Flathead Valley business owners and local leaders gathered at Flathead Valley Community College’s Wachholz College Center on Nov. 8 for the Discover Kalispell Chamber of Commerce’s 119th annual “Grand Event.” At the event, which is the organization’s only fundraiser of the year, the chamber honored local businesses and community members with awards, recapped its 2023 accomplishments and provided a glimpse of its strategic priorities for 2024.
The chamber presented the 52nd Annual Flathead Legacy Award – the chamber’s oldest and most prestigious award – to Joe and Colleen Unterreiner. Joe Unterreiner served for 24 years as the President and CEO of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and helped shape how the city has grown. In her role at Flathead Valley Community College’s Foundation, Colleen helped raise funds for student scholarships and was instrumental in raising money for new facilities on campus. In a press release, the chamber said, “The Flathead Valley is truly better off because of the Unterreiners. Their legacy will be written and talked about for years to come as change agents, successful leaders, and mostly as givers!”
The Businessperson of the Year award went to Joe Kola, the Flathead Market President of Stockman Bank. The chamber described Kola as a “professional whose energy, charisma and skills have benefited many in Kalispell and the Flathead for years.” In 2021, Stockman bank opened a branch in Kalispell and opened another branch in Whitefish this year. Kola is the Vice Chair of the Logan Health Foundation Board and serves on its Bylaws Committee and Finance Committee. He also serves on the FVCC Foundation, chairs its Finance Committee, and serves on its Young Professionals Committee. Joe is also the treasurer and secretary for the Glacier AERO board.
Mike Lincoln of Reach Higher Montana was awarded the Educator of the Year. After a long and successful career in education, Mike Lincoln retired from his role as assistant principal at Flathead High School in 2019. He wasn’t done being an educator, however, and Reach Higher Montana was able to hire him to help students throughout the Flathead as the Reach Higher Montana Outreach Advisor for the area. In this role, Mike works throughout the region – from Eureka to Arlee, and all points in between – to help students find their paths or career interests and then help them pursue and achieve their goals for life after high school.
The chamber’s two Business of the Year awards went to WGM Group for large businesses and KGEZ for small to medium businesses. WGM Group – a growing and successful engineering firm – has a team passionate about serving the community that aligns with its mission statement and values. Its has been “able to help Kalispell and surrounding communities plan for growth and develop in ways that support our Montana values and way of life.”
John Hendricks, the owner of the KGEZ radio station, has been the voice many of in the Flathead wake up to. As an on-air influencer, John has incredibly strong ties to the community, which is based on a foundation of trust and emotional connection. Since John took ownership he has moved the station from the oldies to a community oriented full service radio station in the heart of Kalispell.
Non-Profit of the Year was awarded to My Glacier Village. Founder Jenn Prunty and her seven-member board of directors were recognized for their work at the local chapter of a national nonprofit organization started by a group of retires who had all cared for their elderly parents. The Villages are built for seniors, by seniors. Following the national model, not only are seniors helping each other with things like rides to appointments, getting groceries, or small home projects, they have created this organization right here in the Flathead.
The Community Spirit of the Year Award, given to a community member who volunteers their time and acts a local role model, went to Maren “Marney” McLeary who has spent more than 30 years tirelessly working on affordable and attainable housing in Northwest Montana. During her time at Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana, she was the catalyst to creating the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust, purchasing 52 foreclosed homes in the City of Kalispell, rehabbing them, and selling them to low-income households, creating the largest CLT in the state at the time. McLeary is currently working with the Samaritan House in Kalispell to create 18 affordable apartment units for families and 14 units of dedicated Veterans Housing.
The Chamber Partner of the Year was awarded to the Flathead Beacon. When the organization was challenged to find a Main Street location for a temporary Visitor Information Center to welcome and greet summer travelers, the Beacon stepped up and offered highly visible and accessible space at its 17 S. Main St. office. Between July through October of 2023, 730 visitors received the information they needed to learn about what Kalispell has to offer to create a memorable and enjoyable time in the Flathead.
The Ambassador of the Year Award was given to Dana Labuda-Viola, who has been an Ambassador for four years, served on the Flathead Area Young Professionals, and is a graduate of Leadership Flathead. As chair of Discover Kalispell Chamber’s Ambassadors, Dana’s leadership was instrumental in redesigning the goals and priorities of the group. As the public relations arm of the Chamber, she inspired, motivated and engaged members at all of its events. She excels at building long-lasting relationships and business partnerships that grow successful companies in Kalispell.
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