Each February, the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce breaks up the winter doldrums with its Winter Gathering. The event took place last Thursday and included plenty of good food and numerous awards for business and personal accomplishments in the past year.
The Winter Gathering brings together members of the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, such as Joshua McCracken of Greenridge Realty and his wife Leslie…
…as well as members of the public, such as former City of Lowell Mayor Jim Hodges and his wife Chris.
The Winter Gathering took place at the Fairway Event and Banquet Center with the Easy Idle String Band offering some pre-dinner entertainment. You might know The Fairway of Kent County as Deer Run Golf Course, but it is in the process of being transformed into the future home of the Kent County Youth Fair.
The meal for the evening was catered by the Fairway staff and kicked off with appetizers and a salad before moving on the main course.
Dessert came courtesy of one of the night’s award winners: Deirdre’s Cakes and Bakes.
Liz Baker, executive director of the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, started off the evening’s formal program by introducing the chamber’s board members, committee members and other volunteers who help make Lowell the Next Place to Be.
Then, she handed off the microphone to Rick Seese of real estate firm Greenridge Realty and Cliff Yankovich of jewelry store Chimera Design to present the evening’s awards. Seese noted the two perfectly complemented each other. “I handle the family homes, and Cliff handles the family jewels,” he joked. The two provided plenty of laughs as they presented a number of awards to local businesses and individuals.
First up were the Brick Awards. They are given to businesses that make a significant investment in the community. Betten Baker Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram was the first recipient. Located on the lot that used to be home to the Vennen car dealership, Betten Baker spent $3 million in 2019 to build a new showroom and upgrade its facilities. The improvements have led to additional hires in both the sales and service departments. The company says improvements to its other dealership in the city — known to many as the Wittenbach location — are expected this year.
Next up was a Brick Award for Impact Church which was bursting at the seams at its old location and built a new, larger building across from Meijer in Lowell Charter Township. “Our body is a reflection of an incredible community of people,” said executive pastor Ryan Kresge in accepting the award.
The team from Key Vista was also honored with a Brick Award. Key Vista was formerly known as the Valley Vista Mobile Home Park but acquired by the same company that owns Key Heights on Fulton, just outside of town.
“First Holding Management saw an opportunity and stepped up big time,” Yankovich said. The management company removed 18 homes, rehabilitated another 18 and brought in more than 60 new homes. While the park was 72% vacant when purchased, the company’s investment — which includes a new dog park for residents, new roadways, new landscaping and new street signs — has brought 80 new families to the Lowell community.
“It’s nice now,” said community manager Fred Desero. “It didn’t used to be nice.”
Lowell’s oldest business was also honored with a Brick Award. King Milling Company, which is currently owned by the 4th and 5th generations of the Doyle family, added a flour packaging warehouse and system. While the addition automates the packaging process, the project didn’t result in any lost jobs. Those previously working to package flour were moved into other positions.
McDonald’s was another recipient of a Brick Award. It was recognized for its $1.1. million remodel that has resulted in the business hiring another 20 employees. Greg Anthony, director of operations for the restaurant, was on-hand to accept the award.
A $14 million investment has resulted in 80 new luxury townhomes being available on the west side of town. Townhomes at Two Rivers offers features not found elsewhere, such as backlit mirrors in bathrooms. Owners say 60% of the units are rented, and new inquiries come in every day.
With the Brick Awards complete, the next honor of the evening was the Non-Profit Spotlight. For 2020, the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce recognized the Kent County Youth Fair which is in the process of moving from downtown Lowell to a larger property off Cascade Road. It’s a move that’s been 15 years in the making, according to fair manager Jessica Marks, and the $4 million project will allow more youth to participate in the annual fair.
For the Most Promising New Business Award, honors went to Deirdre’s Cakes & Bakes which is owned and operated by pastry chef Deirdre Olszewski. “I don’t think this business could flourish as much as it has without this community,” Olszewski told those gathered.
River Valley Credit Union and its staff were honored with the 2020 Business Appreciation Award. The financial institution has been a longtime supporter of local events such as the Food Fight, Riverwalk Festival and Photos with Santa. Anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Kent, Montcalm or Ionia Counties can join the credit union, and of its 11,000 members, 2,500 live in the 49331 zip code.
All the evening’s awards were well-deserved, but the highlight of the Winter Gathering is the presentation of the Person of the Year Award. This year, that honor is shared by Mark and Theresa Mundt. The couple moved to the community in 1989 and “jumped into Lowell with both feet,” according to Yankovich. Their list of activities and accomplishments is impressive, and Lowell’s First Look will have a separate article published shortly highlighting all they have done to make Lowell a better place to live, work and play.
Did you attend the Winter Gathering? If so, tell us your favorite part of the evening in the comments below or on our Facebook page.