AUGUSTA — In some ways, the 2021 Kenney Awards were the same as they are every year — genial host, live voting and a public celebration of the accomplishments of members of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce.

But in one other significant way it was very different: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings, the event was held virtually, hosted from the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center in Gardiner and featuring live speakers.

“This event tonight and the tremendous turnout and support for our chamber is a real testimony to the engagement we have seen by so many members,” Earl Kingsbury, director of the Augusta Civic Center, and 2022 chairman of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said at Friday’s event. “The chamber had to adapt and pivot its business plan this past year, as so many of our businesses did as well.”

The year 2020 was like no other, Kingsbury said, thanking the past board chairman Alec Rogers, the board of directors and the staff of the Chamber of Commerce. “We all came together as a region and made it through,” he said.

This year, five awards were given to chamber members.

Before the event, Woodlands Senior Living was named Large Business of the Year, Sprague & Curtis Real Estate was named Small Business of the Year, and the Augusta Food Bank was honored with the Community Service Award.

No nominations for the Peter G. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award were submitted this year.

Through live text-voting, members chose winners in two categories. 

The attending members chose Gosline Insurance Group as the President’s Circle.

Ashley Purington accepted the award on behalf of the company, which is the largest privately-owned insurance agency in central Maine.

“None of this would be possible without the continued support of our clients and valued staff,” Purington said.

The other finalists were Highbrow and Transco Business Technologies.

Members also chose Shawn McLaughlin, owner of State Lunch, as the CYNERGY Young Professional.

Shawn McLaughlin Contributed photo

“It’s very humbling to me; I didn’t expect it at all,” McLaughlin said, thanking his partners, Casey Hynes, James Bass, Tobias Parkhurst and Chris Geerlings, as well as his wife Soo Parkhurst, her parents Richard and Janet Parkhurst and his father Michael McLaughlin.

“I moved here about four years ago and was immediately struck by the community and how everybody stuck together, and really wanted to get involved,” he said, noting that he joined the Augusta Downtown Alliance and became involved in its efforts.

He also thanked the staff at State Lunch, who were able to adapt to pandemic restrictions that were imposed only weeks after the restaurant opened in February 2020.

The other finalists were Ranae L’Italien, CEO of the Kennebec Valley YMCA, and Katelyn Pushard, director of development and grant manager for the Children’s Center in Augusta.

As a way to provide a meal for the event, tickets came with vouchers to order from local participating restaurants. Through those vouchers, $10,300 was spent at those restaurants.

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