Houlton gala packs the house for annual awards, fundraiser and meeting

HOULTON, Maine — Flickering white lights peeking from behind sheer fabrics added to the vintage elegance of the annual Chamber of Commerce Gala held at the Houlton Elks Club on Saturday.

And just like in the years prior to the pandemic, the event was packed, said Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jane Torres.

“There were 136 attending. The numbers are coming back up,” Torres said, referring to a COVID-19-related dip in attendance. “Someone called at the last minute and we were able to set a small table and chairs, but that’s it, we were full.”

Each year, for more than 30 years, the chamber combines its annual membership meeting with a fundraising gala and community awards ceremony. And for 13 of those years, Torres, other board members and volunteers have been cooking the gala dinner on their own.

This year’s event featured filet of beef with sauteed mushrooms, plus vegetable Wellington for vegetarians, about a half dozen hors d’oeuvres and several desserts, she said.

The funds raised at the gala go right back into the community for the chamber’s 14 town events including Potato Feast Day and Midnight Madness among others. It’s a good year when the chamber uses all of its money to do good for the town, she said.

The Chamber Business of the Year Award was presented to wood products global manufacturer Louisiana-Pacific Houlton, one of Southern Aroostook’s largest employers.
Since 1981, the business has been very good for the region, Jon McLaughlin said on Tuesday. McLaughlin was elected to the Chamber Board of Directors during the Saturday annual meeting. He was the long-time director of the Southern Aroostook Development Corporation until his recent retirement.

In November, on the heels of a $150 million renovation, the company announced an additional $400 million expansion to its New Limerick plant that will double the production capacity of SmartSide Siding and Trim. LP Houlton currently employs about 160 people and with the expansion, the company expects to add 100 jobs to the facility.

“They are very deserving of this award. They turned the mill into a siding mill and that bodes well for the future,” said McLaughlin, who presented the award to LP’s Superintendent of Plant Operations Andrew Savage.

The chamber’s Community Spirit Award was given to Dr. Roxanne Bruce, co-owner of Shiretown Gaming and the Shire Ale House, vice president of operations at the American College of Healthcare Trustees, editor, contributor and consultant of Physician Outlook Magazine and a founder of Shop Small Farms.

Dr. Roxanne Bruce, Co-owner of Shiretown Gaming and the Shire Ale House, received the chamber community service award at the Houlton Chamber of Commerce Gala on Saturday, March 18, 2023. (Courtesy Houlton Chamber of Commerce)

“This award winner has dedicated countless hours to improving our town, whether it be through volunteering at local events, participating in community initiatives or simply lending a helping hand to those in need,” Chamber Past President Devon Cote said.
“Her commitment to making our town a better place is truly inspiring, and her generosity and kindness have touched the lives of many,” Cote said.
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to musician David McGillicuddy who has been entertaining Houlton audiences every summer Thursday night for 35 years with McGill’s Community Band, said Torres.
When McGillicuddy founded McGill’s band in 1985, there were approximately 35 members and now, decades later, more than 60 members come from all over Maine and Canada to play. This summer’s opening show is slated for June 23.
McGillicuddy taught music at Houlton Middle/High School, and was also the drummer for Rock Renaissance, a group of Aroostook County teachers who played at Ivey’s. Fifty years after disbanding, the rock group had a comeback in 2016.
Former Houlton Pioneer Times reporter and photographer Joe Cyr was given the Chamber’s Above and Beyond Award for his 13 years reporting on the Houlton community.
“Long before a chamber event we would get a call asking, ‘What’s happening?’
‘Anything new with the event?’ ‘Do you have a quote?’,” Chamber Board member Lori Westin said when she presented the award to Cyr. “No event was too small for Joe to care about, and there was always a blurb in the paper that would alert the community that something exciting was about to happen.”
Westin talked about Cyr and his family and their lifetime dedication to the Houlton community.

Lori Weston presents  the Above and Beyond award to former Houlton Pioneer Times resporter and assistant editor Joe Cyr at the Houlton Chamber of Commerce Annual Gala on Saturday, March 18, 2023. (Courtesy of The Houlton Chamber of Commerce)

“If you were lucky enough to have known his father Leland, and mother Donna, you would better understand the man who is receiving tonight’s 2023 Above and Beyond Award,” Westin said. “Raised in Houlton to this kind and loving couple, they instilled in Joe, his brother Kevin, and (their) daughter Deborah, a respect for hard work, deep appreciation for community and a love for sports that showed throughout Joe’s years at the Pioneer Times. There was hardly a game that Joe did not cover.”
During the annual meeting portion of the gala, Georgia Qualey was elected president of the board, Katie Sloat, vice president, Cam Clark, treasurer and past president Devon Cote will continue serving on the board until 2026. Board terms were renewed for Annie Torres Savage, Lori Westin, Destiny Gervais and Sara Williams Flewelling.

Additionally, Chuck Moody accepted the seat vacated by Danielle Hartnett and Jon McLaughlin accepted the seat vacated by Warren Tweedie.

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