Every year, the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce holds an event that is often described as “Lowell’s Academy Awards.” Officially billed as the Annual Gathering of the Membership, this event is open to the public and offers a chance for residents to dress up and honor those people and businesses who have made a difference in the community.
If you missed the 2022 Winter Gathering, held last Thursday, here’s a peek at everything that happened.
Doors opened at 6:30pm, and guests were treated to an “epic charcuterie” along with music from the Easy Idle String Band.
The charcuterie and delicious desserts were provided by Miss P’s Catering.
The venue — The Fairway of Kent County — was decked out with lights, greenery and other cozy accents.
The Winter Gathering seems to attract a “who’s who” of Lowell residents including city, school and non-profit leaders. Shown above is Lowell Area Schools Superintendent Nate Fowler (l) and Kurt Lardie, a regional manager with the Lowell and Alto branches of Kent District Library.
At 7:30pm, it was time for everyone to take a seat, and the program began.
Jodie Seese led an invocation before Liz Baker (l), the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, kicked things off by recognizing the many people who make the chamber a success.
“We are looking forward to 2022 putting us back on our regular schedule,” she said. Baker noted that the Lowell Expo would return to Lowell High School after a two year hiatus and plans were underway for a full year of activities — culminating in the annual Santa Claus Parade which will have a Christmas Twilight theme this year. What’s more, the Showboat Sizzlin’ Summer Concert Series is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Currently, the chamber has 320 members.
Then, the podium was turned over to Rick Seese (r) who introduced the night’s honorees. “For me, he’s more than a great guy,” Baker said while making Seese’s introduction. “He’s been a great friend as well.”
The first award of the night was the 2022 Non-Profit Spotlight. It went to the Lowell YMCA which is currently in the midst of developing a new facility for its members. The Lowell Y has been in existence since 1959, thanks to the generosity of the King family.
“In the early years, Lowell was one of the smallest communities in the nation with an operating YMCA,” Seese said. “The Lowell YMCA story is one of the greatest stories in Lowell history.”
Marta Rozema, program director for the Lowell YMCA, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
Next up was the Most Promising New Business Award. It went to Wearforward, a clothing shop that is focused on sustainability and inclusiveness. The business has been responsible for recycling 30,000 articles of clothing and putting $72,000 back into the pockets of customers thanks to its model of finding new owners for clothes that may be languishing in residents’ closets.
“We want to say that we love Lowell,” said owner Victoria Runstrom in accepting the award.
The night’s Brick Award went to RiverView Flats for its investment of $4 million in revitalizing former school property along the Flat River and converting a bus garage into 15 condominium units. The project used local contractors, and units feature high-end amenities. Phase two of the project — which will involve converting the former Unity High School building into 22 condos — is set to begin this summer.
Owners Jerry Zandstra (l) and Todd Schaal were on hand to accept the award.
For the Business Appreciation Award, honors went to Bieri Auto Body. The business has been in its current location on Hudson Street since 2009, and owners Chris and Mary Jo Bieri have consistently supported community events, sports teams and other activities.
“They have quietly invested their time and money in Lowell for decades,” Seese said. Among other things, they have volunteered to paint fire trucks, police cars and the old Arrow Force bus. When Pink Arrow rolls around each year, it is Chris out on the field with the pink paint. The company has also sponsored students involved in a school-to-work program, and employees regularly help out at community events such as the Riverwalk Festival.
Cody Bieri accepted the award on behalf of the business.
Finally, it was time for the man of the hour: Bruce Doll.
“Bruce Doll is one of the nicest people I have ever known,” Seese said.
As the 2022 Person of the Year, Doll’s contributions to Lowell are numerous — ranging from being a longtime board member with the Kent County Youth Fair to being Lowell’s unofficial photographer. There is too much to mention right here, but watch for a profile of Doll next week on Lowell’s First Look.
As the 2022 Winter Gathering wrapped up, Baker ended with a couple quotes, including one commonly attributed to Charles Darwin:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
And if there is anything the last two years have shown, it’s that Lowell and its businesses can respond to change.