SARANAC LAKE - Gail Brill was named this year's winner of the Don Duso Citizen of the Year award at the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner Wednesday night.
Described by new chamber board President Craig Stevens as "our local activist," Brill has spearheaded or helped organize numerous community initiatives, projects and events since she and her family moved here almost nine years ago. The list includes the Farm 2 Fork Festival, the Saranac Lake Talent Show, the Adirondack Green Circle, the Saranac Lake Community Store and the AuSable Valley Grange, which organizes the farmers market on summer Saturdays in Riverside Park.
"I don't know what to say, other than Saranac Lake is a kick-ass town," Brill said in accepting the award.
Gail Brill, center, walks up to accept the Don Duso Citizen of the Year award during the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner Wednesday at Nonna Fina restaurant.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"I am so flattered," she told the Enterprise later. "I just feel passionate about Saranac Lake and bringing people here so they can see what a beautiful place we have."
In a sign of just how committed she is to the community, Brill spent her spare time during a recent three-day trip to New York City leaving Saranac Lake visitor guides in cafes, on subway cars and in bathroom stalls. She called it a "guerilla marketing campaign.
"My philosophy is to plant trees under whose shade you shall never sit," Brill said. "It's been my mission, our mission, to make things better while we're here. And the community is so receptive. It's an incredible community."
Brill said her next big community initiative will be Commute Another Way Day. She said she's working with the village to encourage people to get to work without their cars: by walking, biking or carpooling. It's tentatively scheduled for Friday, Oct. 12.
Two other big awards were handed out at the dinner, which was held at Nonna Fina restaurant: Lee Foster received the Volunteer of the Year Award, and the Community Store was named Business of the Year.
The dinner took place just over a month after the resignation of Sylvie Nelson as the chamber's director. She had held the position for the past seven years. The chamber has yet to hire a new director, and it's now reaching out to the public for help in charting a future course for the village's largest business organization. A public meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Harrietstown Town Hall.
"It's been a year of ups and downs," outgoing chamber board President Joe Riccio told the crowd. "Moving forward, your input, your desires and your wishes for the chamber is what matters. It's your chamber, and the direction you choose is up to you."
"We're moving forward, embracing change and forming partnerships," Stevens said.
Several other businesses and individuals were singled out at the dinner for their achievements over the past year, including the DownHill Grill and Asian Buffet restaurants, the Enterprise, Gauthier's Saranac Lake Inn, the Adirondack Carousel and local restauranteur Paolo Magro.
Five new people were elected to three-year terms on the chamber's board of directors: Sandra Gothard of Weight Management New York, Jacqueline Donohoo of Cape Air, James Buyea of Paul Smith's College, Peter Lanc of St. Joseph's Rehabilitation Center and Jacob Stanbro of Nonna Fina. They join current chamber board members Stevens, Riccio, Beth Bevilacqua, Clyde Baker, Dick George, Fred Mueller, John VanAnden, Nicole Brownell, Sandra Hildreth and Tim Hesseltine.