Chamber banquet reflects positive changes all around

Until they called my name, I was really enjoying this year’s Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet.

It was a full house, with a program that, though extensive, kept moving and stayed interesting.

The crowd was enthusiastic. The applause at the end sounded just as loud as at the beginning.

Masters of ceremonies Tess Yahyazadeh, from Key Bank, and George Medellin, who has rapidly become the public face of Linn-Benton Community College in Sweet Home, in the business community, anyway, did a great job, mixing in a bit of patter that kept things moving. Yahyazadeh, the manager of Key Bank, who is from South Africa, whipped out her green card at one point in response to a little needling from Medellin, to the delight of the crowd.

Even though the table I was sitting at (up front and wide to the right so I could take photos with minimum disruption) was slightly outside the prime range of the audio system, I could hear pretty well most of the time, and it didn’t appear that others were complaining. (The fact that I’d neglected to wear ear protection while running a power saw for much of the day before heading to the banquet probably didn’t help either.)

I didn’t actually go back and check each year, but as I believe I’ve been to every banquet since 2005, so I actually have some (recent, at least) history to go on here. This one was terrific.

This banquet, I thought, reflected the turnaround we’ve been seeing at the chamber overall, and the board, along with all the volunteers who put it together, deserve the compliments they should be getting.

Before I go too far on this, let me hasten to note that a band of dedicated individuals – board members and others – have made sure we had an awards banquet in recent years. Many of them were retirees, individuals who refused to let the chamber drift off into oblivion, and they doggedly kept things moving when the revenue wasn’t flowing and when momentum wasn’t great. I have always appreciated what they’ve accomplished.

We should all, by now, know the story of what’s happened in the last year: how the current board has put in an infinitude of volunteer hours to get things turned around after it became clear about this time last year that the chamber was essentially broke and owed about $100,000, not to mention government-required reports, taxes and other paperwork that was as much as several years overdue.

They’ve worked hard, they’ve gotten things cleaned up, and they pulled together a wonderful evening, particularly when we realize that few of those involved in getting this event together had ever done it before here in Sweet Home.

What I find most encouraging about the chamber is that people who should be on our chamber board now are. Most of the current members are representatives of actual businesses in town, including some of the larger firms. That’s the way it should be. It’s the way it is in almost every city in the nation that has a healthy chamber of commerce.

Back to the awards banquet.

It was terrific to see the level of enthusiasm for the “Christmas All Year ‘Round” them inspired by Sweet Home’s role in producing this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree in Washington D.C. When you have 300 people yelling and applauding enthusiastically when they’re being told that they’re playing a central role in a national event, it makes it that much better. This was true community spirit.

Bringing local country music star Trevor Tagle in to entertain was a big plus. Whoever came up with that idea pretty much guaranteed that it would get on a lot of people’s calendars. Probably a good thing, since it sold out two weeks before the event, which says something else about the planning.

While the scuttlebutt was that some of the award winners had to be told they were going to be honored, which isn’t really the way it’s traditionally been done, I think problems like that can be solved. I’ve always liked the fact that Sweet Home’s winners generally are surprised when their names are called (and out-of-town family members suddenly appear from down the hall, where they’ve been lurking), kind of like in that G.M. commercial that’s been playing on TV lately.

That makes it fun to watch.

I’m hope the energy and vision that was evident this year will manifest itself in renewed enthusiasm from the public for nominating people who are deserving. There are many people in Sweet Home whose names aren’t on the list of winners we published in last week’s paper and who weren’t among the honorees Saturday night. It’s a little bit of a chore to (secretly) gather information on somebody for that nomination form – I know, I’ve done it multiple times – but it’s a chance to let people know about somebody who may prefer to do a lot of things without public acknowledgement they deserve.

Back to the secrecy thing: A solution I’ve seen from other chambers, and one I’ve often thought would be a good idea here, would be to simply publish the nominees before the event. The winner would still be a surprise to everybody, but frankly, just being nominated is an honor and it shouldn’t be too big a blow to not come out on top. Plus, it would give a lot of people a good excuse to participate in the banquet, where they will get a sense of Sweet Home they’re not getting in front of their TV set on a Saturday night.

I have to say I had no clue when my name was called. Like I said above, I couldn’t hear real well from my seat and I was just starting to get suspicious because when the First Citizen details were being announced by Tess Yahyazadeh, I picked up on the name of my church and a couple of other organizations I’m involved in. Huh?

My daughter and son-in-law were with us, but I’d been told they’d come to hear Trevor Tagle perform, for which I was thankful, since I’m in on any excuse to get the kids to come home for a visit. Turns out it was all a ruse, but nobody actually lied.

That’s the way it should be.

So although it was a little disconcerting to hear my own name, I still had a lot of fun, and I came away with an increased appreciation for Sweet Home, which is what should happen. And thanks.