52nd Washington Chamber Banquet honors businesses, Washingtonian Harold West

Brandon Schatsiek
Joe Russell congratulates 2011 Washingtonian Harold West. Russell worked for West at West Meats when he was in high school.

For one night every year for the past 52 years, Washington’s movers and shakers, big shots and residents have been meeting to honor the best and brightest in their community.

Thursday was “Washington’s night to shine,” according to emcee of the Washington Chamber Banquet Joe Russell. The theme for this year’s banquet was Survivor Washington, which included a spin-off of the popular TV show with Washington Chamber members and Mayor Gary Manier as contestants.

“We’ll have some laughs, but we are here to honor two businesses as well as a very special Washingtonian,” Russell said in his opening speech.

The first business to be honored was Washington Community Bank which, through a new addition and major remodeling of its building at 1881 Washington Road, won the chamber’s Business Beautification Award.

According to the chamber’s specifications, the award is given to the business which made the effort these last few months to change the face of their building and add to the beauty of Washington.

“It’s almost as if we built a new building,” said bank manager Matt Moehle in a video addressing the improvements. “It’s a better way to serve customers and the community.”

In between the awards, the Survivor videos were the highlight of the night for the audience members as they laughed at the team’s adventures in Metamora that left Tom Brecklin and Mark Swisher leaving in the back of a Metamora Police Department squad car among other shenanigans. 

One team challenge ended with the self-named Taylor Swift team in trouble with the Washington Fire Department after a fictitious fire was started at the Grand Victorian.

The second award of the night was the Outstanding Business Award given to the Washington business which best exemplifies the chamber’s ideals and does its part to better the Washington community.

The 2011 recipient of the award was Johnson Accounting at 209 Muller Road. Tom and Tracy Johnson have owned Johnson Accounting after taking over the business from Joseph Mahoney in 1998.

“We’d like to thank everybody who nominated us and voted for us,” Tom Johnson said. “This has been a shock to me. I would like to mention that if it wasn’t for Joseph Mahoney, we wouldn’t be standing here today. He was a great boss for us to give us the opportunity to take his business and grow it.”

In between the Survivor segments, there were chamber-sponsored commercials that included poking fun at Lindy’s Downtown Market and the subtraction of their giant parking-lot tree and an address from Mayor Gary Manier requesting $10 billion to start Washington’s own space program to beat East Peoria, Morton and Roanoke to the moon.

“The strength of Washington has always been and always will be, it’s sense of community and togetherness … and together we can make our next step — a small step in that one giant leap for all Washingtonians … space,” Manier said in the video commercial that lead to big laughs from those in the crowd.

The night of fun came to a close on a serious note as the chamber honored Harold West as the 2011 Washingtonian. Manier introduced the award winner to the crowd saying, “(The award) recognizes one local resident for his or her service to the Washington community. The winner of this award has a history of unselfish service and commitment to our great community.”

West, who thought he was attending the banquet because his granddaughter was performing the opening and closing songs, said he was surprised at winning the award.

“I really don’t know what to say; it’s one of the highlights of my life,” West said. “The only thing that’s missing is a very beautiful, beautiful woman named Virginia West.”

West, who spent more than 48 years in business in Washington — most of which while owning West Meats — used his acceptance speech to give advice to local business owners.

“I’d like to say to all of you in the business world in our community, we’ve got a lot bricks around us — and those bricks are your employees and if you learn to treat them like you’d like to be treated and pay them a decent wage, you’ll … go all of the way,” West said. “I thank you all very much and God bless you all.”

To read the full stories about Washington Community Bank, Johnson Accounting and Harold West as well as other stories about what the Washington Chamber of Commerce is doing to make businesses in town better, read the Washington Chamber Tab in this week’s edition of the Washington Times-Reporter and online at www.WashingtonTimesReporter.com.