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  • Portland Area Chamber of Commerce

2017 PACC Annual Business Awards

Pictured (left to right): Tom Antaya - Gerald Brown Lifetime Business Achievement Award Nominee, Kathy Ness - Outgoing Chamber President, Mike Lehman - Gerald Brown Lifetime Business Achievement Award Winner, Pastor Marilyn Danielson and Father Larry King - Special Recognition, John Novara - Citizen of the Year Award Winner, Margery Briggs - Citizen of the Year Nominee, Jamie and Tom St Amour (Chocolate Moose) - Business of the Year Nominee and Riccardo Biella (not pictured - Olivera's) - Business of the Year Winner.

The Portland Area Chamber of Commerce held their 2017 PACC Annual Business Awards at the Wagon Wheel Oak Room on Monday, January 22nd.

During the dinner, the following awards were given:

Citizen of the Year: John Novara

Business of the Year: Olivera's

The Gerald Brown Lifetime Business Achievement Award: Mike Lehman

Special Recognition and Thank You: Pastor Marilyn Danielson and Father Larry King

More About the winners:

John Novara - Citizen of the Year 2017

John was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He graduated from Iron Mountain High School in 1989 and then went onto Ferris University.

His father had encouraged the optometry field, but that is not where his heart was. After attending Ferris for 1 ½ years, he transferred to Northern Michigan University and graduated in 1995 with his teaching degree.

John was interested in securing employment in a small town, and out of school, had 3 job offers, one of them being Portland. He was hired in Portland as a biology and algebra teacher, and over time, transitioned to only math. He is now in his 23rd year at Portland Public Schools. During John’s beginning years at Portland, he met a student teacher, Brandee. They married in 1993 and now have three children, Adrianna, Sophia and Dominic.

John’s father had been a sports coach, and he recalls his dad enjoying this activity and time with kids. At the beginning of working in Portland, John took on the coaching positions for Freshman football, 7th grade basketball and girls Varsity track. His second year he became the assistant Varsity football coach, JV boys basketball coach and girls varsity track coach. He has also coached bowling, and currently coaches 5th grade football and basketball in addition to the Varsity Football.

Coach Novara says that he is in his 19th year with the football team and has had good assistant coaches and has 4 former students assisting in the program. In 2012, the team won the state championship. When we talked about the time commitment to coaching, John says it adds 20-30 hours per week to his schedule.

Community service has been woven into the sporting activities, such as wounded warriors game, relay for life, Make a Wish sponsorship, City clean-up day, cancer awareness games, organizing the Trunk or Treat at the high school this past fall, and the list goes on.

John says he enjoys spending time with his family. His kids have worked as water girls for the football team, attended the spaghetti dinners and other activities. John and his son Dominic like to hunt and fish together. And for the record, John would like us to know that his wife Brandee, is "a saint."

Margery Briggs - Citizen of the year Runner-up

Throughout her life, Margery has been actively involved in helping others—through community involvement, as a volunteer, and in her work in public service.

She grew up in Grand Ledge and attended college at Lansing Community College, Northwood’s University and Western Michigan University. She holds degrees in Business Management, Business Administration, a Master’s in Public Administration, a master’s in Clinical Social Work and graduate program certification in Holistic Health.

She retired from State of Michigan Mental Health in 2002, after 34 years. She also was a treatment provider with Ionia County Health Department Substance Abuse Program for 10 years. Personal & Community Wellness and Resilience have been the focus of her counseling practice that she began in 1997 and incorporated in 2004 as Two Rivers Counseling & Consulting P.C. in Portland.

Since moving herself and her business to Portland in 2003, she has been actively involved in activities and events.

Some of these activities include: -- Ionia County Board of Commissioners appointee to the Advisory Council for Ionia County Substance Abuse; --Ionia County’s Substance Abuse Initiative Work Group --Portland Garden Club--a past president, and hosts the annual Geranium Sale at her home; is also a National Certified Master Gardener; --Portland Area Chamber of Commerce, member and past president --Red Mill Pavilion construction volunteer --fundraising activities for Portland Area Ministerial Association including Festival of Tables --Portland Area Historical Society board member --First Congregational Church and member of the Resiliency Team for the Michigan Conference of Congregational Christian Churches --Facilitator of community grief groups --Portland Civic Club --Portland Downtown Development Board of Directors since 2006 --Portland Main Street Program involvement since 2005, and last year she stepped in as the Transitions Coordinator for the DDA and Main Street program.

