BLANCHESTER — A charitable diner owner, the first boss many local teens had, a more-than-helpful neighbor, and an advocating father received much-deserved praise Tuesday evening.
During the 63rd Blanchester Chamber of Commerce Dinner, four citizens were honored for their hard work and contributions to the village.
Business owners Raj Elfar and Breya Hodge received Businessman and Businessman Woman of the Year, respectively; Tony Akers was named Citizen of the Year; and Roger Winemiller received the Community Choice Award.
The Businesswoman of the Year award to presented to Hodge by Holly Fyffe, who attributed Hodge’s blood, sweat, and tears, and her faith in God, into opening Downtown Diner and Gifts on East Main Street.
“The Downtown Diner and Gifts is a judgment-free establishment that provides a hot meal and friendly service to all those who patronize the restaurant,” said Fyffe.
Hodge’s diner opened this past summer with the main goal of helping local residents. It allows patrons to pay what they can or how much they think they should.
“Everyone who eats there is treated with the same kindness and respect regardless of their occupation, background or color, religion, or their current abundance or lack of financial resources,” said Fyffe.
Hodge thanked the chamber for the award and said that, while winning the award was “totally awesome,” the biggest part of her business has been that “it leads to the glory of God” and that the award was His.
“It may hang on my wall, but it’s for Him,” said Hodge.
Hodge was later also awarded a trophy by last year’s Businesswoman of the Year, Leigh Jones, as part of “a long-standing tradition” with the Businesswoman winners.
The Businessman of the Year award was presented by chamber board member and 2014 winner Dwayne Dearth to Raj Elfar, who owns and operates the Blanchester Gold Star Chili.
Elfar opened the restaurant in 1993 on the corner of Main and Broadway Street, moving it to its current location on Cherry Street in 2006.
“For most of his business years, (Elfar) has sponsored many sports teams for both boys and girls at Blanchester High School. He has been an employer of locals including a multitude of school students,” said Dearth, adding that Elfar has contributed to many local groups and endeavors.
In his speech, Elfar thanked the community of Blanchester, which he said had become a family in a way to his family. He also gave thanks to all of his employees who have worked for in his 25 years in operation, multiple individuals in the community for their help, and Dearth for his friendship.
Phil Nelson next gave a speech telling those in attendance what made Tony Akers worthy of winning the Citizen of the Year award. This includes starting the BUILD Ministry, a “call to action” ministry whose main goal to reach out and help those in need.
Among the deeds they’ve done include helping build a transitional house for people trying to get back on their feet and leading a group of volunteers in helping renovate the home of Ron Keith and his family to help him with his heart disabilities.
Nelson also noted that Akers and his wife had held a fundraiser for the Keith family to help pay their medical bills, raising over $9,000 in the process.
Akers thanked his wife and family and shared his award with those who volunteered with him on the projects.
“It’s great to see the true hearts of people for their community,” said Akers. “I’m motivated and inspired by working with these people that I’ve mentioned.”
Lisa Hayes of Blanchester Hope Warriors presented the final award of the night — the Community Choice Award — to Roger Winemiller, honoring him for his continued work in raising awareness about substance abuse after he lost two children to the disease.
“Since coming to Hope Warriors, Roger has helped many substance users into treatment and provided guidance and support for families members dealing with the loss of loved ones,” said Hayes.
Winemiller thanked the crowd, but added he felt he didn’t deserve it.
“What I do, I do with the strength and guidance that God has given me. I do from the bottom of my heart because I care for everybody, love everybody and don’t want anyone to go what I went through,” said Winemiller.
He concluded by saying his one wish would be that the community would come together to fight substance abuse, and raise awareness about this disease, whether it has affected them directly or not.
“It’s terrible. It truly is a disease and you talk about the hell of all hells, living as a parent or living as the addict,” he said. “Let’s just come together, show compassion and love these people. Do what we can to help them and help this be a better community.”
The chamber also recognized exiting Chamber President Mike Malott and Treasurer Chris Boyd for their services.