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by Mark Cheffey
Two long-time business owners, an agriculture teacher and the youngest ever award recipient were honored during the annual Palmyra Chamber of Commerce banquet Saturday evening.
Heather McChristian, long-time owner of HATS Restaurant, was named Citizen of the Year, Merkel Metal Recycling Roll-Off Container Services was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame, Amanda Haebelin was recognized as Educator of the Year, and seven-year-old Johnathan Trenkamp was honored as Volunteer of the Year during the event held in Msgr. Farischon Hall.
The banquet also featured other awards presentations and the passing of the president’s torch from Caitlin Smyser to Allie Bennett, as well as the announcement of the 2023 Chamber board of directors.
An emotional McChristian, paid tribute to the community upon receiving the Citizen of the Year Award, presented to someone noted for their long-time service to Palmyra.
“Palmyra has been an amazing, supportive community,” McChristian told the large crowd.
In introducing the award winner, Brandy Huber, noted McChristian’s 40 years in the business community as well as her considerable community involvement.
“I remember going to this individual’s establishment when I was in grade school,” Huber said. “Even after moving away in my 20s, every time I would return to Palmyra it was a must to go here.
“The owner makes it a point to know every person that comes in and makes them feel like they are the most important person there.”
Huber said McChristian makes “giving back to the community a priority,” by donating to many causes and benefits to help local families.
McChristian has been active in the Nick Smyser Memorial Golf Tournament since its inception, is one of the founding members of Chamber member Madonna Watters’ Val’s Pals for caregivers, has helped cater the annual Flower Children Spring Fling American Cancer Society benefit since its debut in 2000 and prepares Thanksgiving meals for Palmyra citizens.
“She also donates coveted baskets for auctions to every imaginable local cause,” Huber said.
In being honored as Educator of the Year, Haeberlin was noted for her inspirational service as an agricultural instructor and FFA sponsor at Palmyra High School.
In introducing Haeberlin, Tim Wellman, one of her former students, said she is someone who “will alter the path of your life forever,” who will “bring out the best in those around her,” and values students skills.
“I was fortunate enough to see it all firsthand through my experiences as a high schooler, and utilize it now as a college student,” Wellman said. “The fact of the matter is, I owe who I am today to many people throughout my educational life. But I attribute my integrity, my leadership, my passion, and my willingness to never give up to one person. A person who encouraged me to join an organization I used to want nothing to do with.”
In accepting the award, Haeberlin said she didn’t need the recognition.
“I just want to do my job and do the best I can for my students,” Haeberlin said.
In receiving the Volunteer of the Year award, Trenkamp became the youngest Chamber award recipient ever.
In introducing Trenkamp, Huber said he started volunteering at an early age “doing amazing things in our community.”
“I met this individual early in 2021 and noticed immediately what an amazing citizen he will grow up to be,” Huber said. “I have watched this individual walk around town with his mother, giving flowers to different residents or businesses just to brighten their day. I’ve frequented the lemonade stands he’s opened to raise money for various charities or people in need.”
Huber listed numerous times Trenkamp has volunteered including helping deliver meals-on-wheels, unloading trucks at the Palmyra Food Pantry, helping with clean-up days at the golf course, assisting with the Lords Acre Sale and working to clear tables after dinners at Mt. Olivet Church where he is a member of the congregation.
“For an seven-year-old, I think this is an amazing list that shows he really cares about the Palmyra Community at such a young age,” Huber said.
Guido Merkel and his son, Jeff were caught by surprise upon having their business inducted into the Business Hall of Fame.
“We had no idea this was going to happen,” said Jeff Merkel, who paid tribute to his father, who “fought all through the years to make the business the success it is today.”
Merkel also recognized the employees, who showed up by surprise for the award presentation, for their hard work in helping the company’s success.
In introducing the inductees, Steve Mast, a close friend of Jeff’s, noted the business was started by Guido in the 1960s and has struggled at times over the years, but is now recognized in the area for its efforts to “meet all the expectations of their customers with competitive rates, prompt courteous service, clean safe equipment, and highly trained employees with safe work ethics.”
Outgoing Chamber President Caitlin Smyser honored Anna Gottman as the President’s Award winner, noting her efforts in organizing 2022 Taste of Palmyra, the organization’s second largest annual event.
“She came up with new ideas, was willing to go out on a limb and was flexible and inventive when changes were required,” Smyser said. “Her committee was grateful for her leadership, organizational skills and enthusiasm. She is a selfless person, always thinking of others, making sure they are recognized for their hard work.”
This year’s Paintbursh Awards went to HNB Bank in recognizing its new facility which opened on the north side of the courthouse square in 2022.
Smyser, herself, received the Past-President’s Award for her leadership efforts the past year, by Allie Bennett, the incoming president. Joining Bennett on the board of directors in 2023 are: Smyser, past president; Marla Kuhns, vice president; Susan Berti, secretary/treasurer; and board members Randy Hopson, Steve Mast, Heather McChristian, Joel Swisher and Wes Tuley.