Jefferson County Chamber 2021 awards

March 30, 2021

Last Thursday the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce announced this year’s award recipients and nominees. Chamber Executive Director Mike Beard said all will be honored during the annual chamber banquet on May 27.

Chamber President Melanie Andrews presented the Young Professional of the Year to Ben Sperry. The award honors young professionals ages 21 to 40 for their ongoing commitment and performance in the workplace community. Sperry has helped to revitalize downtown Mt. Vernon with two businesses, Joe’s Pizza and Dee Bee’s.

Sperry thanked all for welcoming him into the Jefferson County community and giving him the opportunity to open and grow his businesses.

Incoming Chamber President Mark Terry presented the three finalist nominees for the Small Business Person of the Year. They are Mario Hodge, manager of Parkway Shoe Repair, Kathleen Shoemaker, co-owner of Carl’s for Men and Women and Jay Tate, third generation owner of Harlow Moving.

Hodge has worked in the family business since he was young. His father, Richard Martin, started the business in 1971, 50 years ago. Hodge said he was pleasantly shocked to be nominated a second time for the award, as he was when he had been nominated before.

Shoemaker said she is blessed to be where she has been for the last 38 years. She added, “I’m grateful to be a part of the community I love.” Carl’s for Men began in 1970 in Park Plaza. Tom Williams and their mother Bonnadean Clark moved it in 1975 to the Times Square Mall. Currently their store is at 3004 Broadway.

Jay Tate said that they are fully invested in the community. “My kids are young and we sponsor sports teams and do many other things and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are thankful to be here.” Tate purchased the family business from his father Bob Tate 20 years ago this September.

Jamie Storey, vice president of the Ambassador Council, announced that the annual Ambassador tribute is posthumously awarded in memory of the late Tina Suarez, who died from cancer on Jan. 17. Storey said, “We lost one of our own. Ms. Tina Suarez was a phenomenal ambassador. She lit up every room she was ever in.”

Tina Suarez joined the Ambassador Council while working for The Weekly Papers, following her lifelong career in education, including her Early Childhood Professorship at Kaskaskia College.
Her best friend Karen Broadway accepted the award on Suarez’s behalf and said, “Anyone who knew Tina knew how enthusiastic she was about all of her causes. She will be sorely missed by many and I know especially by me. Thank you for inviting me today.”

Brandon Bullard, vice president of the Past President Council, announced that the President’s Award will be presented posthumously to the late Gino Federici, owner of Milano Metals for 50 years. The award is based on merit and not awarded every year. The award is given to an individual or business that has changed the landscape and life in Southern Illinois.

Federici’s daughter, Mary Bergen, said that while preparing to talk about her father, she remembered the phrase “pillar of the community.” She likened him to a pillar, a column, but that he would be the first to say that he had the support of many other pillars in the community, all working together to help support the community. Pillars carry the weight and in owning and running the business he carried the load to protect, preserve and grow the business.

The final award, Friends of the Chamber, was presented by Chamber Director Mike Beard to the employees of the Mt. Vernon convention and Visitors Bureau for their assistance with the Chamber’s 100th anniversary magazine.

Angela Schrum, director of tourism for the City of Mt. Vernon & director of Mt. Vernon Festivals, Inc. accepted the award alongside Account Executive Victoria Nesbitt and Marketing Executive Lana Buck. Schrum said that helping the Chamber have a great book that highlights our community will help in our goal of bringing more tourism back into Mt. Vernon. It’s amazing the things you can dig up about your town and the things that you remember. Thank you for letting us be a part of this project.

Pictured above: Nominees for Small Business Person: Kathleen Shoemaker, Mario Hodge, and Jay Tate

Young Professional: Ben Sperry






President’s Award: Gino Federici (posthumously) Daughter Mary Berger accepting award


Ambassador Tribute: Tina Suarez (posthumously) Jamie Story and Karen Broadway accepting award

Friends of the Chamber: Lana Buck, Angela Schrum, and Victoria Nesbitt


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