Chamber honors community stars

Jason Ferguson

The stars were out in Custer on a chilly fall evening last Thursday at the Custer State Park State Game Lodge Event Barn, as community stars were presented a variety of awards at the Custer Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual award banquet.
Among the award winners was Custer YMCA director Rex Jorgensen, who was presented with the Individual of the Year Award.
Presenter Ron Bradeen told how Jorgensen works tirelessly to promote the YMCA, saying there are “a thousand success stories” with regard to everything Jorgensen has done for the community over the years.
Bradeen also told of his own personal experience, when Jorgensen helped Bradeen Auctions schedule an auction at the YMCA to celebrate Bradeen’s 100th anniversary.
“All we had to do is mention something and he did it for us,” Bradeen said. “That’s one small example of what this guy does on a daily, weekly and monthly basis as a member of our community.”
Jorgensen called his actions “just part of what we do at the ‘Y.’”
“Thank you very much,” he said.
Bradeen was on the receiving end of an award, as Bradeen Real Estate & Auctions was presented with the Business of the Year Award.
Presenter Craig Hindle said Bradeen has always been there helping businesses, organizations and individuals with fundraising efforts, while also telling about how the business has adapted to the changing times over the years.
“If you have something you need sold and you want all the money out of it, this is the place to go,” Hindle said. “One hundred years of business in Custer. That’s a long time to be in business, and that’s why they do such a fantastic job. You can’t compete with that experience.”
Bradeen called the award an honor, while thanking his wife, Lindi, for being by his side while he works in this “crazy business.” Bradeen also thanked his staff members, many of whom were in attendance.
“I couldn’t do what we do without this bunch back there,” he said. “We have the best crew we have ever had. Thanks to everybody so much. I’m really honored. We love this community.”
Nina Nielsen was presented with the President’s Choice Award by chamber board president Amy Bailey, who told of Nielsen’s activity in the community, including being an active volunteer at the 1881 Courthouse Museum, Custer Senior Center, Boys and Girls Club of the Black Hills, 4-H and the Custer County Republicans. As a member of the Custer City Council, Nielsen also serves as city liaison to the 1881 Courthouse Museum, Custer Senior Center and previously, the Custer County Housing Board.
Nielsen thanked the crowd and said she loves the community, saying it has been very good to her.
“For all you’ve done for me, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to give back enough,” she said.
Bradeen also presented the Government Employee of the Year Award, which was awarded to Custer County finance officer Dawn McLaughlin.
“Dawn is a great person in so many ways,” Bradeen said. “She manages the county’s finances and ensures its financial stability. It’s her expertise in finance and budget practices that help guide Custer County toward long term financial stability while being a trusted advisor to other elected officials.”
Bradeen said McLaughlin is critical to the county.
“We’re so fortunate to have her and all she does as a member of our community,” he said.
McLaughlin said it is easy to do what she does because she truly loves the community, adding it is much more than her that makes the county government function.
“I’m honored tonight,” she said. “Thank you so very much.”
Chamber board member Bobbi Schmidt presented the Community/Team Service Award to the Custer Volunteer Fire Department.
Schmidt lauded the work of the department and other first responders, asking those in attendance to imagine what it would be like when there was a fire or car accident and nobody responded to help.
“These people are just ordinary people trying to make a difference,” she said, adding they take time out of their day to teach youth at the schools and YMCA about fire prevention.
“They are heroes of every little person’s eye, as well as ours,” Schmidt said. “They go above and beyond to make our community special.”
Schmidt pointed out the department also participates in every parade, the annual home show, Petal it Forward, Freshman Impact, distributes car seats and puts on the annual July 4 fireworks. The department answers on average 200 calls a year, she said.
The award was accepted on behalf of the fire department by members Matt and Selena Spring, the latter of who said the department is a team and the community is fortunate to have so many volunteers and first responders.
“Make sure you thank volunteers when you see them,” she said.
Custer Cares, the group of people who joined forces to bring a nursing home back to Custer, won the Extra Mile Award.
Presenter Lori Svoboda said Mayor Bob Brown sprung into action when Monument Health announced it was closing the nursing home, asking Janet Boyer to head up a task force to bring a nursing home back to Custer. She was soon joined by Mike Tennyson, Rick Wheeler, Marci O’Connell, Gary Lipp, Monica McGowan, Dr. Joy Falkenburg, Dr. Lee Trimble and Custer City Council alderman Todd Pechota in getting to work to reopen a nursing home, which will happen later this year due to their work.
“They came together with expertise and love for Custer County,” Svoboda said.
Svoboda told of the hours the group spent learning how to go about finding out how nursing homes operate, how a facility can be acquired, financed, etc.
“Not one of them did it for a plaque or praise,” she said.
Wheeler, Boyer, Brown and McGowan were on hand to accept the award, with McGowan saying it was a “long, arduous journey,” and telling how Custer Cares was supported throughout the process.
“We know how important it is for our community and our chronologically enhanced population,” she said. “We need to reopen this nursing home, and by the grace of God we will be doing that.”
Bailey was presented with the Outstanding Service Award by Micki Reindl, both for her customer service and community service.
Reindl talked of how Bailey took an existing business, Starr Insurance, and expanded it, nurtured it and made it grow.
“She understands her community and is an integral part of the community,” Reindl said. “She understands the importance of community.”
Reindl said Bailey donates both time and money to the community, while also allowing her staff to donate its time to community projects.
“Supporting and volunteering is a way of life for Amy and a cornerstone for her business,” she said.
Upon accepting the award, Bailey said she was at a loss for words, but that she and her staff do their best to serve the community.
“There are days I can’t help, and there are days I can,” she said. “That’s where I take my joy from my job.”
The final award of the night, Lifetime Achievement, was given to Don Kraus, who was unable to attend. Svoboda and Boyer placed a Facetime call to Kraus, and told of his years of service to the community, from building Gold Discovery Days floats to coaching, from his service on the Custer School District Board of Education and the Southern Black Hills Water System board to his work with the Custer Rotary Club and his time as area engineer for the Custer Area Department of Transportation.
“I don’t know what to say. Thank you very much,” Kraus said over the phone. “This is awesome.”

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