AUBURN — Chris Straw received the Allen Graber Citizenship Award from the DeKalb Chamber Partnership at a dinner Thursday night.
The award is the most prestigious of eight presented during the Duesy Awards ceremony at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum.
Thursday’s award winners were chosen from more than 100 nominations, said Shannon Carpenter, executive director of the chamber.
“All of our finalists are DeKalb County’s finest,” she said.
The other winners:
• Business of the Year: Beacon Credit Union;
• Small Business of the Year: Byler Lane Winery;
• Nonprofit of the Year: YMCA of DeKalb County;
• Education Award: Garrett High School Career Development Team;
• Educator of the Year: Chad Sutton of Garrett High School;
• Seasoned Professional of the Year: Doug Lockwood; and
• Young Professional of the Year: Jenn Gibson.
The Graber Citizenship Award has a longer history than the other Duesy Awards. It is named for the late Allen Graber, a home builder and Realtor who devoted his energy to recruiting new industries and promoting Auburn, especially during an economic downturn in the early 1980s.
“Those who have played a critical piece in making DeKalb County what it is today have been the recipients” of the Graber award, Carpenter said.
An Auburn native, Straw founded Team Quality Services in 1997, and it has grown to more than 200 employees. Straw revealed Thursday that in approximately three weeks, the company will move into its new office building in downtown Auburn.
In 2016, Straw created the Launch Tank competition for high school student entrepreneurs in DeKalb County, awarding scholarships from local colleges and universities to the winners.
Straw called himself “the snowflake on the tip of the iceberg” of Team Quality Services, giving credit to his family and employees.
“I lived in Auburn almost all my life, and it’s easy in a community like this,” Straw said. “You guys make it fun. You make it a place that I want to invest in, for our community, our company and our employees and the welfare of all of you.”
Beacon Credit Union has donated to 27 DeKalb County nonprofits, and its employees volunteered at more than 20 events sponsored by those nonprofits. The company recently launched a foundation to provide grants in the communities it serves.
Beacon operates two branches in Auburn and one in Garrett, with branches in 12 other cities throughout Indiana.
Chief Operations Officer Dawn Aschleman said Beacon employees volunteer their personal time to give back to the community, “and that’s what Beacon really feels is important — that’s why we formed the foundation.” She said it awards grants from $2,500 and up.
The Small Business of the Year award recognizes a quality product, engagement in the community and innovation, Carpenter said.
Accepting the award for Byler Lane Winery, Eldon Byler thanked the community for its support of the three-year-old business in rural Auburn.
“Our motto was, ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.’” Byler said. “So I encourage everybody in this room, no matter what your dreams are … chase them. Go after them.”
Chief Executive Officer Bob Krafft spoke after the YMCA of DeKalb County received the Nonprofit of the Year Award. He said the YMCA’s board of directors faced a tough decision 10 years ago, when membership was dwindling.
Krafft said the choice was either to close the YMCA or “to go back to our Christian roots and actually do what the YMCA mission is — and that’s to reach our community for Christ.”
Krafft said “an incredible staff” has helped the YMCA grow from 2,800 members to nearly 11,000 today in its expanded building on North Street in Auburn.
The Educator of the Year is someone who works toward building education in schools and also in the community, the chamber said.
Chad Sutton serves as Garrett High School’s director of career development. He is among 50 teachers and teacher teams from across the country who were semifinalists for the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.
“This whole program is because we have a great, big, huge group of partners. …Our industry partnerships are amazing” with more than 60 businesses involved, Sutton said. “It’s not one person, it’s a whole group of people who get this thing done.”
Minutes later, Garrett’s “whole group” shared the stage with Sutton when the Garrett High School Career Development Team received the chamber’s Education Award.
“This is the crew that gets it done every day with the students. … They have a passion for this program and the opportunities these students can have,” Sutton said about the team members.
The Seasoned Professional of the Year award goes to someone over age 40 who gives outstanding service to the community, sets the bar for standards and ethics and is a well-rounded example in the community.
Winner Doug Lockwood works as a financial planner for Credent Wealth Management of Auburn. He is active in the Lions Club and as a HOPE mentor.
Lockwood credited the chamber for its connections, which he said helped him find a job, church and home.
“This chamber’s mission reinforces what makes our country great and what our nation has been founded upon,” Lockwood said. “Our mission is to connect business, education and the community, ultimately creating an enjoyable place to live, work and play.”
Carpenter said the Young Professional of the Year award goes to someone who is dedicated to the community, puts service to others above themselves and promotes wellness.
Jenn Gibson volunteers for the chamber, United Way and Auburn Main Street and serve as chair for the Young Professionals of DeKalb County.
Gibson said when she returned to Auburn after a job in which she traveled extensively, she “really dug my heels into a lot of nonprofit organizations” in the community.
“You all deserve a round of applause, because everyone in this room shapes our community into the future,” Gibson told Thursday’s audience.
Other finalists for the chamber’s awards were: Allen Graber Citizenship Award — Mandy Haynes, Tena Woenker; Business of the Year — Carlex Glass, Paragon Steel; Small Business of the Year — Classic City Tattoo, Skatin’ Station; Nonprofit of the Year — DeKalb County Impact Corp., United Way of DeKalb County; Education Award — Lakewood Park Christian School; Educator of the Year — Piper Placencia, Tina Bassett; Seasoned Professional of the Year — Mike Boswell, Brian Cole; and Young Professional of the Year — Allie Campbell, Sam Grate.