RAY BROOK - The Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated the end of a challenging and stressful year at its 92nd annual dinner Tuesday night.
It also handed out its annual awards at the event, held outside at Tail O' the Pup restaurant. Outgoing chamber President Craig Stevens was named Volunteer of the Year, Saranac Lake ArtWorks was picked as the Business of the Year, and Harrietstown Councilman Ron Keough won the Don Duso Citizen of the Year award.
Ron Keough accepts the Don Duso Citizen of the Year award from Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katy Van Anden at Tuesday night’s annual chamber dinner at Tail O’ the Pup restaurant in Ray Brook.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
The chamber has been in a rebuilding mode over the past year amid financial struggles and disputes within its board over the organization's direction and focus. A year ago, at its last dinner, the chamber was without a director following the resignation of Sylvie Nelson, who had held the position for seven years.
In the months following her departure, the chamber board held a series of public meetings at which it asked its members and the community for help in charting a future course for the village's largest business organization. In the fall, the chamber announced it would shift its focus to become a member-services-only organization and would hand off its tourism and marketing roles to the Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.
After six months without an executive director, Katy Van Anden was hired in November.
"It's been a tough year, but the best decision that we could make and did make was in hiring Katy Van Anden to be our executive director," Stevens said Wednesday night.
Van Anden said the chamber has "honed down" on its business services for its 305 members and has focused on building partnerships with local municipalities and other chambers.
"One of the biggest changes was welcoming ROOST and asking ROOST to help us with our destination marketing," she said. "They've done a lot of work on our website; they added a blog; they added a reservation system for our lodging properties. Their analytics are through the roof, so we're really happy with everything we're seeing there.
"It's been a very exciting year for the chamber," Van Anden added. "I've had a lot of support, and I want to thank everybody for it."
The man who shepherded the chamber through much of the past year, Stevens, was saluted as Volunteer of the Year.
"This guy has been through the fire, and he's come out shining," said new chamber board President Tim Hesseltine of Upstate Auto. "We're in a much better position today than we were, and I'm proud of all the work Craig and all the board members have done."
Hesseltine said Stevens spent countless hours volunteering in the chamber office, ensuring its day to day business ran smoothly, while also attending to his full-time job as vice president of commercial banking at Community Bank. Stevens is also an active member of the Saranac Lake Kiwanis Club and the Adirondack Housing Development Corporation board.
"I didn't know I had it in me, so I learned a lot this year," Stevens said. "I wanted to see it through. I did this with the full support and help of the board. Everybody pitched in, and we all stepped up to the plate."
Saranac Lake ArtWorks, formed in 2008, was celebrated as Business of the Year. The organization, which has about 40 members, represents artists in Saranac Lake and the surrounding area. It provides exhibit opportunities, classes and workshops and hosts events like the Third Thursday Art Walks and the Adirondack Plein Air Festival.
Photographer Mark Kurtz credited artist Tim Fortune with getting Saranac Lake ArtWorks off the ground and another local artist, Sandy Hildreth, for keeping the organization going. Kurtz also thanked the chamber and the village for recognizing the arts as an economic engine in the community.
Keough was the owner of Keough & Son Funeral Home for 34 years and is now a member of Fortune-Keough Funeral Home. In addition to his current position on the Harrietstown board, he's held several elected positions over the years. He's also been a Franklin County coroner for 51 years.
Keough has volunteered for numerous organizations including the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, Elks Club, Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee, Knights of Columbus, Saranac Lake Adult Center, the St. Bernard's parish council and the chamber. He's also been a Little League and Pee-Wee Hockey coach.
"It takes volunteers to make the community run, and this guy has stepped up and volunteered for so many years," Stevens said.
Keough said he didn't think the Citizen of the Year award was as much a recognition of him as "a recognition of all the volunteerism and all the good people in this community who, year after year, year-round, come shoulder to shoulder in mind, body and spirit to make the community a better place.
"You're the ones who have the award, not me," he said.
Keough also congratulated the chamber board for its efforts to right the organization over the past year. He said it wasn't the first time, describing a period in the 1960s when "the chamber was going down the tubes." A group of civic-minded local residents came together and rebuilt the chamber then, he said.
"They had the same struggles as you've had," Keough said. "Congratulations. You've done a good job."
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.