Ripley County Chamber of Commerce hosts night of honors

Wanda English Burnett

The stage was lined with honorees as Lora Iceberg Parks sang “You are the Wind Beneath My Wings” at the Ripley County Chamber of Commerce’s “Red Carpet Celebration” dinner meeting.

The event, coordinated by Cathy May and a committee, was complete with red carpet, Oscar look alike decorations and those being honored receiving the prestige of a true Oscar night.

Those being honor included six foundations/funds that have forever changed the landscape and lives of residents in the county. The impact is felt from fire departments to economic opportunities never before realized.

Presidents of the board of directors from each foundation or a volunteer representative from the group accepted the award on behalf of the foundation they serve. May, who speerheaded honoring the foundations, wanted it that way. While several have executive directors who are paid personnel, they also have boards who volunteer their time and effort.

Lawrenceburg Mayor Bill Cunningham accepted the award on behalf of the City of Lawrenceburg Regional Development Grant Fund. He said to date over $60M has been given through this fund. There have been 5500 jobs created due to the generosity of the fund that encompasses ten Southeastern Indiana counties with Ripley being one of them. “We’re glad to share with Ripley County”, Cunningham noted.

Bill Hillenbrand, fourth generation representative of the John A. Hillenbrand Foundation family, was on hand to accept the award for his family’s foundation that was established in 1950. Just a few of their efforts include grants to the Southeastern Indiana YMCA, CREATE, St. Louis Church and school, Speaking of Women’s Health and more.

Accepting on behalf of the Gilmore and Golda Reynolds Foundation was Mike Black, board president. Over $7M has been given to improve the lives of the people of Osgood and the surrounding areas since the foundation was established 12 years ago.

Brenda Wetzler accepted the award on behalf of the Ripley County Community Foundation, which became a reality in 1997. Through Lilly Endowments GIFT Initiative there have been more than 100 Endowment funds established granting more than $12 million to non-profit groups in Ripley County.

The Rising Sun Regional Foundation was represented by Marianne Wiggers, who was the first president of the board 15 years ago, and remains in that position today. The foundation was created by the City of Rising Sun in conjunction with the development of the Grand Victoria Casino. May noted the foundation will have received an estimated $39 million, approximately $25.6 of which has been awarded in direct grants, leveraging over $300 million from other sources. Millions of dollars have poured into Ripley County since the foundation’s beginning in 1994 dramatically improving the lives of residents.

“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Wiggers said as she accepted the award. She noted further that “Ripley County is in an amazing position for growth.”

The last and oldest fund in the county to be recognized was The Tyson Fund. This fund was established in 1930 by Jim Tyson and has provided millions of dollars over the years to make the lives of those residing in the Versailles and surrounding areas better. The award was accepted by Gene Cofield, trustee.

Matt McNew presided over the annual dinner meeting where Gerry Nordmeyer presented the “pillars of the community” which included Educator of the Year, Chad Moeller; Business Person of the Year, Scott and Cindy Neal, and Citizen of the Year, Owen Menchhofer.

These people have truly earned the awards they received, although each was humbled about the nomination.
It was noted when Chad Moeller, principal of St. Louis School, was initially called about the award, he thought maybe the call was in fact for someone else. He was humble as he accepted the award that so many people believed he deserved. Gerry Nordmeyer introduced him by saying, “He leads by example, treating others with respect and kindness.” She said she was inundated with replys when teachers and staff at the school found out about the award. He enjoys the students and interacts with them from the time he greets them when they arrive off the buses until they are again ready to get on the buses to go home.

Scott and Cindy Neal were recognized for their effort of bringing the Neal-Weir Plaza to Versailles where Gold Star Chili and George’s Pharmacy are located. It was noted that Scott has been a businessman since he bought a gas station in Osgood at the age of 16 and hired someone to run it for him while he was in school.

Owen Menchhofer accepted the Citizen of the Year award, saying he was thankful for his best friend and wife, Della, who was on hand with his sons, Matthew, Jacob and wife, and mother Stella and friend, for the big evening.

Menchhofer said he was honored to serve his community. But, the Menchhofers have reached far beyond the local community traveling several times to countries less fortunate to help with mission trips.

The Ripley County Chamber of Commerce is celebrating 19 years of operation. Amy Thomas serves as the executive director with Matt McNew, president of the board of directors. Linda Chandler is the vice-president, Gerry Nordmeyer, secretary and Bonnie Jeffries, treasurer.

The 2012-2014 class of the board of directors were nominated and voted on at the meeting. They include: Alesha Neal, Osgood; Cathy May, Osgood; Gerry Nordmeyer, Batesville; Matt McNew, Osgood; Justin Smith, Milan; Marc Rulli and Mike Hughes, both of Versailles.

The chamber invites the public to visit them in the new welcome center located in Versailles just across from the Neal-Weir Plaza on US 50 east of the US 50 and US 421 intersection.