In her leisure time, Margery enjoys spending time with her significant other, Michael Judd, reading, music, landscaping, interior decorating, and spending time with family and friends.

Margery stated that she is honored to be nominated for this award, and encourages everyone to become an active participant in their community.

Mike Lehman - Gerald Brown Lifetime Business Achievement Award 2017

Mike was born and raised in Portland and is a graduate from St. Patrick High School. Following high school Mike attended LCC and received an applied science degree. While attending college he worked at Sparrow Hospital’s morgue. At around age 21 he had decided to pursue a degree in mortuary science and in 1993 graduated from Wayne State University.

In 1992 Mike married Lisa. They have two children Brady and Elle. Elle has joined her father at Lehman Funeral Home in 2016 and is now the director and an embalmer.

When Mike graduated from Wayne State University he began his employment with Tiffany Funeral Home and later Estes Leadley Funeral Homes. In 1998, he started a funeral home business in Portland, then in 2001 moved to his current location.

Mike takes pride in Lehman Funeral Home providing a continuity of care for families. The family is the focus from the time of death, until the end of service needs are met. Mike also enjoys the challenge of diversity with the family’s needs and the uncertainty of each day.

Mike is involved in the community. Support is given to many school functions and he sits on the Board of Directors for Sparrow Hospital, Ionia Campus.

For fun and leisure time, Mike is an avid bow hunter. He also enjoys spending time with his family at the cottage on Morrison Lake.

Mike and I spoke a little about the bucket list for life, and I have a fun fact to share. Mike has always wanted to play the drums, and beginning this month, he will be taking drumming lessons from Art Phelps.

Tom Antaya -- Gerald Brown Lifetime Business Achievement Award, Runner-up

Tom Antaya grew up in Detroit. He recalls that his neighborhood was much like Portland, where you knew everyone. His father passed when he was a teenager and his mother remarried and relocated to Haslett when he was in the 9th grade. At 15 years old, Tom got a job bagging groceries. After graduating from high school, he attended LCC and then transferred to MSU and received a business degree.

After college he worked for Mr. Goff, who had purchased the Westphalia ShopRite. Tom managed this store for three years and served on the Westphalia planning commission. He and his wife Ellen lived in Westphalia during this time and started their family. They have 3 sons, two of which work with him in the business.

Tom also managed the Carriage Hills ShopRite in East Lansing. In 1982 he purchased Tom’s IGA in Portland. It was a 10,000 square foot building (current space of the Do It Center.) In 1989 he added 12,000sq. ft. and purchased the Lears Spartan store across the street and renovated that space to the hardware and video store.

In 1996 Tom added 38,000 sq. ft. to the current grocery store building and moved the hardware and video store to be under the same roof.

Three years after the remodel and addition, Little Caesars Pizza and the pharmacy were added. In 2007 the Bigby coffee was added.

The Spartan wholesaler was getting into fuel center and carwashes business, and in 2011 Tom opened his fuel and carwash store. Six months after that, he bought the L & L Shoprite in Okemos.

Ellen does the payroll for the businesses, but is starting to ease into retirement. His sons Steve and Dave are a large part of the businesses.

In addition to the supermarket businesses, Tom has 4 Biggby stores in the Grand Rapids area that his son and daughter-in-law oversee.

Tom began his supermarket business in Portland with 15 employees. He currently has 200 associates, with one of the first from 1982. Tom credits much of the success of his store to the good people he works with.

Tom is a member of Portland DDA and the only original member of this group. He has also been active in the Meridian Township planning commission.

Tom provides a number of community services to Portland, such as the parking lot being used for a number of carwash fundraisers, boy scouts in the past selling Christmas trees from the garden center, donating to Portland Community Fund, Matching funds of donations given for the library expansion and post tornado assistance.

