Flathead Valley business owners, community leaders and government officials gathered at Flathead Valley Community College’s new Wachholz College Center on November 9 for the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce’s 118th Annual “Big Event.” The event honored local businesses and community members with awards and included the launch of the Kalispell Chamber’s VentureBOLDLY podcast and the Flathead Valley Economic Dashboard.
The chamber presented the 51st Annual Flathead Legacy Award – the chamber’s oldest and most prestigious award – to Flathead Valley Community College President Dr. Jane Karas. As head of the FVCC, Karas oversaw expansions to campus buildings, dormitories, and the Wachholz Center and Performing Arts building. In addition to being head of the college, Karas chairs hospital boards and participates in many community activities. In a press release, the chamber said, “The Flathead is a better, stronger, and better-prepared community for the future thanks to Dr. Jane Karas.”
The Businessman of the Year award went to Doug Shanks of the Western Building Center. During his 47 years at WBC, Shanks helped grow the company from one to 12 locations, which now has over 400 employees. In addition to growing the business, Shanks created well-paying jobs in the Flathead Valley, worked with high school students in training and mentorship programs, and established scholarships for employees’ children. Shanks has also served on various boards throughout the Valley including Habitat for Humanity, North Valley Hospital, Student Build, Sapa-Johnsrud Baseball field and FVCC.
Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Micah Hill received the new Educator of the Year award, which the chamber says aims to “honor innovative, forward-thinking, creative and impactful educational programs or professionals “. The chamber described Hill as a courageous leader who kept Kalispell schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic, equipped students with technology for virtual instruction, and protected 750 jobs in the school district when many businesses were closing and laying off workers. Hill is “admired by his peers and his community and always puts our families and our children first,” Chamber said.
The chamber’s two Business of the Year awards went to Mann Mortgage for large corporations and Bias Brewing for small and medium-sized businesses. Founded in 1989 in Kalispell, Mann Mortgage offers home loans to families in 21 states, in 44 offices. A family business with 140 employees in the Flathead Valley, Mann Mortgage has won accolades both for the services it provides to families and for the work environment it has cultivated. The company supports civic life in and around Kalispell, donating time and money to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, ImagineIF Libraries, Montana Children’s at Logan Health, Kalispell Parks and Recreation, and the Columbia Falls Community Market .
Bias Brewing, opened in 2018 by Gabe Mariman and Adam and Amanda Robertson, has become a favorite gathering space and craft brewery in downtown Kalispell. The chamber applauded Bias Brewing for its successful renovation and relocation to the former Kalispell Brewing Company space, and recognized Gabe for his roles on the Kalispell Downtown Association and Kalispell Business Improvement District Boards of Directors, as well as for his leadership of the Kalispell Chamber Child Care Initiative.
The Nonprofit of the Year was awarded to the Immanuel Lutheran Communities Seniors’ Residence, which provides a “meaningful life” for seniors in Flathead Valley. In addition to providing care for the elderly, Jason Cronk and his team at Immanuel Lutheran collaborate with various community organizations such as Leadership Flathead, Montana Health Care and Hospital Associations, and Glacier Symphony and Chorale. The organization recently opened a daycare center for its employees to help alleviate the childcare shortage that has plagued the valley in recent years.
Rising Star of the Year, an honor given to a passionate community leader under the age of 30, went to Adam Cebulla of J2 Business Products. The chamber hailed Cebulla’s “team spirit”, “business skills” and “innovative ideas”. Cebulla supports local events, sits on the board of the Kalispell Education Foundation, and has served as an ambassador for the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce.
The Community Spirit of the Year award, given to a community member who volunteers their time and acts as a local role model, went to Tony Brockman of Vault Media. About Brockman, the chamber said: “It is simply impossible to cover all of the involvement, service and community engagement activities that Tony Brockman was involved in through Kalispell, Evergreen and Flathead as a young and growing young professional.” Brockman has volunteered with the board of the Flathead County Economic Development Authority, the Gateway Community Center, the Evergreen Rural Fire District and other organizations. Brockman will travel to Helena in 2023 to serve in the state legislature.
The chamber also presented its new VentureBOLDLY podcast, which will feature information on initiatives, programs, people, news and businesses in Kalispell and the Flathead Valley. The podcast can be listened to on Google, Apple, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music and other streaming services. More information about VentureBOLDLY can be found at kalispellchamber.com/podcast.