By paul maryniak
GSN Executive Editor

The Gilbert Chamber of Commerce recognized some of the town’s leaders in business – and some of its own star volunteers – last Wednesday as it celebrated its 13th business awards luncheon.

The event also offered CEO/President Kathy Tilque and outgoing board Chairman Eric Reber, owner/president of SpeedPro Imaging of opportunity to reflect on the organization’s accomplishments in the community and for its members.

“This past year, we have continued significant momentum in many of our efforts, including advocating on behalf of your business,” Reber told the gathering. “I can tell you that businesses are noticing.”

As evidence, he noted that the Chamber hit a milestone with 800 members and an all-time high of 84 percent of existing members renewing their membership.

Tilque was particularly proud of the Chamber Foundation, which was formed in 2017.

“In two short years, we have accomplished much, and we are on our way to becoming self-sustainable,” said Tilque, who herself was honored at the “Night of Heroes” gala by the nonprofit Posirtive Paths earlier this year for her work on behalf of underprivileged people in the region and her mentorship of women in business.

Tilque also announced that the Chamber Foundation, the sponsor of Gilbert Leadership and Partners in Progress programs and other community efforts, will launch a fundraising campaign in August.

Three baseball-themed teams will work to raise $60,000 “to build capacity to not only run these programs but to expand them in the next year,” she said.

With the help of a video developed by chamber intern and Arizona State University student Kamryn Rivington, Tilque ticked off the accomplishments of both programs.

Gilbert Leadership has graduated 650 people now involved in community service and completed 27 projects representing a $250,000 investment in the town.

The foundation “adopted” 200 low-income Gilbert seniors during the holidays, raised money to provide 37,850 meals for the underserved and helped 200 students from homeless families with a back-to-school drive.

Under its Partners In Progress initiative, the foundation’s Tours for Teachers program enabled 70 to impact an estimated 3,500 students and helped 185 students “shadow” business owners and professionals while introducing 300 to career opportunities in manufacturing.

“The work of the foundation is making a difference right here in our community,” Tilque said.  “We want to grow these programs. Our requests are higher than our capacity to manage them at this time.  Ensuring we have the resources to continue this great work is why our Foundation Campaign is so important.”

  The teams are the Cubs, led by Rick Kettner; Diamondbacks, led by Matt Streeper; and the MudHens, named after a Toledo, Ohio, and led by  Reber.

Meanwhile, Reber cited several members for their contributions to the Chamber and the town.

Among them were Keven DeRosa, who led the group’s Ambassador Committee, hosting 70 ribbon-cutting events; Annette Schmidt, who led the Business and Industry Committee; Mark Newman, who headed Gilbert Leadership’s 27th class; Brett Manning, who chaired the Gilbert Manufacturers Council; J.W. Raythons, who for 10 years has led  Partners in Progress.

He also cited Katie Prendergast, who chaired the Public Policy Committee and “played an active role in protecting Gilbert’s future sustainability through preservation of commercial property and pro-business regulations;” Christie Boutain, who led the Small Business Council.

Reber also presented tokens of appreciation provided by Willow Massage & Spa to eight leaders who served as liaisons for the Chamber.

They included Councilman Scott Anderson, Dr. Jeff Ehrlich of Park University; Shea Joachim from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Realtor Joan Krueger, NAI Horizon and Chamber Foundation chair; Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent and Higley Unified Superintendent Mike Thomason and Jon Schmitt of Arizona State University – Polytechnic Campus.

Reber also wound up his tenure as board chair, and handed a ceremonial gavel to Mark Streeper of SRP

The highlight of the event came as the Chamber announced the winners of its coveted annual awards.

The winners are:

Scholarship winners

Sarah Edmunds, Desert Ridge High School; Ashton Flake and Emily Pearce, both of Perry High; Kelly Foster, Alyssa Lemere and Lazaro Ortiz, all ASU; and Haylee Rolnick and Lexie Struhs, both Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

Employer of Choice

Gilbert Public Schools won this award, which recognizes a Chamber member with a leading-edge workplace that maximizes employee recruitment, engagement, and retention.

“Gilbert Public Schools has created a culture where regardless of your role, employees enthusiastically perpetuate the core values that define the organization,” the Chamber said. “These include cultivating a sense of family, tradition, loyalty, integrity, respect and humility – all rooted in academic excellence.  As an educational institution, with over 4,300 employees, GPS believes in and promotes a culture of lifelong learning and professional growth opportunities.”