For time away from work, Tom enjoys attending the YMCA every morning, participating in spin classes, bike riding and paddle boarding in the summer.

Riccardo Biella - Olivera's - Business of the Year 2017

Olivera’s, like many family owned restaurants has an interesting history, but a unique start to this one begins in Sicily, Italy. Riccardo Biella was born and raised in Italy. Riccardo’s uncle had moved to the United States in the 70’s. Riccardo’s family vacationed here in 1989, and desired to live in the land of opportunity. In 1991, Riccardo then 14, moved to Michigan with his parents and younger sister. He graduated from East Kentwood High School and retuned to Italy following high school. Riccardo’s family has history of having a restaurant in Italy, and when he returned, he took culinary courses and had an apprenticeship. To make ends meet, he also worked in construction. Although Riccardo had intended to stay in Italy, his family and friends back in the United States wanted him to return. After being in Italy for about a year and a half, his uncle cinched the return with a job offer he couldn’t refuse.

In 2001 he married Halina. They now have 4 children ages 6-20.

Shortly after marrying, the Biella’s decided to leave the Grand Rapids area and open a restaurant in a smaller community. In 2002 they founded Olivera’s in Ionia. The business began as a pizzeria and take out. They slowly expanded, and in 2004 had turned their pizzeria into a small restaurant and bar. In 2014, they purchased real estate across from the Ionia fairgrounds and renovated, expanded the beverage menu and introduced micro beers.

Where does the name Olivera’s come from you might ask?

The word Olive and Vera translates to real/authentic, so the Biella’s put those two words together (Authentic Olive).

Riccardo shared that he and Halina have always had great respect for the Portland community since they opened their doors in Ionia and also considered moving residence to Portland many times as well as opening a restaurant. He says their wish of opening their second location finally came through in 2016 when they purchased the old KFC/Taco Bell building and are happy they made the investment in such an awesome and strong community. They opened the Portland location on July 12, 2016. Their restaurant and bar has a full food and bar menu and state of the art chilled beverage dispensing. Riccardo and Halina take special pride in the authenticity of their Italian dishes and the freshness of their ingredients.

Tom and Jamie St. Armour - Chocolate Moose - Business of the Year Runner-up

The Chocolate Moose ice cream shop in downtown Portland was re-opened by Tom and Jamie St. Amour in August of 2016.

They are serving up decadent homemade ice cream, Panini sandwiches, bagels, soups and coffee. For those with a candy sweet tooth they have baskets of candies to tempt you too.

While many of the ice cream flavors the Chocolate Moose has always had are available, they have some new ones also. With 84 different varieties, there is something for everyone. Tom and Jamie are focusing on making sure the ingredients used in the ice cream are of the highest quality. The St. Amour’s are using local providers as much as they can for all of their business needs. When meeting recently with Jamie she told me they are receiving bagels and other baked goods daily from Beagle’s Bagels in Grand Ledge. They have also partnered with Sozo’s coffee from Ionia and Courageous Coffee in Portland to offer customers their favorite brews. Another new venture for the Chocolate Moose is expanding the sale of their USDA inspected ice cream to Alice Springs camp ground and in Belding.

Tom and Jamie are feeling a sense of community with the kids in Portland who frequent their shop after school. Not always eating, but just hanging out with friends and (maybe) doing homework. The St. Amours additionally give support back to the community with donations to the local senior center and school groups.

The St. Amour’s are entrepreneurs at heart and have had other successful businesses in the Detroit communities. Jamie has served in the Army and is a nurse. Tom and Jamie grew up in the New Boston area. Tom says they have known each other since junior high school and after life’s twists and turns, they married 10 years ago. Together they have 7 children and 3 grandchildren. Cameron, 11 yr. old and Allison 9 yr. old, are helping out and think it is “great” that their family owns an ice cream shop. You may know Tom and Jamie from The Old Skool Bus business they started 8 years ago when they moved to Portland and Pastor Marilyn from the Congregational Church is Tom’s mom.

The St. Amour’s are enjoying their shop on Bridge Street and being a part of the downtown area.

