Chamber of Commerce honors businesses, volunteers

By Nicole Cooke

March 20, 2014

The Sedalia Chamber of Commerce gave out 13 awards to local businesses and volunteers during its awards banquet Thursday night at the Sedalia Country Club, with more than 90 people in attendance.

Local businesses were recognized for their efforts, but the night was mostly about recognizing the volunteers and Chamber employees that work to improve and promote Sedalia in the community and around the state. The first award, Special Project of the Year, was given to the Citizens for a Clean Sedalia Committee for their work in improving the city, something Chamber President Doug Benitz and Executive Director Angie Thompson both agreed is important for businesses.

“They’ve made a big difference in our city, physically cleaning it up,” Benitz said. “They’ve given us multiple recommendations for different codes, and they bring a lot of ideas and energy to the city. Their ideas may not always be popular, but this is a group that has a focus and wants to be involved, and they do that.”

“They play an important role in the community,” Thompson said. “When businesses or new residents are looking to come to Sedalia, it’s important to have a clean community, to give them a pleasant view of what Sedalia is.”

Mary Merritt, of Art & Graphic Innovations, was honored with the Outstanding Citizen Award, and many of her nieces and nephews made the trip from a few hours away just to see her accept the award. She gave a short speech, and noted the importance of showing young people the need for civic engagement, whether that is in their personal or professional lives. She also demonstrated her own civic engagement by using her acceptance speech to promote Tuesday’s mayoral and councilmember candidate forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters, one of many organizations Merritt is a member of.

“She is really focused on helping the community as a whole,” Thompson said. “People knew we were looking for nominations and we received over 10 letters (nominating Mary) from leaders in the community because of her efforts.”

The recipients of two awards were not listed in the program in order to keep them a surprise. One was the Spirit Award from the Military Affairs Committee, given to Christopher Neiman, 509th Security Forces Squadron commander, who wasn’t able to attend, and to Mayor Elaine Horn, for her dedication to Whiteman Air Force Base. The other was the President’s Award, which is selected by Benitz. He chose Chamber Office Manager Debra Andresen, who he said is an integral part of the Chamber.

“She does more things on accident than most people do on purpose,” Benitz said. “She took her job, and another one, and just did it. She hadn’t even been here very long when we asked her to do that, but she stepped up and knocked it out of the park. She’s organized and committed to what we do, and always knows what’s going on. Someone like that is invaluable.”

During 2013, the Chamber of Commerce added 38 new members, bringing its total to 284, had its second annual Piccadilly Gala with 149 women attending, and Taste of Sedalia was the largest event of the year with more than 400 guests. It also marked the first year that the Chamber split into three entities to better serve Sedalia: the Heritage Foundation, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Chamber of Commerce.

“This was a long time coming,” said Chamber President Doug Benitz. “It was a year of legal hurdles, regulations hurdles, but it gives those entities so much freedom to pursue their mission without all that overhead. The number of events this year and how they were promoted, the success of those events was better because these groups were able to focus on what they do best.”