Scenes from Lowell: 2024 Winter Gathering Edition

The Fairway Event & Banquet Center was humming with activity last Thursday night as members and friends of the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce arrived to participate in the “Annual Winter Gathering of the Membership.” It was a time to recognize all those volunteers who make the chamber a success as well as honor the organization’s 2024 award winners.

Here’s how the evening went.

Doors opened at 6:30pm, and this year’s theme invited everyone to “Meet Us in the Winner’s Circle.”

For the first hour, attendees could grab a drink and some appetizers and mingle for a while.

The Easy Idle String Band has long provided the musical backdrop for this portion of the Winter Gathering, and 2024 was no exception.

At 7:30pm, it was time for dinner. Wendie Preiss, executive director of Flat River Outreach Ministries, gave the invocation, and then everyone lined up for a meal provided by a local favorite: Miss P’s Catering.

After some good food and good conversation, it was time to start the program.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Doll/Images of Vision

Shannon Kennedy, executive director of the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, started with a few remarks. She noted that in taking over for Liz Baker, she heard constantly that she had big shoes to fill. However, Kennedy also said, “I wear size 11 shoes so I have a lot to work with.”

Kennedy said this past year had been her “shut up and listen tour” as she began to consider what the future of the chamber will look like. She also shared the following highlights from 2023:

  • 344 current chamber members, just shy of the pre-COVID number of 360.
  • 284 participants in the Run the Riverwalk 5K, a record high.
  • 64 locations for Christmas Through Lowell in what was the event’s biggest — and some say most successful — year.
  • 1,536 kids visited Santa and Mrs. Claus on the Lowell Showboat VI.

“It was an amazing year, but obviously it wasn’t Shannon Kenney doing all that,” she said before recognizing the many volunteers who have helped make the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce a success.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Doll/Images of Vision

After her remarks, Kennedy turned over the podium to Cliff Yankovich who served as the emcee to present the evening’s awards.

“I’d like Wendie to come back up and pray for anyone who pays attention to Lowell Chatter (on Facebook),” Yankovich said at the start of his comments.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Doll/Images of VIsion

Known for his humor and energetic personality, Yankovich kept the audience rapt and laughing throughout the night.

Each of the evening’s award winners received a plaque from the chamber as well as a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Congressman Jon Moolenaar.

Charlie West of Lowell Light & Power receives the Non-Profit Spotlight Award, presented by Cliff Yankovich. Photo courtesy of Bruce Doll/Images of Vision

Up first was Lowell Light & Power which was in the Non-Profit Spotlight.

Yankovich noted that the municipal utility has rates that are 25% lower than Consumers Energy, and its customers are five times less likely to experience an outage.

Victoria and Chris Runstrom accept the Most Promising New Business Award from Cliff Yankovich. Photo courtesy of Bruce Doll/Images of Vision

Milo’s Kids Consignment Boutique was named the “Most Promising New Business,” and it was the second such award for owner Victoria Runstrom. She won this same award in 2022 for her first Lowell business, WearForward.

“If you keep giving her awards, she’s going to keep opening businesses,” her husband Chris joked.

Luke and Rachel Marin accept the Best Business Watch Award from Cliff Yankovich. Photo courtesy of Bruce Doll/Images of Vision

Window fishing is a thing in Lowell, and you can do it at Fish & Finn Outfitters and Consignment on Main Street. The business, owned by Luke and Rachel Marin, might be single-handedly responsible for creating a surge of interest in fishing in the community. Not only can you go fishing out the back window of the shop, but you can buy your gear and take fishing 101 classes there too.

For those reasons and more, Fish & Finn Outfitters and Consignment was named the Best Business to Watch in 2024.

Amanda Rogers receives the Brick Award presented by Cliff Yankovich. Photo courtesy of Bruce Doll/Images of Vision.

This year’s Brick Award — which wasn’t actually a brick, Yankovich noted — went to Rogers Neighborhood Realty.

Owned by Amanda Rogers, the business bought a storefront on Main Street last year, and she has put in countless hours of sweat equity to renovate and renew the building.

Steve Stephan accepts the Business Appreciation Award from Cliff Yankovich. Photo courtesy of Bruce Doll/Images of Vision

Double Deluxe or Mushroom & Swiss?

Lowell residents might disagree on which burger is better, but all can agree that Culver’s of Lowell has gone above and beyond in supporting the community by sponsoring youth sports teams, community events and local fundraising activities. For being all in on #TeamLowell, the restaurant was honored with the Business Appreciation Award.

Jim and Chris Hodges walking to the podium. Photo courtesy of Bruce Doll/Images of Vision

Last but not least, Jim Hodges was called to the podium to accept the 2024 Person of the Year Award.

Chris and Jim Hodges

Jim and his wife Chris have been members of the Lowell community for more than 40 years. Jim came to Lowell to run the YMCA here and soon found himself involved in everything from church ministries to local government to non-profits. For more about this year’s Person of the Year, click here.

Congratulations to all the night’s award recipients!

Note: Lowell’s First Look is proud member and supporter of the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. As part of the Members to Members Advantage Program, we offer a 10% discount off advertising to other chamber members.

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