The Northeast Berks Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 30th anniversary with dinner, awards and entertainment by magician Denny Corby at The Holiday Inn – Allentown on Sept. 26.

Founded in September 1989 as the Kutztown Area Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber now boasts a membership of 245 members. Of the original 100 members, 22 remain active.

“Without you starting the Chamber 30 years ago … we wouldn’t be here today,” said 2019 Chamber Board President John Scott. “And without the vision of many of the presidents throughout the years and the executive directors in the community, we wouldn’t be able to fill this room today.”

The 30th Anniversary Dinner was attended by 168 guests.

“Everyone in this room has made a contribution, whether it was 30 years ago or a month ago, so thank you all for your support and advocacy in our regional chamber of commerce,” said Chamber Executive Director Lori B. Donofrio-Galley.

The Chamber presents Shining Star Awards at the annual dinner but this year the Chamber did something different to celebrate the 30th anniversary.

“We looked at certain criteria, mostly related to engagement within the Chamber and we created four (founder) awards,” said Donofrio-Galley. “This is an opportunity to really acknowledge those members who have participated, shown support and have been active for 30 years.”

Presenting the top award, Kutztown University President Dr. Kenneth Hawkinson said, “Since 2014, each year, the Chamber has presented a Member of the Year Award. The recipient of this coveted Shining Star Award is a member who demonstrates passion for both business and community causes, and is a role model for other members.”

In the chamber’s anniversary year, he said the award is even more distinguished as Exemplary Member of the Year.

“This person valued and upheld the best practices in our Chamber’s organizational and board governments, a founder who has served the Chamber in this capacity for 30 years. This person is an influencer, a champion and an unsung hero,” said Hawkinson, presenting the award to the chamber’s solicitor Robert “Bob” J. Hobaugh, Jr.

“I’m really surprised. I had no idea I was going to win anything,” said Hobaugh. “I’m very honored.”

The Founding Chamber Executive Award was presented to Paul Lilienthal, the chamber’s first executive director.

The Sustaining Partner Award was presented to Kutztown University.

“It’s just such an honor to be recognized,” said Hawkinson. “It’s been 30 years of partnership and they have provided so much support to the University, especially through our Business College. The collaboration I think has benefited the institution and the Chamber and we look forward to at least another 30 years of working together.”

The Corporate Commitment Award was presented to Fleetwood Bank.

The Chamber also recognized Carl Ziegler, the Chamber’s first Board President.

Many Chamber members attend the dinner every year, including Connie Werley, Thompkins VIST Bank, who looked forward to celebrating the founding members.

“And the entertainment with Denny Corby is going to be fantastic,” she said. “It’s going to be a fun night.”

And her prediction was accurate as Corby wowed the crowd with his magic and humor that made them roll in their seats with laughter.

His act included sharing his insights into finding success. While he could have followed in his father’s footsteps as an entrepreneur, he chose to follow his passion and dream of becoming a magician. He advised following these three things: take risks, surround yourself with good people, and ask for help. Taking his own advice, Corby had reached out to the Penn & Teller Show, emailing that he had a neat trick to share and was then invited to appear on the show, which airs Sept. 30.

“There is not a lack of business, money or success, anything in the world; it’s just a lack of people going after it,” said Corby. “I do magic tricks for a living and I do well and I want to see other people do well. I want people to know if you just put in a little bit of work, take some risks, reach out to people and just ask for help, ask for business, ask for something, you’ll probably get it. If not, at least you’re moving it forward. You’re not accepting defeat; you’re going down fighting.”

Another highlight was a documentary screening. Donofrio-Galley worked with Allison Girardi, a senior KU video production major, to produce the documentary of founding members sharing their recollections of the Chamber’s early years. Post production was by Matthew Heffner, a KU junior.

“That is a wonderful artifact for the Chamber to have as part of its history,” said Donofrio-Galley. “I think it’s interesting that our Chamber can look back and see that the focus was on local and small businesses and also on community organizations. That remains a mainstay today. In that way, we’ve been very traditional to the original mission even though the mission has changed over the years a little bit.”

The Chamber continues to grow, including new member Maleeva Farrell Lengel of Makeup by Maleeva in Blandon.

“I thought the Chamber would be a good way to gain visibility of my business. I’m excited to be moving in a new direction; I’m working with women in business and so what better way to network with women in business than at a chamber event,” said Lengel, a makeup artist.

Scott, 2019 Board President, was excited to be celebrating the Chamber’s 30th anniversary.

“Seeing all of these people come together, we have founders, we have new members here. It’s really a great time for the Northeast Berks area. We have a great business base that makes all of this possible, all of our small businesses,” said Scott.

Looking forward, Donofrio-Galley said, “We still see ourselves growing despite the fact that we’re a smaller chamber and we see that the smaller members are also benefiting from the larger members that also continue to join our chamber.”

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