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Salem Chamber announces 2020 awards

Doug Falk, company accountant for MM Industries, an area church organist and a community volunteer who’s active in Salem Kiwanis and the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, was named the 2020 Outstanding Citizen of the Year. (Submitted photo)

SALEM–Outstanding Citizen of the Year Doug Falk credited the people he’s met in his lifetime and during his volunteering for making him grow as a person.

“I’m happiest when doing something that makes a difference in someone’s life. I just want to pay it forward,” he said.

The Salem resident spoke during the 74th Annual Meeting of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, which was held via Zoom this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He was honored as the 2020 Outstanding Citizen of the Year, along with Stark Memorial Funeral Home & Cremation Services as this year’s Small Business of the Year, Ventra Salem LLC as the Large Business of the Year and The Brightside Project as the Non-Profit Organization of the Year.

A 1992 graduate of Salem High School, Falk earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and business from Youngstown State University in 2013. He previously served as a customer service representative and teller manager at Charter One Bank from 1999-2011 and became company accountant for MM Industries in 2013.

He’s in his third year as club president for Salem Kiwanis and assists with the Salem High School Key Club activities, he’s a volunteer and past board member of the Banquet in Salem, board member of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, steering committee member of the Salem Area Safety Council and board member of the Dustin Huffman Memorial Scholarship.

Falk serves as organist at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Salem and Mt. Moriah Lutheran in Berlin Center. He’s a member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Salem and associate member at Holy Trinity, serving on church council and chairing the congregational life at Emmanuel Lutheran. Other activities include team leader with the vacation bible school program at the churches and income tax reviewer/student trainee for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistant at YSU.

Falk said he learned about volunteering and giving back during his confirmation class at Emmanuel Lutheran. He said people say “you never stop learning and I agree.”

He was in awe of being chosen for the award and said it seems kind of strange to be selected for just doing what he enjoys doing.

“In the words of JFK, one person can make a difference and everyone should try,” Falk said.

Dan Madden, owner of Stark Memorial Funeral Home & Cremation Services, the Small Business of the Year, talked about the funeral home’s beginnings 100 years ago in North Georgetown and then the move to the current location at 1014 E. State St. in 1921. Madden purchased the business from former longtime owner Russell C. Loudon in 2019.

He thanked his wife Claudia, who provides him with a lot of ideas for the business, and thanked the employees of Stark Memorial, who have put a lot of time in.

“We’re honored and humbled to receive this award,” he said.

Madden commented on the challenges facing all businesses this year due to COVID-19, saying “we had to adjust on the fly like many businesses.”

He said Stark Memorial is happy to provide services to families with programs just as Hugs From Homes for others to show their support during this time of social distancing.

The staff is involved in the community in Rotary Club of Salem, Elks Lodge 305, Salem Italian American Club, Salem Area Chamber of Commerce with Madden as a board member, St. Paul Church, First Presbyterian Church and Church of the Nazarene. Stark Memorial is an active supporter of Salem Parks and Recreation and St. Paul School.

Ventra Salem LLC, considered Salem’s largest employer with 850 workers and an operation covering 267,000 square feet on Pennsylvania Avenue, earned honors as 2020 Large Business of the Year. Jeff Christopher, chamber first Vice President, who did the introduction for the former Blackhawk Automotive, Worthington Custom Plastics and Warren Molded Plastics, said the company also serves as a large partner and sponsor in the Salem community, where the company has been located since 1969. He called the company’s donation of more than 18,500 face shields to schools, churches and organizations priceless.

“Wow and thank you for the much appreciated and unexpected award,” Scott Tuel of Ventra said.

Tuel thanked the chamber and the company owner from Flex-N-Gate and of course, the employees. He said the company is fortunate to have a seasoned team, with some there for 30 to 50 years or more. He said the company wouldn’t be here without the work ethic of the employees.

“Those folks can persevere and man do they work hard,” Tuel said.

When the pandemic hit, the company shut down for awhile, but the engineering team found a way to adapt and build face shields to help protect against the spread of COVID-19. Over 18,000 to 19,000 masks were donated locally, with another 50,000 sent across the country and around the world. He said 100 workers volunteered to come to build the face shields.

“I’m very proud of the team we have at Ventra Salem,” Tuel said.

The faith-based non-profit known as the Brightside Project, whose aim is to help children with food and other necessities and in turn, help their well-being, earned the honor as Non-Profit Organization of the Year.

The Brightside Project started humbly in 2016 as the brainchild of Scott Lewis and his daughter, Lisa Wallace, and didn’t even have a location at first, operating in neighborhoods out of vehicles. In 2019, they secured a location in downtown Salem on South Broadway, and ramped up their efforts even more.

“We can’t do this alone. We do it with help and partnerships,” Lewis said, offering thanks to the chamber and the many businesses who provide assistance. He said 2020 has been a very trying year but also a good year.

“We’ve been able to reach out to a lot of kids,” he said.

Some of the Brightside’s projects include a monthly food giveaway for kids, crisis relief food for kids, Bright Easter, Back to School Voucher Program, Backpacks for Kids Program, Coats for Kids, Bright Christmas and most recently, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, getting books into the hands of children.

Lewis said he couldn’t do it without his daughter. Wallace also thanked the chamber.

“We don’t do this for the recognition. We do it for the betterment of the community,” she said, talking about the “goal to build hope and resiliency for children.”

Chamber Foundation President George W.S. Hays, who’s also executive director the United Way of Northern Columbiana County, talked about moving the chamber office this past year and all the adjustments made due to COVID-19.

Chamber Executive Director Lori Jewel paid tribute to outgoing directors Ryan Boyce, William Dawes, Matt Going, Kate Oesch and Nate Mullen. New directors elected to three-year terms included Ryan Gillis, attorney Rachael Martin, Ann Myers, Stewart White, Robin Whitehair and Brian Whitehill. Chamber President Janice Jasinski conducted the business meeting.

Jewell called all the honorees very deserving. Although some chamber events were cancelled this year, she ended the meeting with a reminder of what’s not cancelled, such as love and kindness, with hope above all.

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