Chamber honors businesses

13 years ago

Houlton Pioneer Times Photo/Gloria Austin
bu-clr-johnston2-dc-pt-10EMOTIONAL MOMENT — Rae Johnston, right, of Littleton gets a hug from Lori Weston, executive director for the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce.

By Gloria Austin
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — The Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce held its 2011 annual business dinner and gala event at the Houlton Lodge of Elks on Saturday evening.
    During the business meeting, members who retired from the board were recognized. They are Chuck Ames, Stacey Emery, Debbie Henderson and Sam Henderson. Newly elected board members are: Susan McAfee of Savings Bank of Maine; Michelle Crane of MACS Trading Post; Cheryl Locke of Machias Savings Bank and Mike Doody of Ward Log Homes.
    Officers for 2011 are: Ben Adams, president; Susan McAfee, first vice president; Debbie Nisbett, second vice president; and Mike Doody, treasurer. Other board members are: Anne Callnan, Trendsetters/Two Sisters; Andrew Putnam, Katahdin Trust Company; Jane Torres, Aroostook Milling/Two Sisters; Barrett Potter, Katahdin Trust Company; Kent Good, Florence Avenue Redemption/Gordon’s Beverages; Karen Fitzpatrick, Daniels Florist and Sue Tortello, town representative.
    Awards were presented in the following categories: Business of the Year — Elm Tree Diner; Community Spirit — Rae Johnston; Community Service — Houlton Volunteer Fire Department and Lifetime Achievement — Ed and Dawn Degenhardt.
     “Each year, the recipients are remarkable candidates and incredible people,” said Lori Weston, chamber executive director.
Business of the Year
    “It’s synonymous, Houlton and The Elm Tree Diner that is how important you are to us,” said Weston of the Business of the Year recipient.
    “After the fire, probably on a daily basis, the phone calls started coming in,” said Weston. “Whether or not you would rebuild and what would happen.”
Houlton Pioneer Times Photo/Gloria Austin
bu-clr-elmtree-dc-pt-10BUSINESS OF THE YEAR — The recipient of Business of the Year at the annual Houlton Chamber of Commerce Dinner and Gala event on Saturday at the Houlton Lodge of Elks was the Elm Tree Diner. Accepting the award were, from left, Gary Dwyer, owner and Rene McGillicuddy, general manager.

    Like the legendary bird, the Phoenix, the Elm Tree Diner rose from the ashes after a fire destroyed the iconic restaurant in 2009.    
    Before the fire, Elm Tree Diner employed 26 staff members, of whom, owner Gary Dwyer had first on his mind when the tragedy happened.
    Dwyer held a company meeting and informed his employees that he intended to rebuild. To ensure the employees kept their jobs, Dwyer opened a temporary location on North Street in the former Governor’s location behind Shiretown Inn and Suites.
    The new North Street location opened its door for business just before Thanksgiving 2009.
    Just about one year later, Elm Tree Diner on Bangor Street was restored and opened for business around Labor Day weekend in 2010.
    The wheels kept turning in Dwyer’s brain and he decided to keep both locations open. Today, both locations employ 43 staff members. Elm Tree Diner North also has rooms available to book functions or banquets, along with a full bar setup, while the original Elm Tree Diner still offers home cooked food and a “down home” atmosphere.
    Dwyer had purchased the Houlton landmark — which has been part of Houlton’s history since 1945 — in April 2007. Prior to his purchase, The Elm Tree Diner had been vacant for several years requiring major renovations. It took three months to “overhaul” the diner, which officially reopened July 2007.
Houlton Pioneer Times Photo/Gloria Austin
bu-clr-fitz-dc-pt-10SERVING — Getting hors d’ouevres ready to be served at the Houlton Chamber of Commerce Dinner and Gala event on Saturday at the Houlton Lodge of Elks were, from left, Michelle Green and Karen Fitzpatrick.

    It’s slogan, “There’s nowhere finer than the Elm Tree Diner,” is a direct statement of its reputation as “the place to eat” in Houlton.
    Dwyer’s plaque read “In recognition of your strong business preservation, growth, expansion and superior customer service and promotion of your community.”
    “Thank you everyone,” said Dwyer upon receiving the award. “Without your support, our efforts would not have become what they are today. We have some great ideas we are working on right now to improve on our offerings to you and your friends. We truly know, that without you, we are not there. We need you. If there is something you would like to see us do, we would like you to tell us. If there is something we are doing wrong, in your opinion, please let us know.”
    Dwyer went on to thank his staff, especially general manager Rene McGillicuddy.
    “I also want to thank the wonderful group of people who work for us,” he said. “We have some people who are totally dedicated to the success of The Elm Tree Diner North and “South.” We are working on making it even more of a landmark for Houlton, Maine than it is now. Again, I want to thank my people. I want to thank Rene, who is now the general manager who has done a magnificent job. Thank you, every one one of you for visiting us and patronizing the Elm Tree Diner.”
Community Service
    The Houlton Volunteer Fire Department, also known as the Sockanossett Hose Company #1, was named and established after the steamer was purchased in 1880 for $3,000.
Houlton Pioneer Times Photo/Gloria Austin
bu-clr-fire-dc-pt-10HONORED — The Houlton Volunteer Fire Department was honored as the Community Service Award winner at the Houlton Chamber of Commerce Dinner and Gala event on Saturday at the Houlton Lodge of Elks. Members of the fire department at the event were, from left, front, Rob Hannigan and Milton Cone, fire chief; back, John Folsom, Jon Harbison, Peter Howe and Anthony Benn.

