Community excellence award winners are pictured from left, front row, FCCLA representatives Amy Mackay, Karen Ortner and LorenJo Oberle, Youth of the Year; Alexia Blake of Tuxedo Paws, New Business of the Year; Jan Hewitt, Citizen of the Years; Phillips County Commissioners Terry Hofmeister and Don Lock, Star of the Year; and Joan Owens of Regent Park, Employee of the Year; and back row, Help Holyoke Committee members Tom Bennett, Brenda Brandt, Holly Ferguson and Trisha Herman, Citizen of the Year; and Jake’s Feed representatives Pam Struckmeyer, Briana Worley, Erin Lebsack and Brenda Lebsack with Breck Worley, Business of the Year. — The Holyoke Enterprise | Johnson Publications
Holyoke Chamber of Commerce representatives are pictured from left, Julie Williams, treasurer; Holly Ferguson, executive director; Casey Blake, vice president; Margarita Fierro, secretary; Julie Haake, board member; and McKenna Heldenbrand, board member. Not pictured are Elizabeth Hutches, president, and Michelle Harms, board member. — The Holyoke Enterprise | Johnson Publications
Community excellence shines bright
After making it through a tough 2020, it was more appropriate than ever to celebrate the accomplishments of community excellence award winners at the annual Holyoke Chamber of Commerce gala Monday, Feb. 8.
A crowd gathered at Phillips County Event Center for the announcement of the winners, wine tasting, door prizes and a meal by Happy Jacks Barbeque.
The evening was coordinated by chamber executive director Holly Ferguson and board members Elizabeth Hutches, Casey Blake, Margarita Fierro, Julie Williams, Julie Haake, McKenna Heldenbrand and Michelle Harms.
Community excellence award winners were selected after locals submitted letters of nomination, and Ferguson emphasized that all of the nominees were very deserving of recognition.
This year’s award winners were Tuxedo Paws, New Business of the Year; Jake’s Feed, Business of the Year; Joan Owens, Employee of the Year; Holyoke FCCLA, Youth of the Year; Help Holyoke Committee, Citizen of the Year; and Jan Hewitt, Citizen of the Years.
A special award, Star of the Year, was determined by the chamber board and presented to the 2020 Phillips County commissioners.
New Business of the Year
“I have never seen anyone so passionate about their business as Alexia Blake is about her pet grooming business, Tuxedo Paws!” said the nomination letter for New Business of the Year.
“She loves her four-legged clients, as well as their humans, and greets both with a smile that brightens the day.”
It’s clear Blake has fun with her business, with four-legged “employees of the month,” grooming pictures posted on Facebook, a Halloween costume contest, and photo shoots for Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
“The future of Tuxedo Paws is strong!” the letter said, noting Blake has constantly made updates to her shop, has hired a full-time employee and has big plans for adding doggy daycare and kenneling services — signs that the business is here to stay.
“Tuxedo Paws also has a big heart for this community,” from charity auction donations to shopping locally to training high school students.
The letter concluded, “Tuxedo Paws is committed to the pets and people of this area, and Holyoke is lucky to have them here!”
Business of the Year
Jake’s Feed LLC was chosen as Business of the Year, and on hand to accept the award were Brenda Lebsack, Briana Worley, Erin Lebsack and Pam Struckmeyer.
“Whether it is right at 8:00, quickly over your lunch break, as soon as you are off of work for the day or anytime in between, the ladies at Jake’s Feed have you taken care of,” said the nomination letter.
“They are always wearing a smile on their face as they greet you, and they are always willing to offer a helping hand.”
From special orders to setting out items for after-hours pick-up, Jake’s Feed is all about customer service.
“When I envision a small-town shop, Jake’s Feed really checks all of the boxes,” said the nomination. “This family doesn’t just own a business in our community, they are invested in it. They have grown together here, made friends here, raised kids here, donated to all kinds of programs, and have shared much of their own lives to be present in ours and fulfill our needs.
“I hope that they understand, on a daily basis, that their feed store really does impact and make a difference in our community, but being awarded for it would be the cherry on top.”
Employee of the Year
The Employee of the Year award went to Joan Owens, the activities aide at Regent Park nursing home.
“On numerous occasions throughout the year, I have heard community members casually speak about the compassion she has shown to their loved one, as well as their families, especially during the pandemic,” said the nomination letter.
“Joan’s job has been difficult during the pandemic, but nevertheless, she worked tirelessly to make sure the elderly people had loving human touch each day, as well as virtual connections to their families (who were unable to have in-person contact with them). She goes above and beyond with heightened dedication to her position and doesn’t blink an eye at putting in extra time or extra shifts to meet the needs of each resident.”
