FAIRFIELD — In a crowded gymnasium at Kennebec Valley Community College, eight individuals, businesses and organizations were honored Thursday for what they’ve done to help better the region.

The 54th Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce Annual Award Ceremony, which shifted to KVCC last year after previously being held at the Waterville Elks Banquet and Conference Center, brought together people from all over the region, not just to honor the award-winners but also to network and socialize. And socialize they did, over drinks and appetizers, with paper lanterns dangling from the ceiling. On stage before awards were presented was a violin player, but the music was drowned out by the size and noise of the crowd.

Chamber President and CEO and Central Maine Growth Council Executive Director Kimberly Lindlof said the reason for the event was to highlight the recipients “in high style” and celebrate their “outstanding work” as people who have given so much to the region.

This year’s winners included a number of either notable or long-standing businesses or individuals, and all were met with standing ovations from the audience. The Business of the Year award went to Eye Care of Maine, a practice with four medical doctors and four optometrists on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville that traces its origin to Dr. Howard Hill’s Waterville ophthalmology practice, founded in 1922, and consists of both a clinic and an ambulatory surgery center. It has grown from 40 employees to over 100 in the past decade, and now has offices in Pittsfield and Greenville.

Chris Gaunce, an owner of Central Maine Motors on Kennedy Memorial Drive, was honored as Business Person of the Year. The Waterville native previously was honored by the Chamber as the Rising Star in 2008, and he has been a staple in the community for years. He is closely involved with the Central Maine Growth Council and continues to look for ways to continue help spur economic development in the region. His grandfather started the company in 1935, and his father came on board in 1960. After many stops around the country, Gaunce settled back in Waterville.

Taking the stage to receive his award, Gaunce said it was “truly humbling” to receive the award and recognition, and said something like this is a thing a person would remember for a lifetime. He said things on the horizon for the area are “absolutely outstanding,” and what was needed was for everyone in the room to be “ambassadors of what makes this place great.”

“This is a great place to be,” he said.

The Elias A. Joseph Award, which is handed out to individuals with significant volunteering commitment, was presented to Brad Fisher, the owner of Vacationland Skydiving. Fisher first got involved with the Chamber in 2007, and over a decade he has volunteered thousands of hours organizing events, attending meetings and helping the group craft its policy positions.

Brent Burger and Michael Roy, owners of five Campbell’s Agway True Value stores, were presented the Distinguished Community Service award. Burger and Roy were recognized for their many contributions to the area, including financial contributions to the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville and other organizations; serving on the boards of the Youth Center, the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter and Mount Merici Academy; as well as weekly volunteering at MaineGeneral Hospital, school field trips, soup kitchens and food pantries. They established The Burger-Roy Family Charitable Trust awards gifts to organizations with a primary focus on supporting underserved children and families, as well as education and performing arts in local schools.

Garvan Donegan, the senior economic development specialist at the Central Maine Growth Council, a nonprofit that essentially serves as the economic development department for Waterville, Winslow and Fairfield, was recognized as the Chamber’s Rising Star. Donegan has worked to help spur economic development in the region, and was part of the team that brought Collaborative Consulting to Waterville.

Upon receiving his award, Donegan said he was accepting it on behalf of his team at the Growth Council, praising the effect they have had on central Maine. He said over the past year, there has been a lot of development in the area, either with new businesses coming in or existing businesses expanding. He said those in the area must keep working to build up the workforce, which is part of a strategic plan the council has been working to carry out.

Tina Chapman, the development and communications coordinator at Kennebec Behavioral Health, was selected as the Chamber’s Outstanding Professional for her volunteering and community service efforts. Chapman is president of the Waterville Rotary Club, where she has worked to implement an early-childhood literacy program in local schools. She also wrote a successful grant application for a program that helped improve sanitation in Guatemala by building new latrines. She’s president of the board of a group called Revitalizing the Energy in Maine, an organization that focuses on community development.

Chapman said it was an understatement to say she was humbled and honored to receive the award. She then went on to say she loved her time with the Rotary Club, praising its accomplishments and saying they occurred because of its members. She also praised Kennebec Behavioral Health for being supportive of her.

Peg Campbell, the administrative assistant at the accounting firm PFBF CPAs in Oakland, was chosen as the recipient of the “Customer Service Stardom Award.” Campbell was recognized for her decade of service to the firm, where she greets clients and makes sure everyone has what they need throughout the day. The award recognizes someone who provides exceptional customer service and takes great pride in his or her job.

Campbell said she was honored to be there, having been nominated by her coworkers and been selected by the Chamber. She said customer service was more than just a department for a company; it was a mindset.

“It’s important to remember kindness matters,” she said.

Finally, the Sukeforth Family Festival of Trees was recognized as the Community Service Project of the Year. The annual festival raises six-figure sums for volunteer hospice and meals programs. It also brings thousands of people to the Hathaway Creative Center during the holidays. Hosted by Doug and Rita Sukeforth and their family, the event raised money for Spectrum Generations’ Meals on Wheels programs in six counties, as well as Hospice Volunteers of Waterville Area.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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