DeKALB – Whiskey Acres Distilling Co. had a pretty big 2018: It was rated the No. 1 DeKalb tourist attraction by TripAdvisor, opened a visitors center, and on Thursday, it was named the 2018 Business of the Year.
The DeKalb Chamber of Commerce held its Annual Celebration Dinner on Thursday at the Barsema Alumni & Visitors Center, led by Executive Director Matt Duffy and incoming board Chairman Brian Oster of OC Creative.
The event recognized leaders in the DeKalb business and nonprofit worlds.
“My community has been very generous to Whiskey Acres,” said co-founder Jim Walters, upon whose multigenerational corn and soybean family farm the whiskey distillery sits. “We get an idea, and the community just supports it.”
The Business of the Year award is given to a company that has contributed to the economic vitality and positively affected the business community in DeKalb.
Whiskey Acres opened its doors in December 2014 and has had more than 16,000 visitors from 40 states, 50 countries and all seven continents. The business expects those numbers to grow with the December addition of a 4,200-square-foot visitors center.
Adventure Works celebrated its ninth year in business in 2018, and it was awarded the Nonprofit Organization Award, given to an organization that has had a significant economic, philanthropic and collaborative effect on the community in the past three years.
“Growing up here, I’m just privileged and happy to be able to create something that gives back [and] gives jobs and opportunities for youth to succeed in our community,” founder and Executive Director Lynette Spencer said.
Adventure Works offers outdoor counseling and educational services for youth.
Duffy, who will celebrate his 10th year with the Chamber on March 2, echoed Walters’ sentiments.
“Adventure Works and Whiskey Acres both have amazing stories to share about how far they’ve come with just an idea and a lot of hard work,” Duffy said.
He reflected on his first year at the Chamber a decade ago, when it had only 400 members. Now, it has 630.
The Chamber also inducted three individuals – Wendy West of Siepert West LLP, Mike Cullen of First Midwest Bank and the late John Roberts – to its Hall of Fame, which now has 41 members.
Roberts – a World War II veteran who enjoyed a fruitful career with the DeKalb Agricultural Association and spent more than 25 years as chairman of the Kishwaukee College Board of Trustees – also received the Pioneer Award posthumously.
“My dad had faith in small-town America,” Anne Krause said, who was presented the award on behalf of her father, Roberts, and heralded his service mindset. “He believed ‘to whom much is given, much is owed.’ “
Cullen’s leadership was heralded, as he was a former Chamber board chairman and involved in more than 30 boards across the community. As such, he helped raise $10 million for the new Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital and was part of a $3 million campaign for the DeKalb Public Library.
“I felt like I was just doing what I was supposed to do,” Cullen said.
West also is a former Chamber board chairman and entrepreneur who first started her financial consulting company in 2003. She came to DeKalb to attend Northern Illinois University, is an avid Huskies fan and was chairwoman of the IHSA football playoffs hosted in DeKalb.
“I’m humbled,” West said. “I’m just grateful for being able to live in a community that supports one another like we do.”
Marcus Tryggestad of Resource Bank Insurance was named ambassador of the year for the Chamber’s cheerleading team, which added 46 members in 2018.
The DeKalb Chamber welcomed 89 new members in 2018, hosted 48 ribbon-cuttings, gave out its 29th Athena Award and celebrated 32 restaurant partners.