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Lansing Regional Chamber Celebrates Business Excellence and Community Service at 107th Annual Dinner

Wednesday, February 27, 2019  
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Community Service, Outstanding Small Business, Community Service Pioneer and Legacy Award Recipients Honored

More than 700 business and community leaders gathered for an evening of inspiration and celebration at the Chamber’s 107th Annual Dinner, held on Tuesday, February 26 at the University Kellogg Hotel and Center. Business and community leaders were honored with four of the Lansing region’s most prestigious awards.

  • American Fifth Spirits, Outstanding Small Business Award
  • Amy Stephenson, Community Service Award
  • Martha Mayhood Mertz, Community Service Pioneer Award
  • Lansing Ice & Fuel, Legacy Award

Pictured from left to right: Rick Wyble, head distiller and president, American Fifth Spirits; Amy Stephenson, co-founder, Helping Women Period; Martha Mayhood Mertz, founder of ATHENA International and past president of the Lansing Regional Chamber; and Bob Reutter, vice president, Lansing Ice & Fuel.

“Our award recipients are of reflection of the excellence in entrepreneurial spirt, hard work and commitment to the community that has always been a hallmark of the Lansing region,” said Tim Daman, Chamber president and CEO. “The accomplishments of our honorees in the region and around the world have distinguished them as successful leaders and serve as an inspiration for us all.”

Community Service Award: Amy Stephenson, Co-Director of Helping Women Period and Marketing Director of Willingham & Coté, P.C.

Amy Stephenson is the co-founder of Helping Women Period (HWP), a local nonprofit focused on assisting homeless women with health care related products and services. Helping Women Period partners with more than 125 schools, agencies, food banks, shelters and other charity partners throughout our region including numerous local businesses that have created convenient “drop box” locations where products can be donated and collected.

For her work in Helping Women Period and her commitment to the Lansing region, Stephenson was presented with the Chamber’s Community Service Award. When notified of her award, Stephenson, who serves as marketing director for the law firm of Willingham & Coté, P.C., said she was stunned.

“As a proud Chamber member, I have attended this event in the past and am well aware of the caliber and contribution of past recipients,” said Stephenson. “There are so many talented, committed people doing amazing things in the Lansing area, it is such an honor that we were identified and selected.”

Stephenson was also quick to share credit for her award with her co-director Lysne Tait and the volunteers who support the initiative in a variety of ways.

“HWP would not be possible without Lysne Tait. She is the non-profit ying to my yang,” said Stephenson. “She handles inventory, charity partner orders, deliveries, board meetings and board relations, tool and process identification and selection (inventory and donor management). Jane Laycock is our financial coordinator. Our countless volunteers deliver product, attend monthly distributions and support us with the myriad of administrative duties.”

Approximately 20 core volunteers help Tait and Stephenson get product to the people who need it. Behind all these numbers, 530,000 products were distributed in 2018, assisting approximately 1,500 individuals with product for one year (reflecting a 40 percent increase from 2017). In 2018, HWP also provided basic educational materials and conducted numerous speaking engagements relating to menstrual health, resulting in more visibility to the concept of menstrual equity.

Outstanding Small Business Award: American Fifth Spirits

American Fifth Spirits, Lansing’s first distillery ever, was honored with the Outstanding Small Business Award. Head distiller and president Rick Wyble said he was surprised, excited and thankful to receive the recognition. He credited his team members who he says believe in what the company is all about.

“There wasn’t a lot of history, statewide or nationally for what we set out to do so it says something about the commitment of our people to advocate what we are all about,” said Wyble. “The bottom line is, we make good products.”

American Fifth Spirits opened their Tasting Room and Distillery in April 2015 at 112 N. Larch in the Stadium District in downtown Lansing. From the beginning, the company has prided itself in using local ingredients to make inventive, handcrafted spirits of remarkable quality. Wyble says Michigan’s wide array of great agricultural products is a big advantage.

“At first, we supported local agriculture because we could, but as we went along, we saw how much we could help support other businesses in our state,” said Wyble. “We are buying corn from a small farmer from Elsie. It is great to be able to support his dream and ours at the same time.”

American Fifth Spirits serves more than 50 cocktails and updates the menu the fifth of every month. This allows them to play with fresh, seasonal ingredients. All juices are freshly squeezed, and syrups and liqueurs are made from scratch.

“Everything we do is by hand, completely sensory,” Wyble said. “At larger corporations, it’s all about numbers. For example, if you taste American Fifth bourbon versus other major label producers, there’s a noticeable difference in the depth of flavor because of the quality of ingredients we use.”

American Fifth’s products are drawing national recognition. The company’s bourbon received a gold medal and its gin entry was recognized with a bronze at the recent San Francisco World Spirits Competition. American Fifth is adding several new products in 2019. Wyble says the company has also been building inventory the past three years to accommodate plans to expand distribution of its products into several other Midwest states, starting with Indiana later in 2019.

Legacy Award: Lansing Ice & Fuel

In the early years after its founding, workers at Lansing Ice & Fuel cut ice from the Grand River and delivered it by horse and buggy along with fuel to residents and businesses. Now, more than 110 years later, Lansing Ice & Fuel remains family-owned and operated by the fourth and fifth generations of the Reutter family.

