Chamber praises Niles leaders

Published 2:03 am Wednesday, March 22, 2006

By By ANDY HAMILTON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Some of the best and brightest in Niles were recognized Tuesday night at the annual Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce meeting.
Close to 200 people gathered at the Niles Elks Lodge 1322 to recognize the recipients of 10 awards.
The first people acknowledged were Superintendent of Niles Community Schools Doug Law and Paul Rifenberg. Law was given the Chairman's Award for his efforts as Chairman of the Board of Directors for 2005.
Law in turn presented Rifenberg with a past Director's Award.
The next presentation was for the Chamber Scholarship Awards, which are annually handed out to a student from both Brandywine and Niles high schools. Delivering the honors was Superintendent of Brandywine Community Schools Gary Rider, who joked the recipients were “the two best candidates for governor in the room.”
Receiving the awards for 2005 were Matt Weiger of Brandywine and John van der Linden of Niles. Weiger said he plans to study supply chain management, while van der Linden said he would choose between biology and mathematics.
Earning the Community Service Award was Zeta Theta, a local chapter of the national philanthropic organization Psi Iota Xi.
The Niles chapter was chartered in 1959. Since 1960, the sorority has tested the vision and hearing of preschool children in Niles, Brandywine, Berrien Springs and other nearby cities. Accepting the award was the President of Zeta Theta Kathy Vedder.
The Chamber also honored Chickie Landgraf as the Citizen Volunteer of the Year. Landgraf has served on the YMCA Board of Directors for more than 10 years and recently spent time in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana searching for ideas in constructing the new Niles-Buchanan YMCA. She also donated her $1,000 prize from the 2001 Susan Beebe Coles Award during National Volunteer Week to the ‘Y'.
Landgraf has also worked on multiple projects for downtown Niles. She had a large hand in the development of the Hunter Ice Festival and has personally overseen the maintenance of the Main Street Bridge flowers.
The 2005 Community Service Award was given to the Niles Service League. A group of women volunteers formed the organization in 1934 for the benefit of infants and preschool children. The Service League gave thousands of dollars in scholarships to area schools last year.
Their annual projects include babysitting clinics and food drives for the Salvation Army. The organization also raises its own funds through their yearly charity ball, golf outing, raffle and rummage sales.
Receiving the award was Niles Service League President Kellie Montgomery.
The Chamber then recognized Simplicity Pattern Company as the 2005 Industry of the Year. The world's largest pattern company prints material in several languages and distributes in more than 60 countries. The company employs nearly 200 people and some of their workforce represents three generations of Simplicity Pattern employees.
The company is also part of the YMCA building program, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the United Way and Special Olympics. Accepting the award was Vice President of Manufacturing and Distribution Eric Booker.
Earning the award for Small Business of the Year was Rich's Pizzeria. Rich Johnson and his wife Katie each year donate hundreds of pizzas to athletics. Plus, the business is involved with YMCA, Muscular Dystrophy, Toys For Tots and Babe Ruth Baseball. The pizzeria also provides all emergency personnel with a 50 percent discount and a reserved table at the restaurant.
The Chamber also recognized a man and woman of the year for 2005.
Tom Majerek grew up in Niles. Upon returning to the area in 1993 after college at Arizona State University, Majerek re-organized the raft races during the annual Riverfest.
Majerek is also responsible for bringing MDS Delivery Service to Niles. Since its move from South Bend, Ind., the company's sales and employees have almost doubled.
Majerek founded the Niles Bluegrass Festival in 2003 and is responsible for booking every concert in Niles since 2001.
Jan Griffey of Leader Publications was honored as Woman of the Year. Griffey moved to Niles in 1989 to work as managing editor of the Niles Daily Star. She was promoted to editor and vice president of Leader Publications in 2001 and became president of the company in 2004.
Griffey has served on the United Way campaign committee and is a past member of both the Noon Optimist Club and the Niles Jaycees. She formerly served on the Board of Directors for Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Preserve and on the advisory board of the Salvation Army. She is a member of the Chamber's Board of Directors.
The final honor of the evening, the Chamber's fourth Lifetime Achievement Award, was given to Gloria Cooper. Cooper was born and raised in Niles. In 1961 she became the first woman director of Niles Broadcasting Company on WNIL Radio and was a pioneer in talk radio.
Cooper was named Outstanding Woman in America in 1967 and continued her popular talk show until 1979. Cooper was the first winner of the Chamber's Athena Award for outstanding business woman of the year and was the first woman to serve on the Chamber's board of directors as vice president of communications.
Cooper told the audience her memories of working on the Chamber during the time JC Penney's and Sears moved out of the city and the struggles Niles went through. “We thought the community was dead and gone. Some of us just hung in there,” Cooper said. “The sky's the limit for Niles.”