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Silver Lake -- A sunny and hot summer-like day provided the backdrop for the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce's annual awards ceremony at Silver Lake Country Club May 17.
The chamber honored Judy Ray as its Citizen of the Year, Nate Winston, co-owner of E.C.P. Auto Repair, as its Business Person of the Year and Western Reserve Hospital as its Business of the Year.
Mayor Don Walters presented the awards to the winners.
Citizen of the Year
Ray is the administrative principal's secretary at Cuyahoga Falls High School and has worked at the school since 1985. Ray has volunteered for the school and community for almost 50 years, including work as a Brownie Leader, Girl Scout Leader, Cub Scout and Boy Scout Leader, a Little League Baseball Representative and an active PTA member.
"Wow," said Ray as she took the microphone following an enthusiastic ovation from the audience. "I'm very humbled and appreciative of this award."
Ray noted she was recently talking with a teacher at school about the honor she was about to receive.
"I kept saying [to him] 'this is so embarrassing,'" she recounted. "There's so many others that deserve this much more than me, and he said 'Judy, just own it. Enjoy it.'"
Ray thanked people who "pushed for me to get this" honor, as well as her children and her niece who also attended the ceremony.
"I appreciate looking around the room and seeing how many people I know and had lots of hugs from, because we give hugs out, right?" she said with a smile.
Ray also praised the teenagers that she interacts with at the high school every day.
"I love teenagers teenagers are fabulous," observed Ray. "Sometimes you hear about the bad things, but I could spend hours talking about the good things."
She added her "joy in life" derives from what she called 4 Fs: Faith; Family; Friends; and Fun.
"We have to enjoy what we're doing," said Ray. "I feel sorry for anyone to have to go to work every day and not enjoy themselves."
Business Person of the Year
Winston is the co-owner of E.C.P. Auto Repair and Service, on Portage Trail, adjacent to Portage Crossing. He has been in the automotive field and worked as a business owner for nine years. E.C.P. is a full service repair shop specializing in brakes and suspension. Winston serves on the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and also served as a Board Member/Co-Chairman for the Night at the Races Committee and is currently a Co-Chairman for Wise Guys & Wisdom.
Winston thanked chamber members as he accepted his award.
"I definitely wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Chamber of Commerce," said Winston, who added he joined the chamber two years ago.
Initially, Winston said he did not pay much attention to the chamber's activities, but noted he "kept getting all these emails from [Chamber CEO] Laura Petrella," a remark that drew laughter from the attendees.
Winston said he decided to get involved and started attending a Gold Mine Network meeting.
"Everyone was super nice and great," said Winston. "So I thought, well, I'll go to the next one and keep going and keep going and keep going. The more you go to it, the more relationships you build and then eventually business does come about [from it]."
Winston thanked his wife for her support of the time he has put in to his business and his involvement with the chamber groups and events.
"I love the city," added Winston. "My wife and I, we will be moving back to Cuyahoga Falls in three to five years got to get some things in order first. We're coming back. This is home."
Business of the Year
There are more than 1,000 employees at Western Reserve Hospital, 1900 23rd St., including more than 400 physicians and 220 nurses.
The hospital's specialties include the Center for Pain Medicine, a full-service Cardiology Department, Cleveland Clinic Neurosurgery, a Sleep Medicine Center, a Lung Health Program that provides CT scans and free cessation classes for those wanting to quit smoking, and a 24/7 Emergency Department.
Walters also praised the hospital's willingness to be involved in partnerships with the city.
"Any time we need anything they're there for us," said Walters. "[An] amazing community partner."
Dr. Robert Kent, President and CEO of the hospital, said his employees "work extremely hard" to provide top-notch care to their patients.
"This is our mission and I know we succeed in this mission and our goal every day," he said. "But success in an organization is more than physicians, it's more than nurses or the clinicians."
Starting in 2009, Dr. Kent said the hospital "committed to being more than just a large employer," and became more involved with the community.
Examples of the hospital's community outreach include the "Not Me, I'm Drug-Free" program and the First Responders Appreciation event. Dr. Kent thanked city and chamber officials for their support of the hospital's community efforts and noted those leaders are "guiding us every day in what we do. We could not make this happen without all of us together."
The award highlights the hospital's "friendship with the city," said Dr. Kent. "It's not just a partnership. I think that it takes a community to work together to make it better This is how a community gets stronger We work together and make impacts on it."
All of the award winners will ride in the Memorial Day Parade on May 29.
Petrella said the chamber seeks nominees for the awards during an approximate 45-day period, and then a committee reviews the nominees and makes the selections.
The ceremony closed with a surprise honoree. The chamber presented Walters with a Shining Star Award for his work leading the city.
"This person has vision, passion, leadership, commitment to our Cuyahoga Falls community and this person is taking our city to the next level," said Petrella in her introduction. "He walks the walk, talks the talk He's one of the most professional and respected business leaders I've met in my 20-plus years."
Kathy Romito, president of the chamber, called Walters her "friend, not just a leader."
She also highlighted his work with fighting the opiate epidemic, the Neighborhood Excellence Initiative, offering recreational opportunities on the Cuyahoga River, and the plans to re-open Front Street to vehicular traffic.
"We are honored and pleased to recognize our very own mayor, Mayor Walters, in his commitment to moving our city forward and re-defining why life is better here in Cuyahoga Falls," said Romito.
"I do what I do out of love," said Walters. "I'm a lifetime resident and I have the best job in the city."
Walters thanked his staff for their hard work.
"I'm the leader, but everyone else gets it all done," said Walters. "There's amazing things going on in Cuyahoga Falls. We're all proud of that and really the sky's the limit."