Lansing Ice & Fuel has been an integral part of the region since 1906. Founder Gottlieb Reutter was president of the board of directors of the Lansing Regional Chamber in 1932. In honor of the company’s longstanding commitment and its more than 65 years of Chamber membership, Lansing Ice & Fuel is being honored with the Chamber’s Legacy Award.

“We are honored to be selected for this award,” said Bob Reutter, Lansing Ice & Fuel vice president and fourth generation family member. “We’ve been in the Lansing area for a long time because we have such a great team of employees that strive to service our customers and our communities in Lansing and surrounding area. We will hopefully be around another five generations.”

Although the types of services Lansing Ice & Fuel provides and how they deliver them has changed, the core values and dedication to service remain the same. The company delivers propane and fuel oil, greases, oil and lubricants, gear lubricants, cutting oil, coolant, washer fluid and diesel exhaust fluid. Lansing Ice & Fuel also works with customers from large companies to individuals to fulfill their specific lubrication and fueling needs.

Lansing Ice & Fuel recently expanded by adding a new division, LIFTco, which provides service and installation of hoists, lubrication equipment, pneumatic systems, automobile lifts and air compressors to auto dealerships, commercial fueling stations, farm fueling equipment, service stations and service garages in Michigan.

“We started out delivering lumps of coal into people’s basements and with the modernization of equipment have evolved into other types of fuel,” said Reutter. “Through all of that, we have always taken pride in delivering our products in a timely manner.”

Many family businesses start to falter in the second or third generation. Lansing Ice & Fuel has defied the odds and continues to grow into the fourth and now fifth generation of family leadership. Bob Reutter credits his father James, now 85, for teaching him the business. In addition to his business acumen, Jim Reutter was an outstanding community leader and was honored by the Chamber with its Community Service Award in 1990. Bob’s son, now in college, is also learning the business during his breaks away from school. Reutter attributes the company’s focus on providing for the best employees as a key to its long-term success.

“We’re here to do our best to provide a good lifestyle and a good environment for our employees,” said Reutter. “We’ve been blessed with dedicated employees who work hard to do the best job — day-in and day-out. They are why we have been able to make it to the fifth generation.”

Community Service Pioneer Award: Martha Mayhood Mertz

Martha Mayhood Mertz, the founder of ATHENA International and past president of the Lansing Regional Chamber, was honored with the Community Service Pioneer Award. Mertz joined a small but prestigious group of Pioneer Award recipients, as it marked only the sixth time in Chamber history the award has been given out. The Blue Ribbon Committee to Keep GM in Lansing was honored with the Pioneer Award in 2016. Mertz, who has received international acclaim for her work, was honored to receive this special recognition.

“I’m blown away, humbled and grateful,” said Mertz, who now lives in Arizona. “This award isn’t just meant for me. This recognition represents a collection of some of the most outstanding leaders in the Lansing region and around the world. I feel as if I am coming back to honor all of those leaders.”

When Mertz founded the ATHENA Leadership Award in Lansing in 1982, it was the result of her experiences as a Chamber board member. She was the only woman on the board and was rebuffed in her attempts to nominate other women to the board. ATHENA was initially created to achieve a more diverse set of voices on the local board, but it soon evolved into an international movement.

“I spent my first year on the board learning how to speak “male,” but soon realized we needed to change the way we look at leadership,” said Mertz. “Women lead differently than men, although we hadn’t clearly identified that at the time. Women draw from the centuries-long cultivation of their own strengths.”

Fast forward to today and you’ll still find Lansing represented on the ATHENA International board by Sarah Jennings and Sheri Jones. Since its beginnings in Lansing in 1982, ATHENA has expanded to more than 7,500 awards in more than 500 communities around the world.

“We’ve come a long way since then. Thousands of exceptional women and some remarkable men have received local ATHENA awards and we have honored hundreds of inspirational leaders of both genders by presenting them with the ATHENA Leadership Award, said Mertz. “Along this epic journey, we looked at the qualities that highly effective women leaders bring to their professions and their lives.”

With a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, Mertz’s team developed the ATHENA Leadership Model, which espouses the following eight principles: Live Authentically, Learn Constantly, Advocate Fiercely, Act Courageously, Foster Collaboration, Build Relationships, Give Back, and Celebrate. These principles evolved and expanded to form the core of her book, Becoming ATHENA, which traces the ATHENA history and illuminates the ATHENA principles, with inspiring stories from Mertz and other leaders.

Mertz was honored as one of the Top 25 Women Business Owners in Michigan by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and selected as the Michigan Women-In-Business Advocate by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Other awards she has received include the Visionary Award from Office Depot, in 2004, the Vassilissa Award in Moscow, Russia, and induction in 2006 into the Enterprising Women’s Hall of Fame. Mertz received her B.A. in Women’s Studies and Psychology from Michigan State University and was honored as a Distinguished Alumni in 2016.

True to the ATHENA leadership mission, Mertz has been a role model and mentor to many women through the years and is regularly asked for advice. She encourages women to first speak up.“Women need to find their voice,” said Mertz. “They need to speak up and value what they know. If you don’t speak up your voice will never be heard.”

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