The Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce hosted its Annual Awards Luncheon at the Chincoteague Center on June 10th to recognize and honor outstanding people in the community for their service, dedication, and impactful contributions to the island. The event was sponsored by Eastern Shore Rural Health Systems. A delicious lunch was catered by Better. Food Truck. Treats were provided by Lunar Cow Publishing and Hippie Dippy Sweet Treats. Outgoing board members were thanked, new board members recognized, and high school seniors awarded for special achievements. The highlight of the event is always the recognition of the Citizen and Business Person of the Year as chosen by a committee appointed by the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
The Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce 2021 Leonard “Buddy” Burton Business Person of the Year Award was presented to Bryan Rush, Director of Emergency Services and Emergency Management Coordinator for the Town of Chincoteague. Bryan has served the town for over 30 years in various capacities, exhibiting the “highest level of moral and ethical standards”, according to his nomination ballot. His leadership and commitment to the community shows in everything he does. Bryan sees to the needs of others at all times of day or night and even during times of personal crisis in his own life. Bryan prepares, informs, and guides us through hurricanes, nor’easters, floods, and now…pandemics in the most professional manner by establishing policies and procedures for approval of Mayor and Town Council to keep our citizens and visitors safe during these catastrophic events. He goes above and beyond job expectations to ensure the safety of those in his care.
The Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce 2021 John White Shields Citizens of the Year Award was presented to Bill & Fran Lytle, founders of the non-profit organization Manna Café, serving hot meals and fellowship to everyone in the community. Bill and Fran have served tens of thousands of free hot lunches every Monday since January 2, 2017. When COVID-19 suspended gatherings in 2020, the group quickly transitioned to home deliveries for those in need. A connection to the outside world has been essential to home-bound islanders. They also instituted a mobile food pantry and began assisting the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia-Eastern Shore to provide food to over 100 households in upper Accomack County and distribute approximately 125 USDA food boxes to eligible seniors on Chincoteague Island each month. In 2020, Manna Café distributed food to 8,300 individuals with leadership from the Lytles. These efforts significantly “contribute to the welfare of our island community” stated the nomination.
Ernest Dale Holston was recognized for 15 years of service to the Chamber board and Benjy Holloway was recognized for 6 years of service, 3 years as President. “These individuals have provided invaluable guidance and leadership over the years and will certainly be missed” said Chamber Executive Director, Evelyn Shotwell. New board members Kate Moot and Rebecca Hudson were introduced as they each begin a three year term on the board.
Emma Faith was also recognized for winning the Entrepreneurial Essay Contest. The Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce Strategic Action Plan adopted in 2018 defined a short-term goal under Business Development to explore how to assist young adults in opening and operating new businesses here on the island and find out why individuals choose to become entrepreneurs over the more traditional route of becoming employees. We posed the question: “What ‘Tools for Success’ would be necessary for you to operate a prosperous business on Chincoteague Island?” to Chincoteague High School seniors and FBLA members. Emma’s insightful essay can be found on the Entrepreneurs page of the Chamber’s website.
The 2021 Nicki L. West Memorial Scholarship was presented to Evan Mason by Nicki West’s granddaughter, Jessi West. Evan will enter the US Coast Guard Academy where he will pursue a degree in electrical engineering. Evan believes in the training and opportunities the Academy will offer to become a leader while serving his country. He is an Eagle Scout and has earned numerous awards in athletics and academics throughout his high school years becoming Valedictorian of the Class of 2021. The chamber is pleased to assist Evan in realizing his dreams on his chosen career path.
Nicki L. West was a long-time island resident and President of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce for many years. Even after her presidency, she continued to be involved with the Chamber and in the community that she lived. Under her leadership, the Chamber became more active, expanding its involvement in local events such as the Greater Snow Goose Festival (now known as the Easter Decoy & Art Festival) and she was instrumental in recruiting and educating local businesses about the benefits of joining forces with the Chamber of Commerce. Nicki tirelessly promoted Chincoteague and its local businesses and was a great believer in the potential for progress that the Chamber could help the island community obtain. Her investment in Chincoteague history, industry, and culture was also evidenced by her volunteer work especially as a founder of The Oyster Museum (now the Museum of Chincoteague Island).
The Nicki L. West Scholarship was established shortly after her passing in 1991. Nicki is survived by her 3 sons, 5 grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren. To this day, the family is still very involved in the selection process for the Chamber’s scholarship winners.
The Nicki L. West Memorial Scholarship is given on the basis of character, scholarship, citizenship, leadership, ability, and need. General attitude, potential, and degree of involvement in community service will also be considered. Many of these values were important to Nicki and many she effortlessly embodied herself. The scholarship is awarded to a Chincoteague High School graduating senior attending trade school or pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree and will be paid in $500 annual payments for up to four years; $2,000 maximum scholarship amount.
Chamber staff updated attendees on chamber initiatives to promote business growth and resiliency during COVID-19 recovery. Bryan Rush introduced upcoming Business Resiliency Training Workshops that will begin in the fall. The chamber rolled out an initiative for a new and improved 2022 print and digital Visitor Guide package. An interactive map and digital guide are key features that will prove instrumental as we move forward to rebuild post-pandemic. Lunar Cow Publishing presented attendees with a sneak-peek of what is to come!