Some of the district’s finest businesses and individuals were in the spotlight Saturday night during the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce’s 11th-annual business awards.
More than 150 people attended the gala at La Place Rendez-Vous to see 12 awards handed out.
The Fort Frances Clinic Dispensary was named Business of the Year (1-15 employees), and owner Kim Metke was clearly surprised when he stepped up to the podium Saturday night.
“I’m very honoured to receive it,” he said in an interview yesterday. “I looked down that list and there were so many others on there worthy of the award.
“Certainly, I was not expecting to get an award.”
In fact, Metke had planned to be on vacation right now. But due to unforeseen circumstances, he ended up staying in town and attending the gala with his wife, Marietheres, and several staff members.
Metke admitted he hasn’t had much time to personally work at the Fort Frances Clinic Dispensary or Pharmasave recently due to his extensive involvement with the national and regional Pharmasave boards of directors.
Not to mention his ownership of a Pharmasave store and clinic dispensary in Dryden, and co-ownership in two pharmacies in Manitoba and 11 more in Saskatchewan.
“I’ve kind of moved on from being a hands-on employer,” Metke noted.
As such, he chalked up the continuing success of the Fort Frances Clinic Dispensary and his other businesses to good employees, particularly Debbie Williamson at the clinic dispensary and Renate Winkler at Pharmasave here.
Taking a page from author Stephen Covey’s “Beyond the 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People,” Metke noted there’s been a paradigm shift in the modern workplace, where employees have become more valuable than material assets, like machinery.
“If I have to replace pharmacist, a technician, or a clerk, it’s a major issue. It’s very expensive when you calculate what it costs to your business,” he stressed.
“I could have all this wonderful equipment, but if I don’t have anyone to operate it. . . .
“Debbie and Renate don’t act like employees, they act like its their business,” Metke continued. “They’re just two examples of what happening in my businesses right now.
“Certainly from the Fort Frances Clinic Dispensary’s standpoint, it’s an honour to get the award. Debbie is to thank for that.”
Metke is no stranger to business awards. He’s been named Entrepreneur of the Year twice, and in 2004 earned the James Paul Award for his long-term contributions to the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce.
Another big winner was Ed Kaun & Sons, which won the Business of the Year Award (16+ employees).
Wayne Kaun was clearly elated as he shared a few words after being handed the award on stage by Rick Cooper of Bell Canada.
“We try really hard to get the job done,” he remarked. “And I think we finally did.”
Susan Bodnarchuk of Holmlund Financial won the Business Woman of the Year Award while Jackie Lampi-Hughes, owner of Energy Fitness Centre here, was named Entrepreneur of the Year.
“I was honoured to win the award. I was also very excited to be nominated for the different awards,” said Lampi-Hughes, referring to the fact she also was nominated for Business Woman of the Year and Energy Fitness Centre both for the Customer Service Award (business) and Business of the Year (1-15 employees).
“And I was very honoured to be up against all those other nominees,” she added.
Lampi-Hughes noted she couldn’t do what she does if it weren’t for the support of husband, sister, parents, and the rest of her family and staff.
Joanne Bliss of RBC Investments was named Employee of the Year, with Glenn Witherspoon capturing the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I’m humbled, I’m happy, and thank you,” said Witherspoon, who closed the doors of Witherspoon’s One Stop at the end of August after 50 years as a family business.
Not only a long-time business owner but a mayor of Fort Frances for 12 years, Witherspoon stressed the town and business community must keep focused on the future.
The Tony Beyak Volunteer of the Year went to Linda Hamilton, who tearfully thanked all her family, friends, and co-workers for allowing her to do her charitable work.
“It’s an honour,” she said. “I truly believe you can’t be a volunteer without other people helping you, supporting you.
“I accept the award on behalf of all of those people that support me and the volunteering I do.”
Hamilton is involved locally with the Fort Frances Community Chest, “Spirit of Christmas,” and Canadian Cancer Society, and also sits on the Moffat Family Fund selection committee.
In the past, Hamilton has been on the Canadian Cancer Society provincial board, and was involved in its provincial strategic planning process last year.
She’s also been on a provincial cancer board at the Thunder Bay Regional Hospital, the Riverside Health Care Facilities, Inc.’s board of directors, and a Salvation Army advisory board.
Hamilton reminded the Chamber membership Saturday night that the business community has to remain strong in order to support charitable causes, and urged everyone to vote in the Nov. 13 municipal election.
The Accessibility Award was given to the Canadian Mental Health Association while Jayne’s TLC was honoured with the Customer Service Award (business) and Neila Booth of Gourmet Outfitters the Customer Service Award (individual).
“It is a wonderful honour to know that the customers appreciate the help that you give them,” Booth said in an interview yesterday. “I thought it was great to get the award. I was just shaking.
“I really do love my job, and I do like helping people,” she added. “I think one of the biggest things is with Gourmet Outfitters is it’s a totally different kind of store. There’s lots of different products.
“It’s a different way of selling,” Booth remarked. “You have both men and women in there.”
The Safety Award (individual/employee) was given to Grace Silander of the Fort Frances Ambulance Service while the Rainy River District Substance Abuse Prevention Team received the Safety Award (business/employer).
Nominations for the awards were sought over a six-week period in September and October, and any business in Rainy River District was eligible to be nominated.
A total of 82 nominations, listing 75 different nominees, were received for this year’s business awards.
Geoff Gillon of the Rainy River Future Development Corp. also was on hand Saturday night to name the winners of its 2006 Customer Service Champion Awards.
This year’s top picks were (in alphabetical order) Cloverleaf Shop Easy Foods, Crozier Warehouse & Bay Rentals, Curves for Women, Drs. Lidkea, Elliott, and Lidkea, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Fort Frances General Supply, the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau, La Place Rendez-Vous, Shopper’s Home Health Care Centre, and Super 8 Motel.
Businesses receiving honourable mentions included Green’s Countrywide Furniture & Appliances, Mark’s Work Wearhouse, New Life Clinic, Northwoods Gallery & Gifts, Rainy Lake Sports & Tackle, Rainy River True Value, The Corner Closet, The Great Bear, and Warehouse One Clothing.
These winners originally were announced back in May, with Gillon saying the Customer Service Challenge program will take place again next spring.
The awards ceremony was emceed by Chamber president Gary Rogozinski, with the Borderland Orchestra Ensemble providing music for the event.