Elkader Community Awards celebrate volunteers and businesses

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The 2022 Elkader Community Awards Banquet was held last week. Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert was recognized with the new SS Award. (Photos by Danielle Shea)

Ron and Mary Kuehl were honored for Superior Interior Rehabilitation for their business, The Legal Pad.

Frederique Boudouani received the Community Spirit Award.

Among the winners was GEAR Elkader (accepted by owner Kathleen McShane) for Unique Business Promotion.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


A record crowd of almost 100 people filled Johnson’s Reception Hall last week for the 2022 Elkader Community Awards Banquet. The event celebrated the accomplishments of local businesses and individuals who made a difference during the previous year. 


Those in attendance also had the privilege of listening to the comedy of Elkader Chamber Director Ann Gibney, who came loaded with jokes about the weather, poking lighthearted fun at those who could not attend because they were enjoying a more tropical climate, while those inside Johnson’s braved the wintery elements to feast, socialize and applaud a lengthy list of award recipients.  


During the welcome, Main Street Elkader  (MSE) President Kristin Fitzgerald heralded the volunteers who comprise numerous committees, noting their dedication and for supplying their “time and talents” to making not just the organization a success, but every project and event. 


That included events such as Art in the Park, Rhythm on the River and Harvest Festival, as well as the tireless efforts to bring to life the Light up the Night project, which illuminates downtown Main Street. The MSE year in review took note of the 1,160 volunteer hours, which saved the city well over $32,000. It also mentioned the $127,000 in private building investment and the $270,000 IEDA Downtown Housing Grant, which was awarded to Danielle and Caleb Shea and even brought Gov. Kim Reynolds to town to tour the site targeted for renovations. 


Following Fitzgerald, Elkader Chamber of Commerce President Amanda Schneider highlighted the Chamber’s success, including the numerous events it hosted in 2022: Ladies’ Day Out, Brownie Bash, Witches Night Out, Inside/Outside Sales and Get Your Jingle On. Special attention was paid to the punch card system, which has brought in over $180,000 to local businesses. 


Schneider also talked about changes to the Chamber’s First Friday events, which will be moved to the First Friday of every month to align with The Collective art gallery’s events. In addition, Schneider highlighted the chamber’s efforts to spruce up the Christmas decorations in a phased approach, which started with refurbishing the wreaths and getting newer decorations for downtown in the near future. 


After that, Gibney and outgoing MSE Director Samantha Baumgartner recognized past business owners, “extending our appreciation,” as Gibney put it. They also welcomed new businesses and new business owners who have taken a chance on making Elkader their home and “joining the Elkader family,” Baumgartner said. There were 14 new businesses and owners in 2022, with a list that includes the brand new Birdie’s, Rise N Shine Nutrition, Elkader Auction House and the Legal Pad. Other businesses, such as the Pit Stop and Culligan Water, took on new owners. 


Before long, it was time for the 2022 award announcements. Notable winners included Jody Schroeder and The Brim for Superior Interior Rehabilitation, for work done modernizing the former Treats on Bridge Street. The Bridge View House was one of several businesses to receive the Superior Exterior Rehabilitation award. That list also included Birdie’s, owned by Amanda Hostetler, who took home the award for Entertainment Hub of the Year as well. 


One award that garnered some friendly laughs was the Unique Business Promo Award. One winner was Johnson’s Restaurant for their humorous approach to the Keystone Bridge construction saga with their “Dang Bridge/Road Construction Special.” Another winner was Bridge Street Boutique and Gifts for “Shop Frogs,” which was a promotion to sell frog aquariums. 


Another award was a family affair, as the Life Can Be This Good award celebrated three Mueller family members for returning to area, including Courtney Klocke, Brittney Lechtenberg and Cody Mueller. The New Community Event Award went to the much-celebrated Light Up the Night event, accepted by the MSE Promotions Committee, while the Social Media Marketer of the Year award was given to Holly’s Bridal for their “12 Days of Christmas” event. 


The students of Central and Clayton County BEST were also well-represented, winning multiple awards, including the Community Improvement Award for their Nook in the Know series, which brought local businesses to the school to talk with students. Additionally, the BEST program took home the award for Innovator of the Year, for work on the fishing pole project by the Turkey River. 


Two more notable awards included the Volunteer of the Year, which was given to the flower watering team, specifically representative Deb Stender and her late husband, Joe Stender. 


“This duo has poured unwavering dedication into the Main Street Design Committee, orchestrating and caring for the hanging flower baskets, and have been actively involved in many of the beautification efforts of our downtown. Our other volunteers have also poured countless hours into caring for the hanging baskets,” Fitzgerald said. 


The other notable award was a brand new award, created by Gibney and called the SS Award, which is an acronym for “Sh*t Show.” According to Baumgartner, it was created after “seeing the headaches” winner Elkader City Administrator Jennifer Cowsert went through in managing the several big construction projects in the city, which have seen countless setbacks and other assorted issues. 


According to Baumgartner, the award is likely to be rarely given “because we rarely have this level of headaches and challenges with projects like the bridge has brought.”


“Ann has a great sense of humor and suggested we create this award to help bring some light and laughter into the challenges Jennifer has helped manage this year. Jennifer truly goes above and beyond and is a wealth of knowledge in her role,” Baumgartner added. “She’s able to calmly respond to those who may not understand the rules or regulations she has to follow, those who raise their voices and those who don’t understand the number of tasks she juggles behind the scenes. She puts in many hours that go unseen by the public, but it doesn’t go unnoticed by her co-workers.” 


The final award of the evening was the Times-Register’s Good Neighbor Award, which went to Samantha Baumgartner for her 588 days of service, which included working on the hotel project, expanding Art in the Park, the metal banner project, the Rural Housing Assessment grant, the Light Up the Night project, highlighting rural placemaking success with Gov. Reynolds, being mentioned in the governor’s Condition of the State Address and being featured as a Cultural Entertainment District. She also played a part in the 14 new businesses or owner transitions, which are revitalizing Main Street and putting her stamp on the town’s future. 


Commenting on the event turnout and success, Baumgartner said, “We couldn’t be happier with the turnout of attendees at the event and are grateful that our businesses are dedicated to caring for their buildings and our town. We wouldn’t be able to give out this quantity or quality of awards if it wasn’t for the exceptional work of our local businesses, building owners and volunteers…It was a privilege to be able to recognize the efforts of our business owners and volunteers and to be able to celebrate their work.”

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