Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
This year's Business Excellence Awards proved to be "the icing on the cake" to realtor Mary Dingman's 31-year career.
Dingman, who retired as broker of RE/MAX a-b Realty Ltd. in December, took home the Personal Excellence Award at the Stratford & District Chamber of Commerce's annual recognition gala Thursday evening at the Arden Park.
Given her fellow nominees – a distinguished group of business and community leaders that included Simple Dreams founder Richard Kneider, RBC's Roger Quinn, and Local Community Food Centre founding director Steve Stacey – Dingman was more than a little surprised to hear her named called.
"I didn't think I would win because the other nominees are all so deserving and have done so much in the community. I'm just so overwhelmed, totally shocked," she said later that night.
"Everybody should be congratulated just for being nominated."
Dingman said she is loving retirement but that she misses her co-workers, her peers, and the satisfaction that she got dealing with the public and helping people buy and sell real estate.
Dingman was recognized as well for her support and volunteerism with several charities and organizations including the Children's Miracle Network, Meals on Wheels, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Friends of the Festival, and the chamber of commerce.
"It's really great to be involved with them," she smiled, adding she's sat on the chamber's Business Excellence committee a number of times in the past and she can appreciate "how hard it is for the judges."
Despite missing out on the night's top honour, Steve Stacey was called to the podium to accept the award for the community service category, which went to the Local Community Food Centre.
In addition to a community garden, food distribution centre, cooking education classes, and community meals, the centre is home to several social justice and peer advocacy initiatives.
Stacey dedicated the award to Bruce Walsh, a recovering addict who was able to turn his life around with the assistance of the food centre's staff and volunteers, and the many resources it offers.
Stacey said Walsh's story is one of "complete transformation from poverty to possibility."
"Through the power of food and through the power of community building that we develop through food, he's been able to completely turn his life around," he added.
Fifty-nine nominees were highlighted at this year's awards night across nine categories. The event, which recognizes dedication, imagination and creativity amongst the business community, has turned into one of the hottest tickets in town - 372 tickets were sold this year, the most ever in the event's 19-year history.
The night's other winners included Teahen Construction Ltd. (Commercial Award), Soup Surreal (Entrepreneur Award), The Prune Restaurant (Hospitality Award), CR Plastics (Manufacturing Award), Coventry Animal Hospital (Professional Award), Swanson's Jewellers (Retail Award), and The Green Hair Spa (Service Award).
The night's guest speaker was Jack Kinch, executive director for the Animal Welfare Agency South Central Ontario, which encompasses the humane societies in Stratford and Kitchener.
Coming to the Stratford area after a merger with the local shelter in 2012, Kinch told attendees the humane society went through its ups and downs, but that by learning from the community's past the organization has been better able to manage the present.
"The lessons you learn when losing are sometimes the most important lessons," he added.
The agency is currently in the midst of a $1 million fundraising campaign for a new animal welfare centre on Griffith Road to replace the cramped animal shelter on Douro Street.
The new building will be more spacious and provide vastly improved housing and adoptions conditions. Kinch said it will also have more community education opportunities, particularly around youth programs.
"The future is children. They need to change the way society treats its community pets," he added.
Kinch said the humane society is also trying to address the root societal issues that necessitate the need for such buildings in the first place.
"The problem is not the animals. The animals don't run away from their owners and run to the shelter for a better home. It is people who have failed these animals," he said.