Laurie Swanson Oberhelman can be forgiven for being speechless Wednesday. After all, not only was it her father's birthday, but she also learned that a Make-A-Difference event she spearheaded had been chosen to receive national recognition by the USA Today.
To top it all off, the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce announced that she had won the Citizen of the Year Award, an award given each year to those who give back.
"You give back to the community and it just feels great to be acknowledged," said the longtime Wheaton resident. "It's an acknowledgement for doing a little bit whenever I can."
The announcement came during the 3rd Annual Gamon Awards ceremony that handed out 10 awards and recognitions to businesses and residents in the community. The who's who of Wheaton business and politics watched as chamber members introduced the categories, which included small business, restaurant and marketing awards, as well as recognition of 30 future leaders in Wheaton under 30 years old. The winners included a marketing campaign by I Have a Bean Coffee and Ivy Restaurant for Restaurant of the Year. Wheaton Meat Co. won the Small Retail Business of the Year Award.
Chamber President Jill Seijo said the purpose of the awards is to recognize businesses in the community.
"This is the one event that brings together all of the different members of the chamber, as well as the community," she said.
Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk and his opponent in the April election, Councilman John Prendiville, both took time out from campaigning to attend the event.
"It's a recognition of the membership and of the community," Gresk said. "Theirs is a very supportive chamber which is proud of its history."
"It recognizes the people who contribute to our city," Prendiville said. "It brings attention to the people who benefit our city by contributing their efforts."
The festive night included entertainment by Wheaton Warrenville South High School students.
While the chamber recognized many businesses throughout the night, not all were retail-based.
"Seeing a whole community of people here who are responsible for our success, we cannot do anything without them," said Lesley Gena, who directs the People's Resource Center's art programs. The resource center was recognized as the Not for Profit Organization of the Year.
"You are working every day knowing that you are making a difference. You don't expect this honor. But it is great," Gena said.