When people talk about what makes Falls Church so very special, they usually mention the schools, the accessible “Little City” government, and the small, friendly business community. We are a unique community not because of any one of these characteristics, but because of all three of them.
And nowhere was that more evident than at the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce’s recent Awards Gala held this past Saturday. More than 180 business leaders, local decision makers, and elected officials attended the event which honored those in and around the business community who strive to make Falls Church the very special place it is to live, work, and play.
Four community leaders were honored. Nominations were sought and the winners selected by a jury composed of Mario Gamboa (Body Dynamics), Halley McKinney (student), Tori McKinney (KW Realty), Steve Rogers (Falls Church Animal Hospital) and Bob Young (The Young Group.)
The first to be recognized was Gary LaPorta who received the Chamber Appreciation Award from Chamber Assistant Director Andrea Alder and me. LaPorta, who was named Partner of the Year by the City Schools when he owned Miniatures from the Attic, was recognized for his support of the Chamber staff and his tireless advocacy on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses.
The second award was the James S. Elkin Award for Humanitarianism which was presented to Dr. William “Vince” Dougherty of Dougherty DDS by Joe Wetzel from The Young Group. In addition to his service as the Chamber’s Co-Vice Chair of membership, his efforts to green his business, and his work teaching proper dental hygiene to preschoolers, Dr. Dougherty was recognized for his leadership and support of Mission of Mercy, an important program that provides free medical care and medications to those in need.
The Carroll V. Shreve Award for Meritorious Human Service was presented to Steve Sisler, CEO of Sislers Stone, by Erik Pelton of Erik M. Pelton & Associates and a member of the City’s EDA. Referred to as a “humble hero,” Sisler, whose family recently celebrated the business’s 75th anniversary, personally and professionally supports a number of causes as varied as Watch Night, the Community Gardens, Decorate A Vet, and most importantly the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department. Currently serving as Deputy Chief with multiple certifications, Sisler has volunteered in a leadership capacity with this important community resource since July of 2000.
The evening’s final award, the Pillar of the Community Award, was presented to Tom Clinton, a former business owner and the City of Falls Church’s Commissioner of the Revenue, by Tax Analysts President and Chamber Chairman Christopher Bergin. Clinton was recognized for his strong advocacy of the business community as well as his support of the local nonprofit community. Clinton consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty, whether that duty is scraping stickers off of windshields, bartending at nonprofit events, or fighting for the rights of local businesses – his contributions have shaped the community and helped make it the very special place that it is today.
In addition to the award recipients, Chamber Chairman Bergin also thanked Virginia Delegate Jim Scott, who recently announced his retirement from the Virginia General Assembly, for his 12 terms of service. Representing Falls Church and Merrifield, Scott was a strong supporter of affordable housing, and the arts. He also ensured state recognition of some of Falls Church’s most notable residents – Ed Strait, Jessie Thackery, Walter Mess and Nick Benton, who Scott presented with a special proclamation during his remarks.
The Chamber Gala attracted school officials, City officials, elected officials, City staff, business owners, employees, Miss Vietnam, prospective business owners, local parents, nonprofit leaders, and retired activists. Beyer Automotive, Drs. Cannon & Theisz, the Eden Center, the Falls Church News-Press, Hilton Garden Inn, Kaiser Permanente, Sislers Stone, Tax Analysts, Virginia Commerce Bank and The Young Group sponsored tables. All of these people came together to honor the business community that does so very much for Falls Church.
Of course these people also came together to have fun! The event, which relied heavily on volunteer support from Karen Akers, Jeffrey Garofalo, Mary Lynn Hickey, Halley McKinney and Becky Witsman, included a reception, a silent auction, a delicious dinner, a live auction expertly delivered by David Quinn of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, and live music from the ever-popular 19th Street Band sponsored by Rock Star Realtor Tori McKinney.
It was an inspirational event which showed just how important, valuable, and valued our businesses are by our schools, our government, and our community. They provide quality goods and services, they add character, and they contribute significantly to the community through meals permits, fees, sales taxes, property taxes, and donations to schools and nonprofits. To many of us, they are the heart and soul of this community.
Sally Cole is the Executive Director of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce.