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Annual Chamber dinner a simple, appreciated affair

News Photo by Julie Riddle A microphone gets a final adjustment before the program portion of an Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce dinner at the APlex in Alpena on Wednesday.

ALPENA — Business owners and employees mingled maskless at the annual Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce dinner on Wednesday evening at the APlex in Alpena.

Normally held in February, this year’s dinner presented a simpler outing for attendees, with “heavy hors d’oeuvres” taking the place of meal and the event’s usual awards — including the coveted Citizen of the Year honor — reserved for future chamber dinners, according to Alpena Planning and Development Director Adam Poll.

Despite a toned-down program, the gathering was welcome to business representatives eager to connect with their peers.

Interacting with other businesses has been a challenge for the past year, according to Mel Cammack, transportation coordinator for Thunder Bay Transportation, who attended the dinner. Such face-to-face interactions open doors between businesses, highlighting avenues for helping each other and working together in the community, Cammack said.

The gathering of chatting, cheerful business people shows Alpena is “still alive and kicking,” said Shannon Datema, salesperson with Alpena Agency.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Attendees sample hors d’oeuvres at the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce dinner at the APlex in Alpena on Wednesday.

She and her co-workers applauded the Chamber’s efforts to keep its members connected by events such as Wednesday’s dinner.

“And it’s just fun,” said Stacee Martin, also in sales with the company. “We’re happy to not wear masks. Happy to be around people again. All the good feels.”

For the past year, many business leaders have been stuck behind screens, and permission to shake hands feels surreal, said Dan Korte, vice president of health care for Clark Construction, a statewide company with an office in Alpena.

The company’s president, Sam Clark, accepted one of the evening’s two awards, the MidMichigan Health Leadership Award. The company was recognized for a voluminous list of programs and health incentives for its employees, including unlimited paid time off for illness, tools to promote health for employees working at home, and efforts to support women in the workforce.

A second award, for Chamber Ambassador of the Year, was presented posthumously to Barb Skaluba, active chamber advocate for more than 30 years, who died on May 15. Skaluba supported the entire community and was always first in line to volunteer for chamber events, according to presenter Michelle Woodruff, director of advocacy for the Alpena Alcona Area Credit Union.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Attendees mingle at the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce dinner at the APlex in Alpena on Wednesday.

“Her heart was always the biggest in the room,” Woodruff said of Skaluba, the business leaders offering thanks and approval with a standing ovation for the absent ambassador.

The brief program, which began with a round of applause for being in the same room for the first time in a long time, concluded with reports from Poll and Chamber Economic Development Director Mike Mahler, who highlighted current and upcoming projects in the community and thanked the businesses of Alpena for working together during the past 12 months.

With its businesses hanging tough during tough times, Alpena remained “exactly what I knew our community was,” Poll said, “and that is strong.”

News Photo by Julie Riddle Presenter Michelle Woodruff and Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce ambassadors posthumously present the Ambassador of the Year award to Barb Skaluba at the Chamber’s annual dinner on Wednesday evening at the APlex in Alpena.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Attendees mingle in front of a jumbo screen at the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce dinner at the Alpena APlex on Wednesday.

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