  The Chamber cited the district’s 139 professional development courses and a well-being program that supports employees’ emotional, physical and financial health.

Small Business of the Year

910 West won this award, given to companies with no more than 10 employees. The Chamber said Jasmine Holmes, the business development chief for the company continuously increased revenue for the last 12 years with solid marketing.

“Changing technology has been challenging, not only staying on top of new tactics, but dealing with cyber security and data protection, as well as protecting their clients,” it said.

Mid-Sized Business of the Year

Arizona Veterinary Oncology owner Dr. Boshoven won praised for turning around the practice after buying it four years ago.

“He is a big believer that if you have happy employees,” the Chamber said, calling the practice “the premier veterinary oncology service in not only Gilbert, but also throughout Arizona and the Southwest.”

Large Business of the Year

Northrup Grumman won this award for being “a significant player in the space and aerospace market, with affordable, innovative products for their customers.”

“Primary challenges have been related to managing growth,” the Chamber said. “Low employment and finding qualified talent are a challenge. They have overcome this through targeted recruitment both locally and abroad.  They have aggressive hiring and training processes for new graduates and discharged military.”

Chamber Volunteer of the Year

Emily Staples, the new owner of a Fastsigns franchise in Gilbert, was recognized for her service to the Chamber.

“Emily joined the Chamber in August of 2017 and hit the ground running.  She immediately joined the Ambassador committee and immersed herself in our Chamber programming.  Emily regularly introduces the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce to her client base and new businesses she meets in the community and surrounding East Valley, all while successfully upstarting her franchise.”

“Emily is always willing to volunteer her time, participate in business visits and share what a benefit the Chamber has been to her and her business.”   

Foundation Volunteer of Year

Barb Dwyer won this award for being “one of the most dedicated and fearless education advocates our Town has ever known.”

The Chamber praised her work in creating mentorship and other programs, noting she was hired as the college and career pathways liaison at Highland High School.

“She is dedicated to the success of our future workforce and the educators who are shaping the talent of tomorrow. She has left an invaluable mark on our programs and we are grateful for the contributions of her time and talent.”

Gilbert Leadership Award

Rudy Apodaca won this award as the Chamber cited her for “his efforts to promote and support our community.”

“Through his leadership Rudy helped bring valuable services to our community including Dignity’s stroke program, Phoenix Children’s Hospital along with programs to help the underserved population.”

“He is a wonderful example of what it means to embrace a program and make it work for you, your business and surrounding community.”

Businessman of the Year

CPA Ralph Willett won this award and the Chamber described him as “a firm believer in continuous education, taking not only courses on the technical aspects of taxation, special rules on accounting, but also management.”

A CPA since 1984, he “takes each client to heart and tries to treat their personal information as if it’s his own and has learned that each client’s needs are different, working out different solutions for each set of issues.

“He has served the community and the chamber in several capacities – in the political arena, mentoring CPA students and volunteering for Boy scouts of American, Gilbert Education Foundation and Chamber board.”

Businesswoman of the Year

Elaine Kessler was recognized for her ability to “influence social change through her artistic and entrepreneurial vision.

“She defines excellence as making a difference in the world while pursuing one’s passions, the Chamber continued. “As a photographer, entrepreneur, artist and cultural leader, she has influenced social change through her work and community involvement.”

It noted her nonprofit, Created Equal, produces “design-thinking based interactive art exhibits that examine the equity and equality of societal themes.”

“Serving in numerous volunteer roles throughout the community, she has presented on panels, chaired commissions, forged alliances to bring art to Gilbert, mentored both students and new businesses.”

The presenting sponsor for the event was Alliance Bank of Arizona.

Other sponsors included Atmosphere Commercial Interiors, Meadows Bank, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Southwest Airlines, Arizona State University-Polytechnic Campus, Rocket Media, Elaine Kessler Photography, International Minute Press, Nothing Bundt Cakes and DJ Trego of Vox DJs.

The Chamber also saluted four outgoing board members: Sonja Shaw of Wells Fargo; Jeff Mirasola of CenturyLink; Rick Kettner of Northrup Grumman; and Todd Brundrett of Norwood Furniture.