The Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance paid tribute to one of its own at its tenth annual membership dinner when it named John Hohn its Citizen of the Year.
The Alliance honored individuals, businesses and organizations Monday evening at a sold-out program at Ohio Northern University’s McIntosh Center in Ada.
Hohn retired at the end of 2015 after eight years as the Alliance’s director of economic development. In that role, he orchestrated the success, expansion and inclusion of the county’s business community.
International Paper Foodservice was named Hardin County’s Business of the Year following the opening of a plant expansion which doubled its size.
A Small Business of the Year category was added to this year’s honorees and was awarded to Twirl, whose owners have expanded their formal dress inventory and transformed a neglected storefront into a showcase of Kenton’s downtown district.
Upward Sports was named one of two winners of the community service award. The basketball program which reaches more than 250 young students not only teaches them the basics of playing basketball, but instills in them ideals for their lives off the court.
Kenton City Schools’ nurse Brenda Jennings was thanked with a community service award for the Back Pack program which provides weekend meals for 189 Kenton students in grades K-12.
The late Fred and Ruth Haushalter were recognized with the Richard E. Allen Lifetime Achievement Award. The Alliance honored the couple who transformed Robinson Fin from a local manufacturer into a business which reaches customers around the globe.
A retired Riverdale educator and coach, Hohn stepped into his role at the Alliance without any background in business. He quickly picked up on his role and was instrumental in the expansion at International Paper, but also a driving force in brining such newcomers to Hardin County as Sekisui Plastics and Harvest Pride.
But his impact goes beyond his success at the Alliance, said Tim Street, chairman of the Alliance board of directors in his introduction.
“John has also left a mark on the lives of thousands of students throughout his teaching and coaching years that they are able to use throughout their careers,” he noted.
But his success was not accomplished by just one person, noted Hohn, as he accepted the award. Many people played a role and should share in his recognition, including his co-workers at the Alliance, his family and the students he taught throughout his career at Riverdale.
One of those success stories is International Paper, which invested $70 million in Kenton and Hardin County when it expanded its facility, creating 125 new jobs. Their dedication to the community is also reflected in the way the IP employees support the local United Way fund drive, said Street. The company matches 60 percent of each employee’s pledge, he noted.
“The word ‘jobs’ has to jump out at anyone who drives down State Route 31 to Columbus or Marysville and sees the major expansion of IP. What a vote of confidence in Hardin County and its workers,” said the letter of nomination.
IP Plant Manager David Mulligan said the reason his company selected Kenton to “double down” its facility was evident by the people attending Thursday’s banquet. The citizens and workers of the county collaborate well with the company and he predicted many more years of working together.
“We look forward to future collaborations and we see a great future for IP in Hardin County,” said Mulligan.
In the five years since it opened its doors, Twirl has grown from a one-woman operation to a thriving business with 14 employees.
“They have brilliantly transformed the historic building in downtown Kenton into a one-of-a-kind bridal boutique that brings in clients from all over the state of Ohio and as far away as Atlanta, Georgia and Canada,” said Jacqualine Fitzgerald in her introduction. “Twirl adds sparkle and gleam to our community and we are proud to have them here.”
Owner Laura Wingfield said she is “super happy” at the success of the business. There were days when she was working with only one part-time assistant, when Wingfield questioned her decision to open the wedding and formal dress business.
She would work days without seeing a customer, Wingfield recalled, but she believed Twirl would be a success and its growth has been due to the devotion and assistance of her family, friends and employees.
“It takes a village,” she said.
The Upward Sports Program was established by Jason and Jodi Theil in 2011 after they saw the need for young people in the community to develop basketball and cheerleading skills in a Christian atmosphere.
Each Saturday, about 250 children play ball and cheer at the activity room at Kenton’s Christian and Missionary Alliance Church as their families look on. It takes another 120 volunteers to make the program work, said Fitzgerald.
“These people are truly making a difference in the lives of the student-athletes, parents, coaches and other associated with this important program,” said the nomination letter.
The purpose of the Upward program is to teach the children the basics of basketball and cheerleading, but its success is introducing or enforcing the impact Jesus Christ can have in their daily lives, said Jason Theil as he accepted the honor.
“We want to teach the children right from wrong and that self worth is not defined by wins and losses,” he said. “We pray this program is a blessing to the community for years to come.”
In her role as Kenton’s school nurse, Brenda Jennings had seen with her own eyes the need for the students to have a regular meals when school is not in session. In response to that need, Jennings began the Kenton City Schools’ Back Pack Program.
In the early years, said Fitzgerald, much of its success depended on the administration of Jennings as she organized volunteers, raised funding, and hauled groceries to make sure the young people in the district had square meals over the weekends.
“Without Brenda willing this program to life, the day to day reality for these children would be far less bright than it is today,” said the writer of her nomination letter.
The Central Church of Christ has since taken over the operation of the program.
“I am very humbled by this honor,” said Jennings.
She noted the teachers in her buildings often complained their students were hungry. Her program gives them enough food to prepare two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners for the Saturdays and Sundays they are not fed at school from September to May.
The program has grown thanks to the acceptance and assistance of Kenton City Schools and its staff. Jennings also thanked her husband, family and friends for their help in the Back Pack program.
The final award of the evening was presented by Alliance President Jon Cross to the family of Fred and Ruth Haushalter for their lifetime of achievement.
The success of Robinson Fin can be measured in how their products are used in NASCAR racers, the International Space Station, the Sea Wolf nuclear submarine and Pizza Hut ovens, but also their involvement in the community. Robinson Fin has gained a reputation for giving of its money and time to many projects, noted Cross, ranging from student scholarships to the Kenton Little League.
The community dedication was instilled in their children, said Sheryl Sopher and David and Mark Haushalter.
“This is pretty cool,” Sopher said the award. “We are the first people to say our parents were great, great people and it is rewarding that other people see that, too.”