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Local businesses get recognition from Athabasca chamber

Twelve awards handed out last week ranging from Lifetime Achievement to Business of the Year

ATHABASCA – Community spirit, integrity, great customer service — all three, important characteristics of a successful business, as well as three of the awards handed out last week as part of the annual Athabasca District Chamber of Commerce Business Awards. 

The awards were virtual for the second consecutive year because of COVID-19, but that meant a busy few days for executive assistant Jennifer Oba, president Tova Schwede and vice-president Carol Alberts, who handed out the awards in person, often to surprised recipients Oct. 21-23, starting with one of the highest profile awards Wednesday afternoon — the Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by the Town of Athabasca. 

Oba and Schwede joined outgoing mayor Colleen Powell and incoming mayor Rob Balay at the town office to present the award to Lois Robocon of Birchmeadow Greenhouses, who has been adding even more character and beauty to the town with the flowers she provides for the planters that line the streets in the warm season. It’s something she has been doing for nearly 30 years. 

“This is awarded to a business that has been in continuous operation for a minimum of 30 years and demonstrates continual outstanding involvement in, and contribution to, the growth of the business community,” Schwede said.  

“Those flowers make all the difference in this community. It's absolutely wonderful and we don't begrudge a penny,” said Powell. “You are an inspiration to people in this community, your work is outstanding and we're more than pleased to offer you this award.” 

Robocon, who didn’t know what award she was getting, said she was humbled. 

“I’m totally blown away, like didn't expect it,” said Robocon. “Yeah. Wow. I don't even know what to say.” 

The chamber received 210 nominations for 10 awards this year, said Oba, and of them, 198 were submitted online. Seventy-two different businesses across the district, which encompasses all of Athabasca County, including the town, Village of Boyle and summer villages, were nominated, spanning across all sectors. Home-based businesses especially saw a lot of attention this year. 

The Home-based Business of the Year was one of five awards handed out Thursday by Oba and Alberts, but the morning started at the Athabasca Native Friendship Centre, where the staff there learned they had won the Community Spirit Award, sponsored by the Tourism and Economic Development committee. 

From there it was up the hill to the Athabasca Dental Clinic to present Rhonda Gustafson with the Manager of the Year Award, which was sponsored by realtor Shahira Bury. 

Gustafson was hard at work when the presenters arrived and was genuinely shocked to learn she had won after being nominated by Dr. Stephanie Brown. The presentation was over in minutes and Gustafson went right back to work. 

Back downtown 20 minutes later, Alberts read off the 32 businesses nominated for the Customer Service Award, before sponsor Jennifer Sharron of Follow Your Dream Stampers handed over the plaque to Erin Galliott, who accepted on behalf of Athabasca Employment Services (in partnership with Whitecourt Employment Services). 

“Thank you so much everybody. Thank you for voting for us, that’s wonderful,” said Galliott. 

From there it was back up the east hill to present the Home-based Business of the Year Award to Cheryl Carlisle of Vinyl Cravings. Alberts was able to both sponsor the award as owner of Athabasca Home Hardware and present Carlisle with the accolade. 

The last award of the day brought the chamber team back across town to Fergie’s Furs Grooming Studio for the coveted Customer Choice Award, presented by Taking Care Counselling and Consulting. 

Lisa Ferguson was in the middle of a job with a very important client when they arrived but took some time to accept the award which went to the one business, of the 72 nominated, that received the most votes. 

“Thanks to everybody for the support over the last few years,” said Ferguson. “It wouldn’t be what it is without the customers.” 

Schwede and Oba started Friday morning in Boyle where they presented SK Distributing with the Young Entrepreneur Award Winner, sponsored by the Athabasca Lion’s Club in Memory of Gordon Topps. Then it was back to Athabasca to present the Marketer of the Year Award, sponsored by boom 94.1, to the Athabasca Farmers’ Market and manager Yvonne McDermid.  

Across the river at the Athabasca Golf & Country Club and the FOX DEN Restaurant, Oba and Schwede presented the first of two awards sponsored by the Athabasca Rotary Club. Rotary Club president Brian Scott presented the Employer of Youth Award to the golf and country club first, then later in the day presented Stonefish Rentals owner Marc Overacker with the Integrity Award. 

The Integrity Award is unique in that the nominations come from the Rotary members and not the public, explained Scott, along with secretary Maurice Gushta, after the presentation to Stonefish Rentals.  

“The club has identified selection criteria for this award, and it (is) somebody who best exemplifies our four-way test which is: is it the truth; is it fair; will it be beneficial to all concerned; and would it build goodwill and relationships?” Gushta said.  

The business nominated must not already belong to the Rotary; has not received it before; has a greater public purpose and the practices and principles are widely accepted by the community; and the business has made a significant contribution to the area. 

“The committee felt that Stonefish Rentals, a.k.a. Marc Overacker, best exemplifies the criteria we’ve put forward,” said Scott. “We just thought that this was the best fit. This year there were some really, really good nominations — close seconds — but this is the best fit.”  

Overacker said he was humbled by both the nomination and the award.  

“We're proud of (the recognition),” he said. “We appreciate what we can do for the community and appreciate that the Rotary Club acknowledges what we do for the community.” 

In addition, the New Business of the Year Award, sponsored by Servus Credit Union, went to Doubled Down Outdoors, while the Business of the Year Award, sponsored by the Athabasca District Chamber of Commerce, went to A Little Bit of Everything 

“I knew I was getting an award, but I never thought it was this one,” said owner Dallas Martin after the presentation. “Thank you very much.” 

czwick@athabasca.greatwest.ca 



About the Author: Chris Zwick

Athabasca Advocate editor
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