Joliet chamber adds Academy Awards style to its annual local honors night

Annual awards night recognized area businesses and nonprofits

WRDR - Wermer, Rogers, Doran and Ruzon wins the Professional Services award at the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry 2024 Annual Awards Dinner & Celebration of Success on Tuesday Feb. 27th, 2024 in Joliet.

The Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry brought a little Academy Awards-style fun to town Tuesday night with its annual recognition of local achievement.

The Annual Awards Dinner & Celebration of Success ranged from the comic to the sublime as co-hosts clowned for much of the evening to entertain the filled banquet room at the Renaissance Center.

Award recipients showed how much the recognition meant to them.

Carol Pritz shared with the audience some of the last words from her late husband, Ken, as the Pritz family was recognized for three generations of family business commitment to the J.D. Brown Pharmacy, the oldest pharmacy in Illinois, and Jacob Henry Mansion Estate, the 19th century manor that the family saved from demolition and converted into a banquet showplace.

“In one of the last conversations Ken and I had, he said to me, ‘Take care of the kids, and make sure the family sticks together,’ ” Pritz said.

She then asked family members at the event to stand up, and about 20 people rose from their seats, showing that the family has stuck together.

Colleen Lyons, Old Second National Bank Commercial Lending Assistant Vice President, accepts the award for Young Professional of the Year at the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry 2024 Annual Awards Dinner & Celebration of Success on Tuesday Feb. 27th, 2024 in Joliet.

The Pritz family received the Brother James Gaffney Award of Excellence.

Gaffney, the longtime and now retired president of Lewis University, was at the event to introduce the award.

Lewis University was the recipient of the annual Education Award, which led to one of the comedic exchanges between co-hosts Pete Collarelli, public affairs manager for ExxonMobil Midwest, and Kip Kline, dean of the College of Education and Social Services at Lewis University.

Collareli suggested conspiracy, asking the audience, “Don’t you think it’s odd that the first year Kip co-hosts at this event Lewis wins an award?”

Kline responded, “Pete, you work for an oil company, right?”

The Education Award was one of five in which nominees were announced ahead of the event but the name of the winners were not given until Tuesday for the sake of the Academy Awards theme of the evening.

Chamber Executive Vice President Mike Paone carried a metal box containing the names of the winners to the stage accompanied by Joliet police officer John Perri, who was working security, to a taped recording of the theme music from the old TV series “Peter Gunn,” adding to the comedic drama of the evening.

The Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry held their 2024 Annual Awards Dinner & Celebration of Success at the Renaissance Center on Monday Feb. 27th, 2024 in Joliet.

Other winners announced Tuesday were:

• Abri Credit Union for financial services

• Wermer, Rogers, Doran and Ruzon LLC for professional services

• Popus Gourmet Popcorn for retail services

• Greater Joliet Area YMCA for social services

Other award winners had been announced ahead of the event.

They were:

• Rod Tonelli, a planning consultant who last year served as interim city manager for Joliet and has been active in numerous local nonprofits, who received the Rabbi Hershman Community Service Award.

• IKEA, which employs more than 300 workers in Joliet at its third-largest distribution center in North America, as Large Employer of the Year.

• Larson Steel Products, which opened in 2022 as a supplier of conveyer products for the logistics industry and reached $3 million in sales last year, as New Business of the Year.

• Heritage Corridor Destinations, the state travel bureau for Will, Grundy and four other counties, as Small Employer of the Year.

• Colleen Lyons, assistant vice president for commercial lending at Old Second National Bank, as Young Professional of the Year.

• Melissa Helfert, area director of sales for Post Hospitality Group, as Ambassador of the Year.

Helfert at times choked back tears as she accepted the award for her work as an ambassador for the chamber reaching out on behalf of the chamber to new and existing businesses in the Joliet area, showing how much the awards meant to recipients.

Bob Navarro, president and CEO of Heritage Corridor Destinations, summed up what the awards night meant as he accepted the Small Employer of the Year award.

“It’s really important that we celebrate our successes,” Navarro said. “Events like this help us to do that.”