Chamber honors business leaders, accomplishments

Published 9:27 am Friday, March 26, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated local business and honored a few outstanding community members at its annual meeting on Thursday night.
The dinner and ceremony took place at the Niles Elk's Lodge, 1322 Canal St. in Niles, and was attended by nearly 150 people.
One of the evening's highlights came when newly appointed chamber board chairman Paul Rifenberg announced the winners of the 2003 chamber awards.
Jerri Klinck and Tammy Watson, owners of the Riverfront Cafe, were named the 2003 Business Rookies of the Year. After opening in September, their business has become a local favorite and one of the most exciting new businesses to open in Niles in years.
The 2003 Community Service Award was given to long time Niles teacher and artist Janet Seaman for her five years of work on the large mural at the YMCA, her work on the historical murals for Fort St. Joseph Museum and for her help with the cleanup of the riverfront.
Sherry Hocking, owner of Radio Shack in Niles, was named the 2003 Woman of the Year for her outstanding work in business and within the community.
Nick Giannakakis, who owns and operates the Prime Table Restaurant and Millennium Steakhouse, was honored as the 2003 Man of the Year.
The 2003 Business of the Year was given to Jerry French, the fifth generation of his family to run the French Paper Co., Niles' oldest business.
A Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Ted and Marie Majerek for their long time involvement in the community and their dedication to the betterment of the Niles area.
The festivities also included the awarding of five scholarships to outstanding area students. Walmart donated four $500 scholarships to high achieving students from both Niles and Brandywine.
The Niles High School students awarded were Melanie Hunt, who plans to go to Southwestern Michigan College to pursue a career as a special education teacher, and Casey Sappington, who will pursue a career in computer networking.
The Brandywine High School students awarded were Nicholas Barlow, who plans on majoring in aviation at Baker College, and Tiffany Lunk, who will be studying performing arts at Southwestern Michigan College.
A final $1,000 scholarship awarded by Pilkington, a windshield manufacturing company in Niles, was given to Brandywine student Robert DeVerna, who was unable to attend the ceremony.
Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ron Sather kicked off the night's festivities with an overview of Niles business in 2003 and some of things to look forward to in 2004, including the move of the Ready Theater to Front Street, the expansion of the Niles Walmart and the new $16.5 million Lowe's store.
The evening's guest speaker was State Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, who gave a brief on some things happening in Michigan legislature and the possible effects on Southwestern Michigan.
Jelinek talked about the new restrictions on the importation of out of state waste and the challenge of balancing our state budget, which currently has a hole of $667 million.
He said the proposed tax increases in areas such as services, tobacco and alcohol could have an adverse impact on local business due to our proximity to the Indiana border.
Jelinek also stressed the importance and need for more jobs in our state.
The chamber's outgoing chairman of the board John Grinnell passed on the position of chamber chair to Rifenberg with the ceremonial exchange of the gavel.
Rifenberg looks forward to his new position and said there has not been a more exciting time to be involved in Niles with projects like the new police department, new fire department, the renovations taking place at Lakeland Hospital, a new Niles-Buchanan YMCA facility, the streetscape project and the "big brown takedown" in downtown Niles.
The excitement involved with all of the improvements taking place in the Niles community was a common theme among the evening's speakers.
Rifenberg said he appreciates the members' support of the chamber and will continue to promote the growth of our community. "Our sole function is to promote the well being of our members," he said. "Our success is measured by your success."