by Eric Stearley
The Honeywell Center’s Legacy Hall was filled wall to wall Thursday, Oct. 10 as the Wabash County Chamber of Commerce held it’s annual dinner. Agro-Chem was honored as business of the year. Former Wabash Jr. High School teacher and local historian Ronald Woodward was named the 2013 Distinguished Citizen.
Following a dinner prepared by the Honeywell Center staff, and a musical performance by the 24 member Magic City Music Men vocal ensemble, Chamber President and CEO Kim Pinkerton addressed the crowd, stressing the importance of business adaptability in the face of disruptive economic forces and the changing consumer values, as the millennial generation becomes an integral force in the business world.
“Among millennials thriftiness is the new high, where bragging about the deal and how much money was saved is more important than owning certain things,” said Pinkerton. “Because these same millennials don’t feel the need to own what other generations thought was important, they will rent or lease more items.”
Pinkerton referenced Zipcar, a company that allows consumers to reserve cars for short term use, as an example of this phenomenon, going on to explain that we “can’t hold on to sacred cows because of what was important in 1982.” She hinted at new mission and value statements for the chamber, as well as a new logo to show that “we are a 21st century organization dedicated to being your premier business resource and advocate.”
Pinkerton presented this year’s Community Partner Award to the Wabash County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s Executive Director Christine Flohr, recognizing her outstanding service in the economic and cultural promotion of Wabash County.
This past year, the chamber’s theme was “We Are Family,” and this theme was present at the annual event. After stressing the importance of mentoring the next generation and having an adequate succession plan, Pinkerton announced that the Lance and Shelley Agness Family were this year’s President’s Choice Award winners for their outstanding volunteerism.
“They came early, stayed late, carried, carted, hefted, and cleaned up long after others were gone,” said Pinkerton, including the couple’s two children, Alicia and Ethan, “who never quit even though they could have been anywhere else.”
Later in the evening, Lance Agness became the new board chair, as outgoing board chair Kristi Lundquist passed the gavel.
The theme continued as Agro-Chem, a local family business, was named “Business of the Year.” Founded by Gary Cooper in 1975, Agro-Chem’s first employee was Ernie Peas. Thirty-eight years later, Brad Peas, the “middle peas boy,” as he joked, accepted the award and made a brief presentation. Brad and his two brothers, Brian and Mark, now split responsibilities at the company. The agriculture chemical equipment distributor now employs 33 people, servicing Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Kentucky.
Peas went on to thank his family and his employees’ families for their dedication to Agro-Chem. He thanked his father, for teaching him to run a successful business, with integrity and character, and his mother, getting a bit choked up in the process. Finally, he expressed his excitement in working with the third generation as Agro-Chem looks to the future.
Through accolades and anecdotes, Trula Cramer hinted at the identity of this year’s Distinguished Citizen, Ronald Woodward. She recalled a time when the two spent eight hours together in a canoe during what was supposed to be a five-hour trip down the river.
“I am proud to call your honoree my friend,” said Cramer. “His dedication to his community and love for history, especially that of Wabash County, makes him a perfect choice for this honor.”
A U.S. Navy veteran, Woodward received a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University and a master’s degree from Ball State. A former Distinguished Citizen, George Dingledy, recognized Woodward’s talent and brought him to Wabash as a Geography and History teacher at Wabash Middle School. He served as sponsor of the Indiana Junior Historical Society for 25 years. He has been honored as Indiana Geography Teacher of the Year, Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year, and Indiana Historical Society’s Hoosier Historian. He served as president of the Wabash County Historical Society and the Wabash Genealogical Society, which he also helped to form. He has been the Wabash County Historian since 1981, has written numerous articles about its history, and co-authored several books, including “Shadows of Wabash” and “Wabash County Chronicles” volumes one and two.
“This gentleman has certainly impacted the future of many of our students and has provided a proud tribute and record of our county’s past,” added Cramer.
During his acceptance speech, Woodward thanked his mentors, as well as his wife Diana, who “doesn’t have a dining room table, because it’s filled with correspondence.”
“She puts up with my eccentricities, and I thank her for that,” said Woodward.
He continued, reflecting on his time in Wabash and joking about his roots in southern Indiana.
“Growing up in southern Indiana, I always thought Northern Indiana had no history. I thought it stopped at US 40,” joked Woodward. “I was sadly mistaken in that fact. And every day of every year we’ve lived here, I’ve learned something new about the people and the history of this county. It’s a great history and I thank you for that opportunity to pursue it.”
Pinkerton closed the evening by thanking all who attended. Next year’s annual Chamber of Commerce Dinner will be held Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. in Legacy Hall.