recently conducted a health risk and biometric assessment of its employees and used the results to develop a comprehensive wellness program for county government employees.
County Coroner Tony Ciriello received the Government Excellence ward.
The Ambassador of the Year award went to Heather Lardino of 1st Source Bank.
Local attorney Travis McConnell was presented the Young Adult Professional of the Year award.
The Woman of the Year Award went to Angie Ritchey, chief technology officer at Lake City Bank for her work in the community, work and at home.
The Man of the Year Award went to Dr. David Hoffert, superintendent of Warsaw Community Schools. Hoffert was described as an exemplary leader who is an inspiration to others. “Whatever it takes” is a common phrase heard from him as well as “how can I help.”