Ellsworth Chamber salutes 'Best of' awards at annual banquet

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 2/21/23

Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce members were transported back a few decades to the 1970s for the eighth annual awards banquet Monday, Feb. 20 at Kilkarney Hills Golf Club in River Falls.

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Ellsworth Chamber salutes 'Best of' awards at annual banquet


ELLSWORTH – Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce members were transported back a few decades to the 1970s for the eighth annual awards banquet Monday, Feb. 20 at Kilkarney Hills Golf Club in River Falls.

The “Time to Boogie” theme brought out the inner hippie and flowerchild in everyone as attendees jived to radical tunes, dined on groovy desserts and celebrated the year’s successes. Executive Director Team Member Kim Beebe began the night with far out remarks and throwback photos to the Disco era, a decade of shag carpet, rotary phones and TVs without remotes.

Chamber President Paul Bauer, CEO of Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, spoke about how chamber membership helps people connect the dots.

“I look around the room and guess what, you are the dots,” he said. “It’s about connecting people and the fact that we’re all together. You could use that dot not today, but tomorrow. You already have that connection made.”

Chamber membership helps business owners meet people to elevate them and their business, Bauer said.

“The best way to build connections is to serve on a committee,” Bauer said.
Serving on a committee allows you to see others’ work ethics, personalities and abilities, he added.

“It allows you to talk to people outside of your normal day-to-day communities,” he said. “Every one of you are important to making a viable chamber and a viable community.”

The program then moved on to Board of Directors elections, at which time the audience approved two new directors: Julie Winger, retired, and Brooke Cupp, SwiftCurrent Connect.

Small Business of the Year

Fellow chamber members nominate businesses for the large and small business of the year awards. This year’s Small Business of the Year honor went to YB Urban? owned by Angie and Chris Whelan.

According to the evening’s program, the Whelans left Las Vegas to pursue country living.

“Ten years ago, Chris and I took a really big leap of faith to fill our homestead dreams in Wisconsin,” Angie said.

They dreamed of becoming part of a community where people shared their skills, an interweaving like the old days when communities thrived because of people’s skillsets. On a visit to Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, the Whelans ventured a little further west and found Broadway Street in the East End.

“Where others would see a dead location with not a lot going on, we saw possibilities,” Whelan said. “Rather than going to a town that had everything we wanted, we went to a community where we were needed, where we felt we could make an impact.”

They bought a farm outside of Ellsworth in 2017 and created “the hip homestead” of their dreams, combining the best of country life with making and selling personal-care products under the name YB Urban? The catchy names, such as YB Stinky? YB Chapped? YB Dry? are placed on environmentally conscious packaging containing soaps, skincare, haircare, lip balms, and personal care products.

They began their business online and showcased their products at regional shows. After hearing about the Chamber’s goal to revitalize the East End business district, the Whelans took part in the “Pop-Up Ellsworth” campaign in 2019 and eventually bought a storefront on Broadway Street. They launched their refill center in Summer 2020 and the business continues to grow and thrive.

Large Business of the Year

The Large Business of the Year accolade was bestowed on WESTconsin Credit Union, whose history dates back to 1939 in Menomonie. The credit union now serves central Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. The first WESTconsin office opened in Ellsworth in 2014; they moved to a new location at 385 W. Main St. and celebrated the grand opening in June 2021.

Vice President Tara Buechner accepted the award and spoke about the CARE principles the credit union follows: Collaborative, accountability, respect and excellence.

“We connect those dots for people wherever they are at,” Buechner said. “Credit unions exist to help people and inspire them and that’s why we’re in the Ellsworth community.”

WESTconsin, which is owned by its members, recently provided a $20,000 corporate sponsorship to the Storytime Area at the new Ellsworth Public Library. They also give to the Pierce County Hunger Prevention Council/Ellsworth Food Pantry and spend time educating Ellsworth students about finances through $MART Financial Literacy Program, Mad City Money reality seminars, and through scholarship opportunities.

Community Leader Award

She’s here, there and everywhere. The Community Leader Award went to Kayleen Jakes, owner of East End Gifts and Brush Strokes Paint Party. She is also an avid volunteer.

“Leadership is ore than just ‘going things’ in the community, it’s about bringing people together, making them feel like their ideas matter, and inspiring people to want to be a part of something bigger,” the program read. “Kayleen Jakes has a unique skill for inclusion and merging people and ideas in a fun, positive and engaging way.”

Jakes is the current president of the Ellsworth E3 Community Development Corporation, which works to improve Ellsworth’s quality of life by generating, managing and allocating resources to meet current and future needs. She founded the Etown Arts Committee to bring high-quality community art projects to Ellsworth. She is also a found board member of the Ellsworth Area Power of 100, a group that  aims to uplift and support community through donations.

“This is a huge honor to even be nominated, let alone winning this,” Jakes said. “You must be striking the bottom of the barrel.”

She encouraged people to join committees and offered to help people who don’t know where to start.

“Let’s be excited about helping the community grow,” she said.

Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce, Ellsworth, Wisconsin, business, Best of 2023, awards