Luray-Page County Chamber awards recognize community businesses and volunteerism
Page News and Courier
LURAY, Nov. 1 — It was a night of celebration for members of the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce, who gathered last Thursday to honor three local businesses, a volunteer and the start of construction of a new Page Memorial Hospital.
“This year has almost been a fairy tale,” the chamber's interim president Pam Flasch told more than 150 of the chamber's 468 members, who gathered for the annual banquet.
Flasch reflected on the chamber's 2012 achievements, including:
• A $50,000 tourism marketing grant, which helped pay for radio advertisements in the Washington, D.C. area.
• The launch of a new website (LurayPage.com).
• The creation of a new branding strategy.
• An 18-percent increase in revenue.
The 86th annual chamber banquet also served as a commemoration of Luray's bicentennial year. The year-long celebration in honor of the town's 200th milestone kicked off last February. In previous years, the chamber has held its annual banquet at Shenandoah National Park's Big Meadows, but this year moved the event back to Luray at the Mimslyn Inn in honor of the town's anniversary.
Vice chairman of the chamber's Board of Directors, Bill Dudley, greeted banquet-goers by stating they had “a lot to celebrate” — most notably the construction of Valley Health's new Page Memorial Hospital, which began last month. Dudley told chamber members that as of Oct. 31, the hospital's “Come Grow With Us” fundraising campaign has raised $600,000.
A groundbreaking for the new facility had been planned to take place just prior to the banquet, but Valley Health officials called off the event due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy earlier last week. The groundbreaking event is to be rescheduled later this month.
“Good things are happening with healthcare in Page County,” said Dick Masincup, chairman of the PMH Board of Directors. Masincup added that the current PMH facility on Luray's Memorial Drive was “designed to meet the medical needs of a different time,” while the new facility will “meet the needs of today.”
The $38 million, 67,000-square-foot facility is set to be completed by summer 2014.
Chairman of the chamber's Board of Directors, Howard Thompson, recognized the “dedication” of chamber staff members, emphasizing the work of interim president Flasch. Thompson credits Flasch with ensuring a smooth transition after former president Briana Campbell resigned in July to take a job as general manager of a fitness center in Frederick, Md. The chamber's Board of Directors is set to announce the organization's next leader this month.
Thompson also recognized two retiring board members, Brian Plum and Karen Riddle. Plum is leaving the board after being elected to his first, three-year term in 2006, and his second in 2009. Riddle began serving on the board after stepping down from the position of chamber president in 2010.
Noting the “talents” of former and current board members, chamber staff members and award winners, Thompson told the audience “This is a small town; we have a lot to be proud of here.”
The 2012 Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce award winners are:
• ARICULTRUAL/ECO-FRIENDLEY BUSINESS OF THE YEAR: VALLEY STAR FARM
Operations at the Valley Star Farm in Luray began in the early 1950s. The 20-acre family farm began producing Christmas trees in the 1990s and pumpkins in 2000.
“This farm has become a destination for locals and tourists,” Thompson said during his presentation of the award.
For the last 12 years, the farm's owner, David Thomas, has focused on providing visitors with “the experience of the farm.” The fall attraction offers outdoor activities aimed at providing an educational experience for kids and adults that teaches them about crop production.
For the last five years, the local farm has participated in “Trees for Troops,” a holiday program that provides free Christmas trees to U.S. servicemen and women. For each tree purchased for the program at Valley Star Farm, the farm donates a tree. In the program's inaugural year, Valley Star Farm provided about 50 trees, compared to about 125 last year.
The local farm also donates crops to Page One, as well as to local nursing homes, school groups and civic organizations.
“I feel lucky to have what I have and live where I do,” said Thomas, adding that he feels blessed by the support he's received, and tries to pay it forward. “You may not be paying the same people back, but you're keeping the ball rolling.”
• TOURISM/HOSPITALITY BUSINESS OF THE YEAR: WAREHOUSE ART GALLERY
Jim Mayes returned to his roots in 2002 when he opened Luray's Warehouse Art Gallery.
“I worked in industry for 30-some years, but had not forgotten the arts,” said Mayes, who graduated with a bachelors in arts before earning a masters in business administration.
Since launching the local gallery ten years ago, Mayes has remained a strong advocate of local artists and musicians.
“According to the nominator for [this award], this business owner is 'one of the good guys,' who really cares about the community,” Dudley said of Mayes while presenting the award. “He understands the power of partnership and the impact of cooperation … Every event and civic organization has been touched by his generosity.”
Mayes frequently lends his space to organizations such as the United Way of Page County, the Luray Downtown Initiative and the local chamber of commerce. Last spring, he helped launch Expressions Studios in the warehouse as a way to provide free art activities to all ages.
“The older you get, I think you start asking yourself 'What am I here to give?' and I think I've reached that point in my own life,” said Mayes, adding that he extends his thanks to gallery artists and staff, local businesses and the Town of Luray for their continued support. “Art helps to open people's minds and provides a look at life that is not represented in any other form.”
• RETAIL/SERVICES BUSINESS OF THE YEAR: SHENANDOAH GENERAL STORE
When Shenandoah native Karen Miller decided to open a general store 13 years ago, it was important to her that the business be in her hometown.
“I wanted it to be something for my community,” said store manager Miller, who along with her husband, owns the Shenandoah General Store.
The store on Maryland Avenue offers unique shopping options that range from handmade crafts and home décor to jewelry and dry cleaning services.
“Just the name alone inspires folks who are looking for a bygone era experience,” said Gina Hilliard, office manager for the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce.
The Shenanodah General Store attracts “countless tourists,” Hilliard continued, noting that Shenandoah General Store employees serve as “unofficial guides for visitors.” That dedication in turn helps spur the local economy, she added.
“Meeting different people, that's just one of the many things [I enjoy about the store],” said Miller. “I love every aspect of it.”
• MARY LEE BRYANT VOLUNTEER AWARD: CATHERINE MISHLER
Named for its inaugural recipient in 2009, the Mary Lee Bryant Volunteer Award recognizes one community member each year who goes above and beyond to give back.
This year's recipient, Catherine Mischler, has spent the last 37 years volunteering at Luray's Page One. The 78-year-old Rileyville resident volunteers each week to help with the nonprofit organization's financial aid and food assistance programs. She formerly served on the Page One committee that oversees those programs.
Mary Lee Bryant told the audience that Page One's Executive Director Lois Shaffer counted Mishler as “a special friend and faithful supporter.” Bryant added that the award's nominator described Mishler as “caring, compassionate and respectful.”
Mishler also served more than 35 years as the church pianist at the Big Spring Mennonite Church, during which time her husband was pastor. The mother of five continues to serve as pianist every other Sunday at her current church, Grace Mennonite Fellowship in Lacey Spring.
“I find such a joy in helping people,” said Mishler. “As long as I have good health, I feel I need to get out and help others, and that's what I want to do.”