In the crowd of 500 at the annual Kalispell Chamber of Commerce banquet, perhaps the only person surprised was B.J. Lupton. The announcement of the Great Chief award, the oldest and highest civic honor in Kalispell, was well understood by most everyone in attendance and those throughout the valley who have witnessed the steadfast community support and stewardship that has come to define Lupton.
“This is a wow,” Lupton said, expressing astonishment after accepting the award on Nov. 10.
Lupton, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve, has owned Snappy Sport Senter in Evergreen since 1978 and has been actively involved in supporting more than 80 community services and organizations over the years, including local volunteer fire departments, Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s A.L.E.R.T. program, Flathead Valley Crime Stoppers, Lighthouse Christian Home and more.
Among the many community members who nominated Lupton for the city’s Great Chief award, the common theme centered on his lifelong passion for his community and his devotion to helping everyone he could.
“I’ve learned that we’re put on Earth to give, not to take,” Lupton told the crowd. “And I’ve learned at the end of our journey through life, on our very last days, all that really matters is relationships — first with God, then with family and with dear friends such as yourself.”
Lupton’s honor as the 45th Great Chief was among the many highlights of this year’s 112th annual chamber banquet, held at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Mark Pirrie, who is the co-owner of Western Outdoor in downtown Kalispell, was named the Businessman of the Year.
Among the numerous business owners around the community who nominated Pirrie for the award, one said, “Mark provides all of us the finest example of excellent community service, quality products, and superior community leadership while carrying on traditions long established in Downtown Kalispell.”
In addition to keeping Western Outdoor an iconic location in the valley, Pirrie also contributes to the community through supporting local 4-H programs, volunteering with St. Matthew’s Catholic School and its advisory council and basketball programs, and remaining active with the Kalispell Parking Commission.
Holly Jean Larson, manager of the First and Main Building in downtown, was named the Businesswoman of the Year. While overseeing one of the mainstay storefronts, she is perhaps most recognizable for her philanthropic contributions to organizations such as the Flathead Valley Community College Foundation, A.L.E.R.T., Alpine Theatre Project in Whitefish, United Way and other groups.
Also, for the first time, the chamber recognized active members who provided important service to the chamber and its partner businesses.
Kristin Ahonen, an advertising representative at the Flathead Beacon, was honored with an outstanding contribution award after serving as the recruitment chair for the chamber ambassadors this year. Chamber leaders said Ahonen brought new life and camaraderie to the program with the addition of nearly 10 new members who have been integral in the success of many chamber programs and events.
Lloy Griffing, of FloodCo, chaired the chamber ambassadors this year and also received an outstanding contribution award. He has been one of the most active leaders the committee has ever seen, according to chamber leaders. He was involved with numerous chamber events, including the local UNWINDs and luncheons.
Joe Unterreiner, president of the chamber, said proceeds from the banquet would support the goals and initiatives of the chamber at the local and state level. Unterreiner said these initiatives will be focused on continuing to develop business, economic and community projects, including securing and adding frequency to recently acquired airline routes to Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, driving forward on the next phase of infrastructure projects, such as Reserve Drive, Main Street, and Willow Glen, and funding scholarships for manufacturing trades to support current industry workforce needs.
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