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April 4, 2020

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This year’s Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce awards dinner had a “Roaring 20s” theme, a nod to the 1920s.
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This year’s Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce awards dinner had a “Roaring 20s” theme, a nod to the 1920s.
2/8/2020 7:30:00 AM
Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce ready to roar into 2020s
Local businesses, individuals recognized at annual awards dinner
Stephanie Kuski
River News Features Reporter

Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce officials and members kicked off a new decade - and celebrated the best of 2019 - late last month with a Roaring 20s-themed banquet at Cabaret Cove in Rhinelander.

"Each year we host the annual dinner and awards gala as a way to recognize our members," explained Lauren Sackett, executive director of the Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce. "The purpose of the awards is to recognize the amazing things our businesses and people in our community do each year."

In addition, the awards dinner is also a fundraising event for the Chamber. It included a silent auction, raffle baskets and a live dessert auction.

Much of the excitement of this year's event, held Jan. 23, revolved around the gala's felicitous theme - the Roaring '20s - complete with the Gatsby-esque flapper flair emblematic of the 1920s.

"We talked about where the Chamber was in the 1920s and where we will be going in the 2020s," Sackett said. "We invited attendees to wear '20s-themed attire. Chamber staff participated as well with black and gold attire, feathered headpieces and pearls."

Sackett said the 240 chamber and community members who were in attendance made the evening special.

Each nominee was recognized at the event and each winner received a plaque, Sackett said.

2019 Board President Linda Krebsbach, whose term on the board ended following a 10-year career, was also recognized with a special gift.

In addition, Cindy Wright and Dave Russ were thanked for their years of service on the Chamber board.

Sackett also received an awarded the "Spirit of the Hodag Award," a brand new award presented to Sackett for "protecting and supporting the unique and important culture of the Rhinelander community."

She said she was humbled to be recognized with this award.

The Retail Business of the Year Award went to Casa Mexicana; Tourism and Convention Business of the Year went to Lights of the Northwoods; the Business/Professional/Industrial Business of the Year was awarded to Quality Collision Center; Downtown Rhinelander, Inc. won Nonprofit Organization of the Year; and Dave Heck and Erica Sauer won Male and Female Volunteer of the Year, respectively.

Sackett said the public was invited to nominate potential award winners in December. After those nominations were compared with the award criteria, the top four nominations were added to an online voting ballot the public was able to vote on for roughly two weeks in early January.

Alejandro Jacinto, owner of Casa Mexicana, said he was surprised to be nominated and even more grateful to be chosen as Retail Business of the Year.

"It really means a lot to us," Jacinto said. "People from the community really took the time and voted for us to win."

Jacinto said his business has been putting more effort into becoming part of the community in joining Project North for its first year, being part of the Oneida County Fair and engaging in other aspects of the community.

"We love the community of Rhinelander and we want to be here for many years," Jacinto said. "We wouldn't be where we are without the support of the community, so we want to pay it forward."

In playing an active role in the community, Jacinto said he is able to support those in the community who have supported him and his business.

Jacinto thanked all those who voted for Casa Mexicana to win this award.

Shawn Will, president of Lights of the Northwoods, also thanked the community for voting for his group as the Tourism and Convention Business of the Year.

"It was nice to see these people getting recognized, it really does take a lot of effort," Will said. "It was just an honor that so many people thought that much of Lights of the Northwoods to give us that award, so we're very humbled and honored."

Lights of the Northwoods mobilized the holiday lighting event at Hodag Park, but Will said the volunteer organization also helps other events like Project North and the Oneida County Fair become "bigger, better and brighter."

"During the off-season when we're not working with lights, we're working with other nonprofit groups to help make their events a bit better as well," Will said.

Lights of the Northwoods works with other nonprofit organizations, including the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club of Rhinelander, the Freemasons, the Rhinelander Robotics Club, Northern Edge Skating Team and Special Olympics, to name a few. Will said Lights of the Northwoods tries to get involved with as many other nonprofit groups as they can in an effort to support other clubs and organizations.

Will said there are many volunteers who donate hours of their time to all of the behind-the-scenes work during the Christmas season and beyond, but they are always looking for others who are willing to lend a helping hand.

