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And The Award Goes To …


As community members walked into the Grinnell Athletic and Recreation Center on Friday, Feb. 7 they were greeted by hundreds of familiar faces, gathered together on a Friday evening to celebrate the success of businesses and organizations in Grinnell at the annual Grinnell Chamber of Commerce Awards. The ceremony, open to the public, featured the live entertainment of Pianopalooza, a group consisting of two piano players who duel it out on the stage.

This year, the Chamber Awards made some marked changes to its annual celebration. According to Emily Counts, Tourism Director at the Chamber of Commerce, the date of the event was set on a Friday night to accommodate more attendants.

“It … [is] a fun night to enjoy with friends and to meet others from the community. Three hundred people attended last year and no one seemed ready for the party to end, so [we decided to move] it to a Friday night and [add] live entertainment this year,” Counts said.

Attendees were encouraged to submit song requests to the featured pianists, Megan Hill Mitchum and Tony Bohnenkamp.

Grinnell Awards - John Brady
Dueling pianists entertain the audience at the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards.

“We’ve usually just done a DJ on stage, so [Pianopalooza] was something different, and I think people were really excited about that,” Counts said.

Unlike a typical sit-down awards ceremony, guests were encouraged to walk around and network with other community members throughout the night. Award recipients were therefore recognized digitally on a large screen in front of the room.

The celebration recognized businesses, organizations and individuals, with awards in twelve categories. Throughout December and January, the Grinnell community was asked to submit nominations to the various award categories. According to Counts, the Chamber received close to 100 nominations for the12 categories.

Award recipients were determined by the Chamber’s Board of Directors based on specific criteria. In the past, award recipients have used their recognition to promote  their business.

The major award of the night, Business of the Year, was awarded to McNally’s Super Valu. It was the first time the 25-year-old business was recognized for the highest honor. According to Randy and Julie Smith, the couple who run the business, their relocation and raised rental prices made them uncertain of how to move forward with the business.

Julie Smith believes that it was the community’s respect of the couple’s struggles  over the past year that led to their nomination.

“It was an honor [to win]. We know our peers and other business people in the community [were involved in the selection process]. I think that our story was well known. We talked to a lot of our customers; coincidentally, a lot of them have businesses in Grinnell,” said Smith, who also suggested McNally’s friendly image in the community to be another factor in the selection process. “We are a family-oriented business; our kids grew up in the school system. I think people looked at us as not just a company or a business, but as a family.”

Besides celebrating the success of businesses, the Chamber awards also recognized organizations, such as Tiger Packs. The program was awarded the Community Betterment award for their active work in aiding food-insecure students in the Grinnell-Newburg school district.

Staff members from Grinnell College were also recognized at the awards ceremony last Friday. Professor Jon Andelson, Anthropology, was awarded the award for Educator of the Year at the college level.

“Well, it’s nice … to win any kind of award. I was very honored. It’s meaningful to be recognized in the town one lives in,” Andelson said.

Andelson was nominated for the award due to his significant involvement not only in the community, but also on campus. During his nearly 40 years of teaching at Grinnell College, he has served on the board of Imagine Grinnell, a non-profit organization committed to improving the quality of life in Grinnell, and on the board of Grinnell-Newburg Educational Excellence, a non-profit organization that raises and allocates funds for projects beyond the public schooling budget. On campus, Andelson is the Director of Center for the Prairie Studies, a program aimed at embracing Grinnell’s location as a teaching and learning resource.

“The College has over the years spent a fair amount of time apologizing [about] where it is [located], and even ignoring where it is. The Prairie was created with the idea: ‘Hey that’s silly, don’t ignore where you are, embrace it, and do something with it’,” Andelson explained.

Another award category called “20 under 40,” recognizes 20 individuals under 40 years of age who demonstrate considerable potential as leaders in the community and their workforce. Two of the notable winners of this award were staff members from Grinnell College: Kelly Guilbeau, the Internship Counselor at the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, and Mae Turley, the Director of the Pioneer Fund in Development & Alumni Relations.

The numerous changes in this year’s awards ceremony are already inspiring the Chamber to plan to improve next year’s event.

“We were thinking of incorporating a sort of ‘People’s Choice Award.’ We’d like to have some kind of award that attendees can vote on that night through text-voting or something. It’s kind of a fun thing [for attendees] to get involved in the process,” Counts said.

The Chamber is also considering the idea of a Facebook contest a few weeks prior to the event next year, as well, in which the general public will be encouraged to participate in the hopes of winning a prize. Meanwhile, the Chamber will be actively planning other community events such as Snowpalooza and the Grinnell Games. Students and faculty who wish to be updated on any community events should sign up for the newsletter or follow the Chamber of Commerce on Facebook at

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