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At Chamber, it’s fun with honors

An enjoyable comic book spirit filled the room Friday in the annual Chamber of Commerce Appreciation Dinner, but members also heard encouraging news about college text books.

Chamber president Bob Fox took over from 2012 leader Andrew McElderry and Chad Sperry was named Chamber Member of the Year, in two highlights of the festive event at Columbia Gorge Hotel. Some in attendance dressed in superhero garb, including emcee Michael Thompson, who covered himself in Hood River brewery labels and described himself as a “vegan, locally sourced superpower.”

Thompson introduced Rep. Mark Johnson of Hood River, who spoke of an initiative coming out of the Legislature that could bring a new higher education option to Hood River. If successful, the project would provide four-year degree programs in technology fields, an effort that will be completed in conjunction with Columbia Gorge Community College.

(See hoodrivernews.com for details on the proposed “Columbia Gorge Center for Regional Innovation.”)

Johnson, the House District 52 Republican, crossed the aisles for his superhero persona. “I’m in my superhero gear tonight: I’m John Kitzhaber,” he said, wearing the Democrat Oregon governor’s famed garb, a blazer, bright tie and blue jeans. Others getting into the act were Mike and Kathie Oates of Odell, as “Super Grandparents,” Jack Trumbull as “Hood River Man” and Debbie Trumbull as “She-Ra,” the first-through-third winners in the costume contest.

But the more serious awards went to Member of the Year Chad Sperry, owner of Breakaway Promotions, which hosts numerous bicycling and other events in the Gorge, and Maui Meyer, who won the Don Benton Community Service Award. Chef and General Manager Paul Robinson accepted for Columbia Gorge Hotel, which won Business of the Year.

“There was one business over the last year that every time we got in a crunch or needed help, their facilities, or personnel, they have always been supportive of the chamber,” Fox said. “Over the last few years I’ve watched something amazing happen as a board member:

“A few years ago a group of people who are able to come together and take on a set of problems, holding together with resourcefulness, and their experiences were able to set the groundwork for what the chamber is today.”

Tammy Hall, representing Chamber Ambassadors, gave $1,200 to Leaders for Tomorrow. Kristin Reece of Next Door Inc. accepted the Ambassadors’ gift. NDI administers the program involving youth in business and community organizations.

The Benton Award was created in 2010 “for the member who has done outstanding service to our community,” Fox said. Namesake Don Benton was present.

Fox said the Member of the Year award goes to Sperry as “someone who is always there helping out at events.” Neither Sperry nor Meyer were present at the dinner, nor was Kerry Cobb, chamber marketing director, who stepped down as chamber executive director in January.

Kerry “has done more for this community in marketing and advertising than anyone I’ve seen in my 22 years of having businesses in Hood River,” said McElderry, who was the 2012 chamber president.

“Three years ago I was encouraged — I still do not know why — to join the chamber board,” he said. “I did, and didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I ended up having a great time working with amazing people, keeping me sane. What’s been most fun, actually, is to work with staff.”

He singled out events coordinator Nancy Carlson: “What she does with events planning has been amazing. We have to look at the success of the events in the last three years and how they’ve grown, and are efficiently run, putting heads in beds, really incredible events,” McElderry said, referring to Hops Fest, Blossom and Harvest fests, and Cross Channel Swim.

“My time is over. I’m past president, and I’m there to consult with and help them when they need me, but the new board is great,” he said.

Fox introduced president-elect Paul Robinson and chamber board members: Christina Vanderwerf of Providence, City Manager Bob Francis and Kathy Watson, Nora’s Table Restaurant.

(Also on the board are John Melasko of Doug’s Sports, Craig Bowder of Columbia River Bank, attorney Johnson Dunn and Linda Barber, Mt. Hood Winery.)

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Fox told the audience, “With a talented staff I’ve seen the chamber create a sound structure and a bright future. In the last few months we’ve been working to enhance our marketing opportunities, promote our local businesses and increase our network capabilities.

“The board has been looking for a new executive director, and I’m pleased to say that after a couple months of process we are very close to making a decision. This new director will have a great foundation to begin building toward our future.

“This banquet is not only to thank our past board members and new ones, but to thank every one of you for all of your time with events, donations and advice. The chamber is only as strong as its members, and each one of you is a superhero to us all.”

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