    The fire department has 30 dedicated volunteers who share one common interest and goal … to do what they can to help, promote and protect the community.
    “Thank you very much,” said Milton Cone, Houlton fire chief as he accepted the award. “We aren’t very good at accepting thanks.”
    The fire department consists of a cross-section of community members, who are involved in the town in a number of ways. The group was a cosponsor of the first Northern Maine Soap Box Derby; helping and organizing Moosestompers Weekend; installing Christmas lights in downtown Houlton; ringing the Salvation Army bell during their Christmas campaign; participating in the Holiday Light Parade; saving and erecting the Boy with the Leaking Boot, as well as the Bell Tower in Pierce Park; providing and participating in the July 4th State Agricultural Fair; along with providing scholarships through Dollars for Scholars for area schools; the purchase of a Boy with the Leaking Boot to support the Health Services Foundation; supporting Learn Not To Burn in area schools, as well as other school activities; hosting the Fireman’s Muster and Maine State Convention; responding to medical emergencies, hazmat situations and even putting out fires.
    “They are pretty amazing people,” said Weston.
    Members of the Houlton Volunteer Fire Department are: Ryan Aucoin, Brian Beals, David Beals, Michael Beals, Anthony Benn, Mark Boutilier, James Brown, Andrew Clark, Philip Cloney, Milton Cone, fire chief; Fred Craig; Michael Cummings; Leland Cyr; John Folsom; Jon Harbison; Robert Hannigan; Kevin Harris; Josh Henderson; Peter Howe; Dan Jewell; Dana LaPointe; Roger Larson; Glenn Miller; Daniel Norton, Jr.; Dean Porter; Andrew Putnam; Jon Ross; Walfy Roy; Glen Targonski and Kevin Tingley.
Community Spirit
    The Community Spirit Award was an emotional presentation for Weston, who had tears in her eyes.
    “As has happened for the past few years that we have honored folks at our annual dinner, I have had a personal relationship with one or more of the award winners” she said. “Rae Johnston, is a woman I have known all my life.”
    Weston explained that during the traditional potato harvest, she and her family would pick up the Johnston kids and take them to and from the field. The deal was, “Rae gave us a hot lunch every day,” Weston said. “I guess you know who got the best part of that deal.”
Houlton Pioneer Times Photo/Gloria Austin
bu-clr-johnston-dc-pt-10SPIRIT— Rae Johnston of Littleton was honored with the Community Spirit Award at the annual Houlton Chamber of Commerce Dinner and Gala event on Saturday at the Houlton Lodge of Elks. Gathered with her are her family, from left, Susan, Johnston, Ann, and Karen; back, David, Stephen and Mark.

    Weston explained that Rae and her husband, Charlie, who has passed away, really started all of the things she continues today — together.
    “Rae is one of the most giving and charitable people that I have or will ever know,” she said. “She works quietly under the radar and her response to winning this award was, ‘Now, I don’t do anything more than anyone else would do.’ And, that is not true at all. She really believes that about herself.”
    Weston went on to read a quote given to her by Sandra Wotton to describe Johnston. “No one is more cherished in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another.”
    Moving from Rhode Island as a teenager, Rae Johnston graduated from Houlton High School. After graduation, she worked at the Houlton Town Office.
    Johnston and her husband raised six children — Mark, Susan, Ann, Steven, Karen and David — all who were present at the awards presentation. Even though family knew, Johnston did not know that Sue, Mark and Steve would be coming home for this event. They surprised their mother on Saturday afternoon. Sue flew in from Idaho, so Johnston was shocked when they all arrived home.
    Johnston is a moving force behind the activities of the Meduxnekeag Ramblers Snowsled Club in Littleton, as she organizes successful breakfasts which help pay many clubhouse expenses and helps with fundraising for the club and is the membership chairman. When anyone in the community is in need of assistance, she is one of the first to offer to help with organizing a supper of whatever fundraiser is decided upon.
    She also is one of the organizers during Moosestompers Weekend and works closely with the Houlton Chamber of Commerce on the event. She is on the board of directors for the Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum and helps organize and work fund-raising events there, as well.
Houlton Pioneer Times Photo/Gloria Austin
bu-clr-kitchen-dc-pt-10IN THE KITCHEN — Sharon Raymond, left, and Ann Callnan, right, get the appetizers ready for Saturday night’s gala. In the background are, from left, Brady Henderson, Mike Raymond, Sue York and Doug Callnan.

    Johnston is a highly-respected member of the Board of Selectman for the town of Littleton, and has served in this capacity for  a number of years. She has also represented Littleton as a member of the Board of Trustees for Houlton Regional Hospital and the Houlton/Hodgdon Dollars for Scholars board.
    In past years, she served as a member of the Littleton School PTA and helped with the PTA Fair, which helped with extras needed at the school, and many children have benefited from mittens she has knitted and sent to school. Johnston is active in her church, as she serves on the Littleton United Baptist Church Benevolent Committee and has been on the social committee.
    Whenever there is a need for a mercy meal, she is always a willing volunteer, whether church family or community member.
    “Rae is an organizer,” Weston said. “She sees a need in the community and finds a way to help, involving friends and family in the effort. She helps in many ways that only those very close to her are aware of. This community and area are among her first concerns.”
    Johnston’s plaque said, “In recognition and honor of your many selfless and extraordinary contributions to our community, making a positive difference in the lives of so many people.”
    A choked up Johnston came to the podium with tears as well to accept her honor.
    “I am very appreciative,” she said. “I am truly overwhelmed and honored. I am so pleased to have all of my children here.”
    To finish, Weston said that Johnston’s husband always gave her a bottle of “Charlie” perfume and before the Johnston ladies came, they wore Charlie perfume so he could be a part of the evening too.