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A Red Carpet Spectacular: 2024 Annual Chamber of Commerce Dinner

Spectacular is an understatement. Walking into the Grand Ballroom at Eastern Illinois University on April 27th, I felt like a celebrity. Was I dressed up? Not enough for the red carpet. Did I just come from multiple other photos shoots where the wind blew my hair everywhere and my makeup was fading a bit? Sure did! But in that moment, I was so engrossed in my surroundings that I definitely felt that red carpet vibe. The Taylor Swift and Kevin Hart cutouts on the way in didn't hurt my imagination.

I'll never really get over what a small group of people who commit themselves to something can do. If memory serves me, the set up for this event started at 9:00am, with the event itself starting at 5:00pm. And this doesn't even count the months of planning. Seriously, just look at the above photos and tell me that "CHARLESTON" sign with all of the lights isn't perfection? Shout out to the Annual Dinner Committee and all did such an amazing job!

During cocktail hour, I was able to get some great photos of people just enjoying themselves. Was there a wine pull happening, a silent auction going on, a photo booth, and drinks to be enjoyed? Absolutely! But my favorite part? How much party-goers got in touch with the theme. Some guests even stopped to tell me the adventure they went on to get their outfits. They were so proud and they should have been! Just look at how great everyone above looks!

The always fabulous Mary Kay Hencken even won the GORGEOUS earrings from Towne Square Jewelers. Those were the grand prize in the scratch off so she was very lucky! Side note, can someone please remind my husband closer to Christmas that Towne Square Jewelers never fails? Their jewelry is always on everyone's list! Thanks in advance!

Before the dinner, we were treated to the opportunity to sing along to "Chucktown, Chucktown". This was a fun parody of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York". If you were at my table, I'm going to take this moment to apologize because I definitely sang along and if you know me at all, you know I shouldn't have. And that was done completely sober. Just sayin'. But after this, we enjoyed a great dinner put on by EIU's Panther Dining. If you weren't paying attention, those students were working really hard and were really polite. Thank you to the staff at Panther Dining! We appreciate you!!

After dinner, it was time to recognize so many people who serve our community! Awards were kicked off by thanking and recognizing outgoing board members Kyle Barrow and Elena Davis. The board does so much work behind the scenes at the Chamber so thank you both!

Next up? The Diplomat of the Year Award! The Chamber Diplomats are a group of Chamber members who volunteer their time helping at multiple events including Farmer's Markets and Business After Hours. Normally, there is only one Diplomat of the Year, but this year there was a tie! To two very deserving and selfless ladies, Emily Floyd and Shae Plush, thank you for all you do!

The Community Stars were next in the line up for this year's awards! Six of these awards were given, but some of you sat down too quickly to get your photo taken (I'm talking to you Christopher Callahan!). All joking aside, you'll find that this group of people is extremely humble and not at all here for the accolades. Not that anyone here is, but this group in particular. So who falls in this amazing category you ask?

*Christopher Callahan, Attorney

*Davis-Houk Mechanical (DHM)

*Diepholz Auto Group of Charleston

*Eastern Illinois University

*Kenzi Cheesewright, State Farm Insurance Agent

*Stand Stone Community Center

Thank you all so much for giving so much to this community. We wouldn't be Charleston without you!!

Another new category: The Lifetime Legacy Award, which was given to the very compassionate Ann Bacon. I do have to add that the look on Ann's face when her name was announced is one I'll never forget. She did not see it coming and it was so sweet. In the words of presenter Tina Held, "It is clear to me that this volunteer possess a servant's heart." And if you've ever met Ann, you know just how true this is!

Todd Vilardo was presented the Citizen of the Year award by Chamber board member Jennifer Swenson. While I would love to say a ton of wonderful things about Todd, I don't think his good friend and speech giver, Chuck Goff, left anything to be said. Chuck's speech gave us insight into all of the hard work Todd has put into the community through the years while also making us laugh and reminding us that this award was also for Todd's wife, Kelly who is "the true genius behind the man". PS-If every speech had a slide show with humorous images of the honoree, there would never again be a boring awards dinner. We should tell other organizations to learn from the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce! Great words from Chuck about his lifelong friend Todd!

Last, but not least, let's take a moment to acknowledge the Business of the Year Award that went to CHS Industries. A few of the kids were actually late to their prom to be with us and accept this award. Because of this, it wasn't a long, drawn out ordeal like they deserve, but I'm so glad they took the time to be recognized!

Annual group photo! Whoever had the idea for the sunglasses...I LOVE IT! Also, anyone else peep Rob Stroud of the JG-TC Newspaper in the bottom corner? That guy is awesome and I'm so glad he covers this event!

That's a wrap on the Annual Chamber Dinner! Below are a few more photos on the red carpet, a place to leave your comments, and links to keep up the Chamber and Kathleen! Thank you all for taking the time to read!

Websites from above to follow:

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