Chamber Honors Community Service and Economic Development Efforts

By Daniel J. Heitzenrater

President and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce

The Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce paid tribute this past week to a number of individuals and organizations for their service to our communities and for their efforts to make our county a better place to live, work, and play. The Chamber Annual Awards Banquet was held at the Williams Center at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

We had an extraordinary group of people in the room tonight, representing a variety of organizations from across the county. These individuals have made great contributions to our county in so many ways and we are proud to recognize their achievements.

Two Persons of the Year were recognized this year: John D’Agostino, managing editor of the OBSERVER and The Post-Journal for his public work in journalism and his private efforts for numerous local non-profit organizations; and Rochelle Mole, vice president of finance and operations for the National Comedy Center for her foundational role behind the scenes in developing and holding together during the pandemic two vital attractions in Chautauqua County – the National Comedy Center and the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum.

The Economic Development Award was presented to Chautauqua Hospice & Palliative Care for both its crucial care for patients and families and for its extraordinary fundraising and construction of the county’s first ever Hospice House, which is creating jobs.

Each of the six community Chambers of Commerce presented a Community Service Award. The Dunkirk Community Chamber has selected Kirk Frey, who has owned Kirk’s Jewelers for over four decades and has also been actively engaged in the community through his church and through many charitable contributions. The Fredonia Community Chamber chose Festivals Fredonia for its Community Service Award, an all-volunteer organization which is responsible for putting on several festivals in the community annually. The Hanover Community Chamber selected Aimee Rogers to receive its Community Service Award in recognition of her efforts with Imagine Forestville to both encourage the preservation of history and to encourage new business development in the hamlet. The Jamestown Community Chamber selected Lou Deppas for its Community Service Award for his long-time commitment to the community and especially his service on the Boards of Directors of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame, Jamestown YMCA, and National Comedy Center. The Mayville-Chautauqua Community Chamber chose the Chautauqua Lake Central Schools for providing full-time in-person instruction for 95% of the district’s students during the very challenging 2020-2021 school year and creating a successful and safe learning environment for students. The Westfield-Barcelona Community Chamber award was presented to the Patterson Library Hands, a loosely formed volunteer group that works diligently through hands-on maintenance and improvement projects to keep the historic library working.

The Chamber Annual Awards Banquet was sponsored by Community Bank, County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency, DFT Communications, Jamestown Community College, Media One Radio Group, National Grid, OBSERVER, and The Post-Journal.


The Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards Banquet has always been well-attended, often hosting 350 people in a single room for a dinner. This year, with a pandemic still impacting the health and well-being of the community, some changes had to be made. With full consultation with our Board of Directors and our venue – the Faculty Student Association at SUNY Fredonia – the Chamber was able to hold a large dinner gathering to honor our award recipients, and still keep it safe for all.

Some of the decisions were challenging along the way and were made with the full knowledge that if we needed to pull back due to public health concerns then we would be able to do so. The Chamber determined that we would limit in-person attendance to 200 guests, and that all in-person guests would need to certify during online registration that they had been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. SUNY requires that all persons indoors must wear a face covering unless they are seated for a meal, so we adhered to that regulation.

What we ended up with was an enjoyable dinner for 130 people in the room, along with a dozen or so people who chose to watch the festivities online. The outstanding technology and student assistance available through the Williams Center on campus made it simple for us to live-stream this event via Zoom webinar. It took a little time upfront to test and talk-through the technology and production aspects of this program, but we were pleased with the results.

As we have all learned to navigate a variety of web viewing platforms in the past eighteen months, we have also come to realize that this is the new reality for many. The hybrid event – both in-person and online – is the new way of the world. We thank all of our Chamber members, award recipients, and sponsors for working with us through this process and hope it can stand as an example for other organizations as they consider how to hold meaningful functions in the near future.


The Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors will accept nominations for the Pam Lydic Coalition Builder Award until November 1. This award recognizes an individual in the region who has worked hard to bring groups of people together around a common goal or objective. This award is presented to an individual that has helped move the region forward in a positive direction through collaboration and by building partnerships. The award is particularly focused on those who have done their work consistently and often times in the background. A typical awardee would be an ‘unsung hero’ in the community. It is named in memory of Pam Lydic, the first President/CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce. The award will be presented during the Chamber’s Annual Meeting, December 3.


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