The letter described Owens as soft-spoken, gentle, positive, witty, cheerful and a friendly face amidst the pandemic chaos. She’s been known to bring in special meals and snacks for the nursing home residents or simply just sit with them.
“Joan has a heart that never quits,” said the letter, noting her compassion for not only people at work but also 4-H members, FFA students and community members.
“The world needs more Joan Louise Owenses! The residents at our local nursing home are lucky to have her in their presence.”
Youth of the Year
Holyoke High School FCCLA officers Amy Mackay and LorenJo Oberle and adviser Karen Ortner were pleased to receive the Youth of the Year award at Monday’s gala on behalf of the chapter.
The nomination letter said this group of young individuals not only assisted the Help Holyoke Committee with a donation drive by making calls to Holyoke residents but also generously donated their own funds to the cause — funds they had worked hard to raise over the school year for conferences they were no longer able to attend because of the pandemic.
“Their gracious dedication to assist the financially-impacted businesses that have supported their activities and efforts in the past is a redeeming quality that we know will develop into attributes of amazing adults,” said the letter.
“Thank you for your dedication and generosity to the businesses and citizens of Holyoke!”
Help Holyoke Committee
Citizen of the Year
Because of its role in creating a fund that provided much needed financial assistance to businesses that had to shut down during the first pandemic mandates in 2020, the Help Holyoke Committee was recognized with the Citizen of the Year award.
Committee members include Tom Bennett, Brenda Brandt, Holly Ferguson and Trisha Herman.
Together, these individuals created, planned and executed this program and volunteered their time to coordinate and raise funds that were redistributed to employees and owners of the salons, restaurants, gym and theatre in Holyoke.
Over $90,000 was raised to help these affected industries.
The program gained state and national attention as people were inspired by the Holyoke community and the support residents have for each other during dire times. It was able to resonate a hopeful message of generosity and compassion across the country.
Citizen of the Years
“Jan has been a quiet force of goodness for the people of Holyoke for a very long time. Almost everyone I know has been blessed by her at some point in their lifetime,” said the nomination letter for the Citizen of the Years recipient.
Hewitt was chosen for her contributions to residents of Holyoke not only in 2020 but for many years.
Whether it’s giving a smile, cooking a meal or saying a prayer, “she seems to instinctively know when and where she is needed.”
“Jan always operates with a positive spirit,” said the letter. Instead of sulking when she wasn’t able to gather for Thanksgiving, she helped prepare, package and deliver a turkey feast to community members who were on the clock during the holiday. And speaking of holidays, she and her late husband, Don, always had extra chairs at the table for those who would have otherwise been alone.
“Jan delights in sharing her love of sewing, quilting and cooking with neighbors, both young and old. Many in Holyoke (even some young adults) refer to her as ‘Grandma Jan’ after spending time with her learning to sew and cook when they were youngsters,” said the letter.
Hewitt can always be counted on to provide items for church functions or local fundraisers, and she was an important link in the Trust Quietly group that spent five weeks in 2020 sewing 1,144 masks for the most vulnerable in our community.
“Jan rallies her neighborhood to be neighborly and makes everyone wish they lived in the Campbell Street area! What a positive force this sweet woman is to those who surround her.”
The nomination letter concluded by saying, “What I love the most about Jan is how quietly she spreads her goodness to others — never tooting her own horn and always giving the credit to others. She leads with positivity and joy, and if you are lucky enough to be in her presence, you’ll find it nearly impossible to not model the same behavior.
“It is citizens like Jan that make Holyoke one of the best places on earth to live. We are blessed to have Ms. Jan Hewitt as a longtime resident of our community, and we thank her for quietly spreading gentleness and kindness to everyone she meets.”
Phillips County Commissioners
Star of the Year
The chamber named the 2020 Phillips County commissioners the Star of the Year for their overwhelming dedication to the community and county last year.
Terry Hofmeister and Don Lock were at Monday’s gala to accept the award. Harlan Stern was not able to be there.
“These representatives and their office worked tirelessly to manage the COVID-19 pandemic here locally, keeping on top of continually changing orders, mandates and restrictions from the state and coordinating with multiple agencies and organizations to provide a balance for our community between our health and safety needs and the economic needs for stability and sustainability,” said the chamber.
The commissioners provided resources and support to the community, showing an unfaltering resistance to the challenges that faced residents and businesses.
By working closely with the chamber through multiple endeavors, projects and events in 2020, the commissioners proved to be a shining star in an unprecedented year.