AUGUSTA — More than 800 people turned out Friday at the Kenney Awards to celebrate the accomplishments of business community members of the Augusta region at the annual meeting of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce.

In brief comments at the start of the event, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said what makes Maine special is its sense of community. “It’s a big small town with a long street,” King said.

And in a small way, King said, he’s promoting that sense of community in Washington, D.C., by hosting casual dinners for his colleagues in the Senate where they can talk and get to know each other outside the halls of government.

A year ago, the Kenneys adopted the practice of live voting via text message on the night of the banquet for three of the six awards given.

Voters chose Thomas College as the winner of The President’s Choice Award.

To be eligible, nominees must have been in business at least two years and must show their effect on the region through their revenue growth and job creation. They also must be considered leaders in their industry and have maintained an exemplary business image.

“We’ve touched a lot of lives over the years,” President Laurie Lachance said, indicating the scores of people in the crowd who have graduated from Thomas College.

At the end of the 1980s, the college was at risk of closing, and Lachance took the opportunity Friday to thank Conrad Ayotte, co-chairman of the college’s board of trustees, for helping to turn its finances around.

Also nominated were Darling’s Auto and the Marketplace at Augusta.

Darling’s Auto opened its Augusta location in 2007, adding to its established footprint in the state. The company has shown year-over-year sales increases, and last year it built a new dealership on Western Avenue.

Besides expanding to be able to sell and service more cars, the Augusta Darling’s also prides itself on investing in its employees’ training, and it tries to give back to area organizations, according to Lynne Darling, director of community relations and part-owner.

The Marketplace at Augusta has become a regional retail center for the capital area. Located on 100 acres just off Interstate 95, it offers a wide range of shopping and restaurant choices to the estimated 29,000 people who shop there daily. Its annual economic impact in Augusta is an estimated $2.6 million in property taxes.

The Marketplace got its start after Roger Pomerleau, along with his father, Frank, and brother Norman started acquiring property in the high-profile site and developing it.

An estimated three-quarters of Thomas College graduates remain in Maine to build their lives and careers at places such as MaineGeneral Health, Central Maine Power Co. and Cianbro.

The goal of Thomas College, a private business college located in Waterville, is to keep doing so in the coming years and to expand its offerings to meet the needs of a knowledge-based, technologically driven economy, Lachance said.

School officials are planning to launch an accelerated master’s program in cyber security in the fall.

Cecil Munson was voted the recipient of the Community Service Award.

Each of the nominees has been active in service to his or her community, improving conditions in the Kennebec Valley, and has been recognized by peers for integrity and performance.

“I wasn’t born here,” Munson said. “All these years, I have felt accepted here, and that tells you what kind of community this is.”

After retiring as chief social worker at VA Maine Healthcare Systems — Togus, Cecil Munson turned to local politics. He was elected to the Augusta City Council, where he served for nine years.

Munson said he became aware of the struggles of people less fortunate while serving in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps. He has been involved with the Heating Challenge and the Augusta Warming Center and is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District and Lithgow Public Library. He’s also on the Healthy Communities of the Capital Area group board.

Also nominated were Ray Fecteau and Gina LoMonaco and Rick Mancir.

Fecteau, a longtime barber, has worked to promote pétanque, a game that’s similar to bocce, in the Augusta area. It’s part of Fecteau’s work to continue bringing the community together in unique ways. He was named Ambassador of Goodwill by three governors, was honored by Le Club Calumet — where he also served as president — as its La Medaille d’Honneur recipient and was inducted into the Franco-American Hall of Fame of Maine.

LoMonaco and Mancir of GEvolution Fitness consider community to be the heart of their Edison Drive business. At GEvolution, which is dedicated to building an empowered strength community, team members participate in a community service project.

Erika Bush was named the 2018 Cynergy Young Professional.

The Cynergy Young Professionals Award is awarded to a professional in the 21-to-40 age group who has shown exemplary leadership and have shown a commitment to the betterment of the Kennebec Valley area.

Just as she was called on to serve and volunteer as she was growing up, Bush said she’s issuing a challenge to young volunteers today to figure out what will make the Augusta area a draw in the future.

Bush, 29, is the coordinator of private label marketing at NRF Distributors, and credits her parents’ time as foster parents for inspiring her to contribute to her community a way of life.

She was a co-founder of Hear the Hungry, a nonprofit organization focused on public education of homelessness during her senior year at City College in New York City.

She is on the United Way Allocations Committee and on the board for the Children’s Center in Augusta, acts a Kennebec Valley Chamber Membership Ambassador, and is the current Chair of Cynergy.

Also nominated were Jac Arbour and Rachel Merriam.

Arbour, 33, has built J.M. Wealth Management, a business in retirement and estate planning. In addition to being a financial planner, he’s also a published author, with his second book expected to be out in March.

Arbour’s service includes working with the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed, the Kennebec Historical Society and the Kennebec Valley YMCA.

Merriam, 36, started a career in rehabilitation and counseling after graduating from Springfield College with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She works as a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Augusta Career Center and a transition counselor.

She cites a passion about being a positive influence in the community and about helping others. She serves on the boards of several local organizations, including Kiwanis for Kids, the Betsy Ann Ross House of Hope and the High Hopes Clubhouse; and she serves on a committee that helps the governor identify and recognize people and businesses that give back to the community. She been an active fundraiser and wants to continue donating resources, time and energy to the central Maine and Kennebec Valley community.

Earlier, chamber officials announced the winner of its three other annual awards.

Norman Elvin was named the winner of the 2018 Peter G. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award. Named for the chamber’s long-serving president, the award honors service to the business community and those who have made a lasting impression on the business climate of the area. Elvin is president and a co-founder of G&E Roofing and founder and former owner of The China Dine-ah as well as the China Dine-ah Too, a seasonal operation later known as Norm’s Chicken and Seafood in China. He sold the China Dine-ah in 2014 so he could have more time with his family. In 2016, he donated the other restaurant property, which was on Route 3, to Grace Academy. It is now the Grace Academy Homeschool & Learning Center.

While he has stepped away from making day-to-day decisions at the roofing company, he remains involved with the business. He is one of three donors who contributed $50,000 or more for the construction of the new Augusta Food Bank building on Mount Vernon Avenue, which recently opened its doors.

Lajoie Brothers, Inc., was named the 2018 Large Business of the year.

This multi-generational family construction business is being honored for demonstrating its excellence in its field as well as revenue growth and job creation.

Founded in 1962 by brothers O’Neil and Armand Lajoie, the company is now in the hands of the second and third generation of Lajoies. In the five decades since, the business has expanded from one truck and a one-room office to what it is today. The company has earned the loyalty of its employees; 18 of them have been with the company for more than 15 years.

Capital Area Staffing Solutions was named the 2018 Small Business of the Year.

The company, which opened its doors in 2003, has seen a shift in its business from filling short-term vacancies to finding permanent employees for businesses in the Augusta and Bangor areas.

In winning this award, Capital Area Staffing Solutions is being recognized for excellence in its industry as well as staff development, customer service and marketing practices.

Cathy DeMerchant, co-owner and one of the founders of the firm, said she and team members are connected in the community, volunteering on nonprofit and other area boards.

The Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce honors its award winners each year at an annual banquet. In 2015, the chamber opted to make the event more high-profile, renaming it the Kenney Awards, and suggesting formal attire be worn.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