Pastor Marilyn Danielson - Special Appreciation Plaque

Pastor Marilyn Danielson has served at the Portland First Congregational Church for20 years. She lives here with her husband Warren and has 3 grown children and 10 grandchildren. Pastor Marilyn grew up in Gibraltar in the southern Detroit area. As a young adult, she and her husband and 3 young children lived in Alabama for 4 years where she says she lived in poverty and learned to have a tender heart for this population.

Professional ministry has been a second career for Marilyn. Earlier in her life she worked for 14 years as a surgical technician for a periodontist and as Chuckie Cheese for the children’s arcade business. After her children were grown, she attended Spring Arbor College, and obtained her bachelor’s degree in Family Life Education. In 1993 she obtained her Masters in Divinity and then completed her doctorate in 2006, from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. Marilyn has been involved in a church community her entire life, beginning with her father who served as a pastor.

Marilyn has been very active in the Portland Community and served on the Portland Area Chamber of Commerce board for a number of years.

Now, Pastor Marilyn is retiring. Oh, how time flies. When meeting with Marilyn the other day, she shared that she and Warren consider Portland their home, and there is no other place they would rather be, so a home in Portland has been purchased. Marilyn laughed as she tells of how when her son Tom and daughter-in-law Jamie came to Portland, that they were “the pastor’s family.” And now, she is the “Moose Mom.”

We spoke about the 2015 tornado. The First Congregational Church was demolished, but worship and church business continued to take place in their fellowship hall. She noted that with all things, God is able to take something bad and use it for good. Marilyn says that the community relationships and lives that were changed was the evidence.

Pastor Marilyn introduced herself to our community twenty years ago walking as a clown in the July 4 parade. She was warned that was a way to wreck her career. I think we would all beg to differ, it has endeared her to us. Marilyn said she is eager to see what God has in store for her next.

Father Larry King - Special Appreciation Plaque

Father Larry is completing 28 years of service in the Catholic Diocese and 13 ½ of those years have been at St. Patrick’s in Portland.

Father Larry felt that he had the calling on his life to become a priest when he was 6 years old, but he did not become ordained until he was 41. (He refers to that as "matured vocation", not to be confused with "delayed vocation")

Father Larry grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his parents and 3 siblings, one of whom is his fraternal twin brother. When they were young they would play church, and Larry would have the role of the priest. After high school, Larry and his brother were planning to join the Air Force. However, Larry did not pass the vision exam. His brother moved on to the Air Force, while he had to adjust his plans. He initially sought employment at a local factory and then switched to Kewpee’s Hamburgers and attended college part-time.

After working as an assistant manager for about 3 years, he decided to go to seminary.

This entailed attending Christopher House to complete his Bachelors in History and then St. Johns Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, MI. About 1 ½ years into seminary, Larry felt that he was not ready for a Deacon position in the church, and left school. He then began working for the Methodist Children’s Home Society in Detroit working with emotionally impaired children, where he stayed for approximately 5 years. He returned to the Grand Rapids community and worked for the Dwelling Place. Larry describes this organization as treatment homes for mentally ill and challenged, integrating into the community following their discharge from Kalamazoo State Hospital. He worked this position for 2 years, then was advanced to the treatment coordinator, where he worked for a year.

Larry then returned to seminary, this time at Toronto Regis College, for further study and preparation for priesthood.

Following his ordination, he was assigned associate pastor at St. Mary Magdalene in Kentwood, then Portland St. Pat’s for 3 years. He went back to the Grand Rapids area and remained at St John Vianney for 9 years, then he was called back to Portland St. Pat’s.

Father Larry speaks fondly of his time in Portland, working with the church, school and Portland Area Ministerial Association. He has enjoyed attending the kids sporting events and cheering them on.

A fun fact about Father Larry- approximately 4-6 years ago he received honorary alumni status from Notre Dame for the class of 1989.

Father Larry says he is retiring from the formality of operating a church, but priests never retire. He plans to move to Belmont to be near family, and continuing to serve parishes as needed on the weekends. He is looking forward to this change of pace and to take on a few hobbies that have been on the back burner for a few years.

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