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Lakes Region Chamber honors local heroes

Karmen Gifford, Lakes Region Chamber executive director, along with Alex Ray, James R. Irwin Award recipient; Sandy Marshal, J. Bart Conners Award recipient; Billy Hurd, Hurst Award recipient; Joel Arsenault, Young Professional Award recipient; and Bob Fischer, Citizens NH regional manager. (Jeff Ferland) (click for larger version)
June 13, 2012
The Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce hosted their first Community Heroes Awards Night Thursday, May 31 at Gunstock Mountain Resort to present their four community awards.

This year, Chamber members chose four nominees for each — the J. Bart Conners Award, the James R. Irwin Award, the Hurst Award, and the new Young Professional Award.

Taking home the Irwin Award was Alex Ray for his pioneering of the Common Man family of restaurants throughout the region and state. Ray was noted for purchasing former mills and renovating old buildings with other entrepreneurs, giving new life to areas and unique character to the various Common Man restaurants, the company's spa, and Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center.

According to Jack Irwin, the award was named after his father, James Irwin, for his work in the Lakes Region with the start of Irwin Marine, Weirs Dance Hall and acquisition of the M/S Mount Washington II from a company in Lake Champlain, Vt., and its transportation in 21 pieces by rail to Lakeport.

"It's a wonderful thing to have this award given in our name," said Jack Irwin.

Hurst Award recipient Billy Hurd was recognized for his commitment to the Franklin region through his countless hours and donations, through his business, Hurd Construction, to the community, and volunteering even while undergoing medical treatment with the Franklin Outing Club and Lakes Region Snowmobile Association.

Chamber members named the Hurst Award after Carolyn and David Hurst for their dedication to the Franklin community through their work on the Tussle View Park and nature trail.

"We are honored to have an award named after us," said Carolyn Hurst.

For the inaugural Young Professional award, Chamber leaders selected Joel Arsenault for his understanding of the value in networking and building of relationships. They also noted his involvement in the Rotary, the Laconia Main Street Program, School to Work program, Chamber, for his role as a Board member for the Winnipesaukee Playhouse and development with the Young Professional initiative.

According to Arsenault, the young professional initiative encourages younger people to get more involved in community efforts and join various boards or committees. He said that as young people move to the Lakes Region, as he recently had not too long ago, they may not know many other professionals in the area, and the Chamber was working to expedite the process through extending opportunities to make connections.

Finally, Sandy Marshal took home the J. Bart Conners Award for her work in the merger of the Greater Franklin Chamber with the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, and her focus on community building through the Events Steering Committee, focused on long range planning.

According to Warren Clement and Jim Rogato, J. Bart Conners was a man to whom one could not say "no"; thanks much to his smile and tremendously friendly demeanor.

"He would shake your hand, look you in the eye and say 'This is what I need,' and you would do it," laughed Rogato, remaking how thankful he was that J. Bart took him under his wing.

"Rogato was like a son to J. Bart," said Clement.

According to Rogato, J. Bart, as he was known to his friends, was committed to the growth of the Lakes Region community through the Chamber and Downtown association.

Clement and Rogato recalled that J. Bart would give them lists in the morning of things to accomplish, then call them at night to see what they had done.

According to Rogato, J. Bart stepped in and saved the Chamber in the 1980's, when it was left without a director and was loosing board members.

"He was a person who worked in the shadows," said Rogato. "He didn't seek out publicity."

According to Rogato, J. Bart would always comment on how thankful he was to live in such a beautiful place with a successful chamber and downtown community.

"He would say, 'We have a lot to be thankful for,'" said Rogato.

According to Karmen Gifford, Chamber Executive Director, the event came about through the merger of their award ceremonies through the year with their Spring social. By billing the event as an award ceremony, Gifford said they were able to more easily shift the focus from a social event to honor the award nominees and recipients, while allowing for plenty of social mingling.

"We wanted this event to be about the people behind the businesses," said Gifford.

Gifford thanked their presenting sponsor, Citizens Bank, represented by Bob Fischer, Citizens NH regional manager.

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