Annual community awards celebrate Elkader businesses, individuals

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Elkader Chamber President Amanda Schneider (front, left) poses with several individuals who were honored at the awards dinner on Jan. 29. (Submitted photos)

Jamie Wingert received the Life Can Be This Good Award for returning to Elkader to open JW Counseling.

Past business owners Jeff Walch (2-MIT Burgers) and Paul and Gloria Olson (Olson Appliance) were honored for their dedication to the community.

Times-Register reporter Willis Patenaude presented the Good Neighbor Award to Tony Hauber.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


It was an intimate and lively atmosphere inside Johnson’s Reception Hall on Jan. 29, as community members and leaders gathered for Elkader’s 2023 Annual Community Awards Dinner. 


As dinner wrapped up, Janis Lerch, owner of the Elkader Floral Shop and current president of Main Street Elkader, spoke briefly about the purpose of the ceremony, which celebrates the achievements of business owners and community members who have presided over the “betterment of the community.”


City council member Bob Garms, filling in for Elkader Mayor Josh Pope, who couldn’t make it to the event, gave the “Condition of the City” address. It kicked off with some jokes about old age before a rousing statement about the Keystone Bridge finally being open. 


Garms also spoke to the focus of the ceremony, the success of the community and the volunteers—the people who have stepped up and shaped Elkader over the past year, oftentimes laying groundwork for the future. He noted how lucky people are to live in Elkader, with such a dedicated group of individuals, accentuating the belief that its people are Elkader’s “greatest resource.” 


The program moved on with Lerch highlighting Elkader’s “vibrant downtown,” and the 33-year history of Elkader being a Main Street community. She noted successful endeavors such as the hanging flower baskets, Art in the Park, Light up the Night and the ongoing restoration of downtown buildings. 


There was also a year in review, before members from the four committees which comprise Main Street gave reports, starting with the promotions committee, followed by the design, economic vitality and organization committees. 


“It takes a lot of people to keep a village running,” Lerch said. 


The key points of those reports were adding dates to Rhythm on the River, the Turkey Trot, cleaning up the alleys, partnerships with Central students and, most notably, redoing Keystone Park and adding housing, which was deemed a “big priority for the city” by the economic vitality committee. 


Fulfilling housing needs was the focus of a downtown housing grant update, which highlighted the $270,000 downtown housing grant awarded to Danielle and Caleb Shea through the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The award is being used to refurbish the second floor of a downtown building and turn it into four one-bedroom apartments, with an expected completion date of December 2024. 


Then it was time for Elkader Chamber President Amanda Schneider to take to the podium. She joked about Gibney’s ability to keep chamber meetings “organized and focused,” before delving into the list of events sponsored by the chamber, including Brownie Bash, Sip, Sample & Shop and Get Your Jingle On. Schneider also took pride in thanking the people of Elkader, concurring with Garms’ statement about how invaluable they are to the community. 


With the normal business of the night concluded, it was on to awards, starting with past business owner recognition. Individuals were honored for “dedicating their time and talents to keeping Elkader growing,” Gibney said. 


One recipient was Paul and Gloria Olson, who opened Olson Appliance at its original location in 1988, before relocating to its current spot just a year later. It was a cornerstone of the business community for 35 years, and sold in February 2023. 


Another was Jeff Walch, who, along with Earl Lembke, opened a burger stand in 1980 which came to be known as 2-MIT Burgers. After serving the community for 42 years, Walch retired and sold the business. 


The last honoree was Dr. Tim Kane, who purchased the Community Chiropractic Clinic in 2004, renaming it Chiropractic Advantage Clinic shortly after. Within four years, in summer 2008, he and wife Julie purchased what would become known as the Elkader Jail House Inn. Eventually, Kane sold both businesses, the inn in 2020 and the clinic in 2023. 


The ceremony continued with the Legacy Award, given to Olson Appliance, specifically new owners Alex Trost and Adam Varney, for making an impact and sustaining the history of the business. The pair is related to Paul Olson and are carrying on the family legacy. 


Multiple superior interior and exterior rehabilitation awards were handed out, going to Tiffany and Weller for creating a “great addition” to downtown, said Gibney. The Mill on Main was recognized for new landscaping and cement work that “really spruced up the exterior.” Brown’s Sales and Leasing was given a superior exterior award for adding to its roadside façade with landscaping, rock wall additions and new approach into the parking lot, while Woodland Eye Clinic was recognized for the new cement work that has made it easier to get into the handicap accessible door. 


Two Entertainment Hub of the Year awards were bestowed, with the first going to Central State Bank, which hosted the reopening of the Keystone Bridge celebration that saw 150 attend. Gibney chimed in, “Everyone is happy to be able to drive across the bridge once again.” The other went to Turkey River AXEperience or “some busy AXEholes! Pardon my French!” Gibney joked. 


New Community Event awards went to the Elkader Golf and Country Club for its Ladies’ Night Out events and the Volga City Opera House for Sunday Brunch. 


Turkey River Mall was given Social Media Marketer of the Year for “using social media and creating an online presence for their brand,” Gibney said. 


Central’s preschool students won one of the Community Spirit Awards for delivering turkeys and hanging candy canes during the holidays. The students also handed out goodie filled mugs to Central staff. The second award went to GEAR Elkader for its promotion of the Central Community Scholarship Foundation. 


GEAR was also given the Innovator Award for the Elkader Goldfinch Inn and the mural painted on the side of the building. 


The bridge was a topic of the Health and Safety Award, which was given to the public works department for the work they did making pedestrian access across the bridge safe during construction, including motion sensor lights on the barricades. 


The Volunteer of the Year award, presented by Main Street Elkader, was given to Dave Beck. Beck helped create a new series called the “Elkader History Hour,” hosted cemetery tours in October and recently did a photographic presentation of Elkader’s early businesses and buildings. 


“We are so thankful for his time and talents and passion for history, helping us to diversify our event offerings and to check some boxes in our annual accreditation that we have not been able to check in years’ past,” MSE Vice President Ashley Augustyn said. 


The ceremony was capped off by the presentation of the 2023 Times-Register Good Neighbor Award, which was given to Tony Hauber for his tireless efforts to improve Elkader, his commitment to the community and his unwavering love of the neighborhood.

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