Community Excellence Award winners at this year’s Holyoke Chamber of Commerce Gala are pictured from left, Citizen of the Year Casey Blake; STAR of the Year Star 92.3’s Marc Maelzer and Michelle Harms; Employee of the Year Earl Downing; Youth of the Year Shianne Willmon and Josie Herman; and Business of the Year Cobblestone Inn & Suites’ Sue Razo, Scott Murray, Amber Salas, Jorge Salas, Carol Kumm and Bailey Hamaker. Not pictured is Youth of the Year Emily Jelden. — Johnson Publications
Holyoke Chamber of Commerce hosted its 25th annual Gala and Community Excellence Awards at the Event Center on Feb. 5. A number of businesses and individuals were in attendance to recognize this year’s Community Excellence Award winners.
Honorees were Cobblestone Inn & Suites, Business of the Year; Earl Downing, Employee of the Year; Josie Herman, Emily Jelden and Shianne Willmon, Youth of the Year; Casey Blake, Citizen of the Year; and Star 92.3, STAR of the Year.
Chamber board members read the nomination letter of each winner and presented a plaque to commemorate the honor. Guests enjoyed a meal by Red Willow Catering and P Pod and musical entertainment by Joe Hall and Vicki Peters.
Cobblestone Inn & Suites
Business of the Year
Recognized as the Business of the Year, Cobblestone Inn & Suites is in its fifth year of serving the Holyoke community, as well as its visitors. As said in the nomination letter, the hotel and its employees “represent the pride of Holyoke with friendly hometown service and kindness.”
The hotel provides jobs to 15-plus people involved in housekeeping, maintenance, management, and the front desk and lounge. “In a small community, these job opportunities are vitally important and welcomed,” the nominator said. “The Cobblestone also participates in community events, such as Country Christmas, and takes advantage of opportunities to support other events.”
“The investors are local folks who had the best interests of the community in mind when they built the Cobblestone Inn & Suites and continue to maintain a vested interest in how the hotel is managed.”
Hotel manager Amber Salas works hard to meet the needs of hotel guests and expects the same from all the staff. Carol Kumm, a local Cobblestone staff member, was recognized for “always working toward the finest in guest satisfaction.”
While the facility is, of course, utilized by out-of-town guests, locals also take advantage of the comfortable lounge space and patio. It’s ideal for watching sporting events, grabbing a meal and socializing.
“Holyoke’s Cobblestone Inn & Suites is top-notch and fits right in with our motto of Pride and Progress. Our little city is lucky to have them in our business community.”
Salas accepted the award and recognized the community for its role in the hotel’s success. Their guests, after all, are often people visiting local residents for reunions and weddings.
Employee of the Year
Earl Downing has been an “indispensable employee” at Computers Etc. for over five years and has been running the business for a year and a half. In that time, he assumed the responsibilities of hiring, ordering and customer service, all while continuing to do his normal work in the technology department.
His nomination letter for Employee of the Year read, “Earl is the hardest worker I have had in over 20 years of owning my business. He takes responsibility 24/7 for the business and even works on Saturdays when we have been short on help. I have felt totally comfortable trusting him with such a huge responsibility.”
In addition to his professional role, Downing is an active member of the community and serves on the chamber board. He is described as a trustworthy individual, full of integrity. “It’s extremely hard to find employees of his caliber and loyalty these days. I feel he is truly deserving of this award,” his nominator said.
In accepting the honor, Downing said that he really enjoys working with everybody and visiting with the community members who come into the store each day.
Josie Herman, Emily Jelden and Shianne Willmon
Youth of the Year
Sophomores at Holyoke High School, Josie Herman, Emily Jelden and Shianne Willmon were honored as Youth of the Year for their FBLA project, “Holyoke Grown.”
Their project was conceptualized during their freshman year and aims to promote “keeping your money where your home is” and shopping locally. Their nominator emphasized admiration for the students’ plan to grow and expand the project throughout their time at HHS.
“I have met with these girls a handful of times and am excited to continue working with them to see where the years ahead take them,” the nomination letter read.
With parents who work with local nonprofits and small businesses themselves, the three seem to have an organic appreciation for keeping spending within the community. Though young, they are “eager to share their message.”
Speaking on behalf of the three, Willmon shared that, in addition to continuing their work with local businesses for the next couple of years, they hope to pass their project on to new students to carry on the Holyoke Grown efforts even after they’ve graduated.
Citizen of the Year
Casey Blake, the Citizen of the Year, always has a smile on his face and a quick “yes” at the ready whenever he’s asked to help out with activities in Holyoke. “I cannot say enough about how much I appreciate his reliable help and good mood,” his nominator said.
He’s a fixture at many chamber events, including Dandelion Daze, Hot Dog Wednesdays and the Country Christmas Parade of Lights. He also donates his time to the Star 92.3 harvest bags and the Big Boy Toy Show.
Blake also offers regular support to local youth as a leader for the Holyoke Cub Scout Pack No. 32 and a chaperone for school field trips. He makes a point of helping with Phillips County Fair by providing vehicles to drive and helping support the fair queen.
Always cognizant of small-town businesses, Blake is a big supporter of the Shop Local initiative. He is also known to make donations to school functions and fundraisers to show his support there.
He was nominated, in short, for being “willing to do whatever is asked of him for his community.” As his nomination letter said, he makes Holyoke, Phillips County and the surrounding area a wonderful place to live.
Blake responded, “I love Holyoke; there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for this town,” acknowledging that it was his parents who taught him to do so.
STAR of the Year
The STAR of the Year is an honor announced exclusively at the Monday night gala and comes as a surprise even to those receiving it. This year’s recipient was Holyoke’s local radio station, Star 92.3, and its employees Marc Maelzer and Michelle Harms.
Though it doesn’t have many employees, they do a big job, chamber representatives emphasized. As STAR of the Year, the business has come alongside the chamber and made their job just a little easier. Maelzer and Harms promote Holyoke and make it a better place, they added.
“It’s easy and a privilege to serve a community like Holyoke that’s open, progressive and welcoming,” Maelzer said. And based on the Feb. 5 event as a whole, that sentiment is shared by many in the community.