Jason Stoll, manager at Quality Collision Center, said his business was awarded the Business/Professional/Industrial Business of the Year due to their involvement with and sponsorship of organizations like Lights of the Northwoods.

"Our biggest reason why we're able to do all that is because of all the support the community gives us by giving us their business," Stoll said. "That's what allows us to give back to the community."

Stoll said their plaque is proudly displayed in their front desk waiting room.

"It was a nice surprise to see that we were nominated and it was an honor that we won," Stoll said.

Downtown Rhinelander, Inc. President Rhonda Jicinsky said she was pleased with the recognition of Nonprofit Organization of the Year.

"As an all-volunteer board, it's nice to be recognized for the efforts and time that we donate," Jicinsky said.

Jicinsky said Downtown Rhinelander, Inc. started in 2006 with a paid executive board, but due to loss of funding in 2015, the organization had to start almost completely from scratch with an all-volunteer board without a stable source of income.

Now, Downtown Rhinelander, Inc. independently raises funds throughout the year to support their organization and the board of directors are all volunteers.

Jicinsky said she was glad the community voted for them to win this award.

David Heck received the Male Volunteer of the Year award for his dedicated service to the community. He is the president of the Hodag Schools Foundation which raises money in support of the programs and facilities for the School District of Rhinelander. He is also a founding member of Forward Rhinelander, a community group dedicated to bringing progress to our community.

Heck said he was honored to receive the recognition and is grateful for the support of his wife Gina and their family.

"I was very appreciative of the chamber nomination and award." Heck said. "It was also nice to see all the community members who volunteer be recognized."

Great things can and are happening in our community, Heck said, and with the right goals, leadership and accountability, Rhinelander has a bright future.

"It is a matter of working together and giving back, creating a differentiation and branding of our community," he said.

Heck said he is excited to see the progress happening with the Rhinelander Community Foundation, ArtStart, the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce and Aspirus, as well as the facility improvements at the school and leadership of the school board which will benefit Rhinelander in profound ways.

Erica Sauer won the Female Volunteer of the Year award for her continued support and involvement in a variety of organizations across the community. She is the secretary of Lights of the Northwoods and the Kiwanis Club of Rhinelander, is on the board of directors for Camp Birchrock, helps run the beer tent at the Oneida County Fair, volunteers at Nativity Catholic School and Church and supports her husband in his involvement with the Rhinelander Freemasons.

To top it off, all of her volunteer efforts are in addition to her full-time job at Farmers Insurance and being a wife and mother to three children.

Sauer said her involvement in the community is inspired by her children. Since her kids spend their summers at Camp Birchrock, she said she wanted to get involved with their board and others.

"I want to help make Rhinelander a better community for people to live in and raise their children," Sauer said. "If we have these programs available here, we're going to have more people coming back into the community."

She said programs like the Kiwanis Club and Lights of the Northwoods are vital in supporting nonprofit and school groups like the Rhinelander Robotics Club and Special Olympics, because without that funding, those groups couldn't exist.

"It just helps make everything here in Rhinelander a little bit better," Sauer said. "If I can be a small portion of that, then I'm more than happy to help out when needed."

"It was very humbling and I was very honored to be selected," Sauer added. "It was a great group of women to be nominated with."

\Nominees for Retail Business of the Year were: Hanson's Garden Village, Replace-A-Lace and Rhinelander Auto Center.

Tourism and Convention Business of the Year nominees were: Holiday Acres Resort, Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association (RASTA) and Rhinelander Brewing Company.

Nominees for Business/Professional/Industrial Business of the Year were: Advanced Barrier Extensions (ABX), Bruce Orthodontics and Gaber Electric.

Nonprofit Organization of the Year nominees included GFWC Rhinelander Woman's Club, Northwoods United Way and Oneida County Economic Development Corporation (OCEDC).

Male Volunteer of the Year nominees were Tom Jerow, Tony Jones and Steve Sauer; and nominees for Female Volunteer of the Year were Krystal Fochs, Linda Krebsbach and Leah Van Zile.

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