The Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce held its 92nd annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony Thursday evening at Willow Bend. Pictured, Eric McCracken, owner of Lee Kinstle GM Sales and Service gives his acceptance speech for the Ray Miller Award. (Ed Gebert/Times Bulletin)
The Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce held its 92nd annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony Thursday evening at Willow Bend. Pictured, Eric McCracken, owner of Lee Kinstle GM Sales and Service gives his acceptance speech for the Ray Miller Award. (Ed Gebert/Times Bulletin)


VAN WERT - Statewide Ford-Lincoln and Eric McCracken were given the top awards Thursday night as the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the 92nd annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony at Willow Bend Country Club.

McCracken was presented with the Ray Miller Award, given to a county resident who has shown a strong commitment to the community through volunteer work, participation in community organizations and the chamber and for outstanding service to the community. He insisted he was not expecting to win.

“I was just shocked. I was very honored and very humbled to be honored by the community,” he stated. “You know, being part of a business in Van Wert, I think you owe it back to your community to support them if you expect them to support you. The time I put into it is time I enjoy.”

McCracken, the owner of Lee Kinstle GM Sales and Service, has been involved in many community activities in Van Wert, including spearheading the fundraising for the construction of the First Bank of Berne Little League field at Jubilee Park, Van Wert Youth Baseball, Van Wert Youth Football, the Play For Free program, Toss a Toy, the 5th Quarter for middle school and high school youth, and the Van Wert County YMCA.



“We truly live in one of the best communities you could ever live in and I hope people recognize that and continue to work together so that this community will continue to grow,” McCracken told the Times Bulletin after the event.

The other two finalists for the Ray Miller Award were Eric Hurless and Gary Taylor.

The other major award of the night, the Crystal Image Award, was presented to Statewide Ford-Lincoln. After the ceremony, owner Andy Czajkowski expressed his thoughts on receiving the award.

“It’s hard to put into words,” he admitted. “I’ve been here 20 years. This is my home. This is where my daughter was raised. It’s where we choose to stay. It’s a great community with so many things to offer, and it’s been wonderful to be a part of it.”

From its beginning 20 years ago, the ownership of Statewide has grown from a handful of employees to nearly 50 full-time workers. In that time other businesses have grown under the Statewide umbrella, including Statewide Emergency Products, Superior Collision, Easy Auto Credit, and Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center.

Through Ford’s Drive One for Your School and Community, the dealership raised $40,000 for county schools and the American Red Cross.

Statewide Ford-Lincoln has also contributed significantly to Van Wert Hospital, the Niswonger Performing Arts Center, Wassenberg Art Center, 4-H, youth sports, Van Wert Rotary, the Ford FFA Local Scholarship program, the purchase of the Van Wert Cougar Marching Pride band truck, and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

The Crystal Image Award was designed to honor a chamber investor that has demonstrated leadership in the community through business responsibility, productivity, employee empowerment, and service to the community. The other finalist for the award was Main Street Van Wert.

The evening’s keynote speaker was Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation Administrator/CEO Steve Buehrer who spoke about the improvements made in his office which help both employers and employees in the state. Buehrer formerly served as state senator from this area from 2007-2011 and as state representative from 1999-2006.

The event packed Willow Bend Country Club. Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Susan Munroe stated, “Tonight was a wonderful blend of awards and guest speakers and humor and a lot of people. We had 245 guests today. That’s got to be a record.”

The chamber also presented eight Milestone Awards to chamber members celebrating anniversaries in 2013. Garnering the awards were Natural Design and Graphics (10 years), Statewide Ford-Lincoln (20 years), Van Wert Bedrooms (30 years), Arend, Laukhuf & Stoller, Inc. (45 years), Ley Equipment Company (60 years), Cooper Farms (75 years), First Federal of Van Wert (120 years), and U.S. Bank (150 years).

Golden Shovel Awards were given to chamber members who completed an addition or major renovation or completed construction of a new building in 2013. Those were presented to A&A Mechanical, Business Enterprise Center of Wright State University, Braun Industries, Cool Machines, First Financial Bank, Lee Kinstle GM Sales and Service, Northwest State Community College, Van Wert City Schools Early Childhood Center, Van Wert Terminal, and Wassenberg Art Center.