Dennis and Shelly Hartmann

Dennis and Shelly Hartmann, owners of True Blue Farms in Grand Junction, were inducted earlier this year into the Michigan Farmers Hall of Fame. This past Thursday, the couple and their business received the Manufacturer of the Year award from the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce.

A South Haven couple recently inducted into the Michigan Farmers Hall of Fame, a business owner who spearheaded the Michigan Maritime Museum's $8 million expansion; and a South Haven service club that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, are among the recipients of the 2020-21 Business Excellence Awards from the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce.

After a year of virtual meetings and gatherings online, people were eager to gather once again in-person for the chamber's annual Business Excellence Awards ceremony, according to Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kathy Wagaman.

Last year, the Chamber organized the event online to adhere to COVID-19 health restrictions.

This year though, with modified restrictions, the event entered its 89th year with more than 200 people in attendance, Thursday, at Lake Arvesta recreational park and event center on Phoenix Road, just east of South Haven.

“I couldn't be happier to have over 220 guest attending,” Wagaman said. “Our record attendance was in 2019 for the City Sesquicentennial year and we were at 260 or so.  This year I expected we would have 150 at the most, but the response has been tremendous.“

Thursday's event included trolley rides of the Lake Arvesta property, bonfires, food, indoor and outdoor games and the business excellence awards presentation.

“We could not be more pleased to be able to hold this event in a location that allows wide open space for social distancing, yet enables us to get together once again,” Wagaman said.

The following groups, individuals and businesses were recognized at this year's ceremony:

Manufacturer of the Year — Dennis and Shelly Hartmann, owners of True Blue Farms in Grand Junction. The Hartmanns established True Blue Farms in 1990. They now oversee  True Blue's 10 subsidiary companies with one of the most popular being the Blueberry Store in downtown South Haven. Dennis Hartmann is a third-generation blueberry farmer who has spent his life involved with the blueberry industry. Shelly is currently treasurer for the Michigan Blueberry Commission, and is now the first female chairman of the board for the United States Highbush Blueberry Council. She also serves on the board of the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program Advisory Council and is a director on the National blueberry Festival Board. Shelly is President of the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association and served a 6-year term on the board of the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce.

Established Business of the Year — Roberta A. Otto, CPA PLC. Otto first opened her accounting practice in the fall of 2007, filing 60 tax returns. Last year, she filed more than 1,000. The growth of her business prompted her to move into larger quarters on Broadway Avenue in downtown South Haven. Some of her clients include 30 non-profit groups who she provides tax, payroll and bookkeeping services to. Active in the community, she has been a member of the South Haven Kiwanis Club a board member for We Care INC and the South Haven Community Foundation. She also was named “Samaritan of the Year” for her work with the Samaritan Center in Benton Harbor. Currently she is a member of the finance council for the Diocese of Kalamazoo and is business manager for St. Basil Parish and School. In her spare time she has made multiple mission trips to El Salvador.

Community Investment Award — Brian Bosgraaf. Most home contractors know Brian Bosgraaf as owner of Cottage Home. But when he's not overseeing on-the-job projects, he's actively involved with the Michigan Maritime Museum, where he serves as a board of director. Over the years, Bosgraaf has restored the museum's historic fish tug, the Evelyn “S.” More recently, he has taken the helm of the museum's $8 million Launching a Legacy capital improvement campaign to expand the museum's campus with a new two-story museum, purchase of the historic Jensen's Fishery site on the Black River and renovation of its buildings for additional exhibit space, and improve the museum's waterfront amenities. To date, the museum, through Bosgraaf's leadership, has raised more than $7 million for the expansion.

Outstanding Organization — Greater South Haven Area Community Foundation. In 2005 the foundation became an independent foundation under the leadership of South Haven business leader Jim Marcoux, and has distributed more than $400,000 in grants to local non-profits and governmental projects. The foundation now manages its own endowment fund, which distributes more than $50,000 annually to local non-profits, as well as 16 other endowments, 3 scholarship funds, 2 immediate-needs funds and one donor-advised fund. When the foundation was put to the test during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it established a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund and joined Southwest Michigan Cares to distribute more than $60,000 to non-profits in the South Haven area. The foundation also distributed 15 grants to non-profits in 2020 and set up a matching grant fund drive, which provided $38,000 to help fund construction of the City of South Haven Splash Pad.

Non-profit Organization of the Year – Kiwanis Club of South Haven. South Haven's Kiwanis Club was first chartered in 1921 and remains as the city's oldest continuously operating service club. With a mission to “Serve the children of the world – one child, one community at a time,” the club annually distributes approximately $15,000-20,000 to groups that focus on helping children, primarily, and the South Haven community, in general. The club sponsors the South Haven High School Key Club and provides scholarships annually to graduating seniors. It has also provided funding to the South Haven Public Schools Robotics and History clubs, helped purchase new uniforms for the South Haven High School Marching Band, a new scoreboard at Baseline Middle School, and has provided funding to We Care INC, HOPE Parent Resource Center, Blessings in a Backpack, HeadStart, Lory's Place, Project Christmas Hope, Boy Scouts, and other groups. The club's members also volunteer by taking part in Michigan Department of Transportation's Highway Cleanup twice a year, Thursday Night Meal program at First Congregational Church and Red Cross blood drives.

Lifetime Achievement Award – Paul Layendecker. Layendecker is probably best known as the longtime talk host for COSY FM, owned by Mid-West Family Broadcasting. He has been a shareholder with Mid-West for 40 years and serves as a manager and director of content. When he's not working, Layendecker is active in the community. He is a past president of the Kiwanis Club, past chairman of the Van Buren County United Way campaign, recipient of the Community Impact Award from the South Haven Area Chamber of Commerce in 2015, and has served as president of We Care Community Resource Center for 2 years and 20 years as a board of director. He also has organized We Care's heating assistant fundraiser Warm Your Heart Bridge/Island Sit for the past 25 years and is an active member at Peace Lutheran Church, where he volunteers with the St. Jude telethon each year.