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Chamber Awards ceremony a 'tropical' celebration, despite Polar vortex

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Former West Wind Supper Club owner Kevin Pechacek (right) poses with current West Wind owner Tony Leone (left) at the River Falls Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Pechacek received the award for Citizen of the Year. Gretta Stark / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 4
Members of the River Falls Sunshine Fund Board receive the "Non-profit of the Year" award. From left are: President Pat Murphy, Vice-President Scott Morrissette, Treasurer Melissa Godden, student board members Amelia Hadzima and Peter Noreen, River Falls High School Principal Kit Luedtke, and student board members Autumn Gray and Karl Linton. Gretta Stark / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 4
Junior's Bar and Tap House staff pose for a photo after receiving the award for Large Business of the Year. From left are Jeff Wesley, Heidi Hanson, Sabrina Landowski, Cory Hart. Gretta Stark / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 4

The River Falls Chamber of Commerce kept its annual awards banquet on Thursday, Jan. 31 warm and summery with a tropical theme, which was not cooled by the so-called "Polar Vortex" outdoors.

This year's winners are:

Citizen of the Year Kevin Pechacek

Pechacek was honored with a commendation from State Sen. Patty Schachtner, and Rep. Shannon Zimmermann.

Zimmermann, a longtime River Falls resident, said the people of River Falls make it a very special place.

"The Pechacek name, West Wind, are symbolic and are part of the iconic fabric that is River Falls," Zimmerman said. "I am so grateful to know you. You have been a wonderful contributor to this community since I've been here and I want to say thank you."

"Being recognized as the citizen of the year is the greatest honor that someone can have as a leader in the community," said Schachtner. "I'm just humbled being on the same stage with you."

Pechacek thanked everyone attending the banquet and his "three families:" first, the Kinni Falls family, as he is on the Kinni Falls board. The second was his "West Wind family," and third his "family-family."

Nonprofit of the Year: River Falls Sunshine Fund

The River Falls Sunshine Fund was named as Nonprofit of the Year. The Sunshine Fund's goal is to raise money to help River Falls School District families in need, in certain types of crises. The board is made of community members and students.

"We've been very lucky that all of you have been so generous to us," said high school senior and Sunshine Fund board member Karl Linton. "We've been about to raise over $40,000 in the three years. We've been able to help over 150 families."

Student board member Autumn Gray said the Sunshine Fund has a special place in her heart because her sister has spent time in the hospital.

"And it's been hard for my family, so being able to give back to those families that I know what they're going through and how that must feel is a privilege," she said. "And I just hope that we can reach even more people in the future."

Small Business of the Year: The Falls Theatre

Theatre owner Michelle Maher said she was honored to receive the Small Business of the Year award. She said the Falls Theatre has more than 60,000 people go through its doors each year. She said there was a lot of work to be done when she took over the theatre from her father Stan McCullough, but over the years, while other "Main Street theatres" have gone out of business, the Falls Theatre has "held true" to its principles of providing an affordable community movie experience.

"We have this unique experience that is different than anything you could ever have at home, or frankly have in a multiplex," she said. "And we have found our own voice."

Large Business of the Year: Junior's Restaurant and Tap House

Junior's Restaurant and Tap House has had a lot of development over the past year, adding a patio and remodeling its interior, said manager Cory Hart.

"We are honored to receive this award here today," Hart said. "And more importantly we are honored to be able to serve you as the community of River falls."

"We couldn't do it without you guys out there, we couldn't do it without our great staff," Hart added. "We look forward to what 2019 has to bring."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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