Though the evening lacked the camaraderie and festivity of previous years, Thrive’s annual awards ceremony was no less significant. In fact, many of this year’s winners proved not even a global pandemic could keep them down.
Because of the rise in local cases of COVID-19, Thrive Allen County recognized local award winners in a virtual celebration streamed live from the auditorium of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, the original site of the ceremony.
It was the 13th year for Thrive to recognize area people, organizations and businesses for their efforts in making Allen County a safer, healthier and more prosperous place to live.
Lisse Regehr, Thrive president and CEO, served as the evening’s emcee. Regehr stood before an empty auditorium, leading viewers through a series of video clips depicting the winners.
Humboldt’s Chris Bauer, a retired rural mail carrier, received the evening’s biggest award, named after the late volunteer extraordinaire Donna Talkington of Iola.
Bauer has served as president of the Humboldt Chamber of Commerce for the last 20 years, served multiple terms on the USD 258 Board of Education, and been a member of the local Lions Club for more than 40 years, including as its District Governor twice.
In addition, Bauer is involved with Dream Humboldt, Humboldt Healthy Ecosystems, Pride, Humboldt Housing Team, Downtown Action Team.
The new Humboldt Fitness Center was awarded for its efforts to promote health and wellness.
Originally intended for B&W Trailer Hitches employees, the fitness center is now available for the entire community. This visually stunning facility boasts a range of fitness classes, equipment and activity spaces. At its peak, the center had more than 800 members, an amazing feat for a community of less than 2,000.
Other nominees for the health and wellness award were the Southeast Kansas Multi-County Health Department for its service and leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Allen County’s Sheriff’s Department for its rescue of the county’s Meals on Wheels program.
Iola’s G&W Foods won the award for economic development. Since opening its doors in 2018, the grocery store has become an essential fixture of Iola and Allen County, making health food more accessible for many.
However, nobody could have imagined the role the store would play during the outbreak of COVID-19. Workers donned masks, plexiglass shields were erected to protect cashiers and customers alike, and floor arrows were placed to suggest social distancing.
Additionally, store manager Daniel Gile personally delivers groceries and hot meals to customers who prefer to stay home during the pandemic. By now, he knows these customers on a first-name basis. Sometimes he even helps them with household tasks when he stops by.
Other nominees were Levi Meiwes of Meiwes Poultry Farm who has a thriving egg business, and Russell Stover Candies, which has recently added 150 employees and five managers to the Iola plant as well as increased its hourly pay rates.
The Crossroads: Change in Rural America exhibit at the Bowlus Center was named the winner for education. Allen County became the first community in Kansas to host the prestigious traveling exhibit through the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street Program. Local volunteers put together a pictorial celebration of local history titled, Allen County: Trails to Rails to Highways and Back.
Other nominees were the organizers of the Iola Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally in June and Melissa Stiffler for her career and technical education leadership.
Mildred Store Music Nights won the award for recreation. Downtown Mildred comes alive on the third Saturday of every month with country music and dancing. Loren and Regena Lance began the tradition in their market, the Mildred Store.
Music Nights attract visitors from all over. Musicians are invited to play.
Before COVID hit, as many as 250 would flock to Mildred, population 17, to enjoy an evening of music, dancing and fellowship.
Other nominees for recreation were Miss Chelsea’s Dance Academy for her innovative online classes, and the Humboldt Speedway, the only dirt track for 100 miles.
Representatives from Community National Bank, Emprise Bank, Great Southern Bank, Piqua State Bank and Bank of Gas recognized “Unsung Heroes” from the communities of Gas, Humboldt, Iola and Moran. In addition to the recognition the recipients receive a $150 stipend.
Mykayla Ard, a senior at Marmaton Valley High School in Moran, was awarded for spearheading the Something to Eat project. Ard and members of her FFA chapter provide packaged meals for elementary students to take home, including during the summer months. Ard said her inspiration came from wanting students to be able to focus on school, not hunger. She’s also been involved in numerous school activities including coat drives, making blankets, and providing gifts for first responders, cooks and bus drivers.
Cindy Scoville and her daughter, Michelle Scoville, of Humboldt were recognized for their volunteer efforts in the kitchen, most specifically during Christmas. For the past 14 years they have provided a community meal for anyone who doesn’t have one. They also help provide Tuesday meals at the Otterbein United Methodist Church in Chanute and help with Meals on Wheels.
Bill Asher’s passion for bicycles led the Iolan to assist in maintaining the Allen County free rural bikeshare program, doing both routine tune-ups and major repairs. Asher has fixed up and donated more than 20 bikes to Second Chance. He’s also volunteered at the after-school SAFEBASE program helping kids with their bikes.
In light of the pandemic, essential workers representing myriad entities were recognized. They included: Tina Cady-Friend of The Growing Place, Allen County Undersheriff Roy Smith, Suzanne Whitcomb of Pete’s, Sylvia Christmas of WalMart, Derek Johnson of Goodlife Innovations, Shawn Manbeck of the Southeast Kansas Community Health Center, Melinda Herder of the City of Humboldt, Ciara Dobson of Moran Manor, and The Iola Post Office.
Curtis Utley was named Thrive’s Volunteer of the Year. Utley was instrumental in building the pocket park next to Thrive’s headquarters on the Iola square. He’s also critical to upkeep of the pocket park’s fountain as well as maintaining Thrive’s pedi-cab fleet, and working on the trails.
“He believes in the spirit of Thrive and in the power of effecting positive change,” noted his daughter, Allie Utley, a Thrive volunteer who had the privilege of giving her dad the award.