By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle
After skipping its annual Night of Roses event last year, the Niles Chamber of Commerce and Industry re-launched it in a different venue
While the event has previously been held at White Eagle Banquet Hall, the May 12 event was held on the other end of town, at Chateu Ritz banquet hall. The Niles Maine District Library got a Special Recognition award for its cutting-edged programming and resources. Also this time around, “Business of the Year” award was split into two, with Niles Holiday Inn Express earning the New Business of the Year award and Bot Spot Robotics earning the Small Business of the Year Award.
Norbert Johnson, president of the Niles Lions Club and 27-year members of NCCI, earned this year’s Bob Wordel Living Legend award. He used his speech as an opportunity to promote the many causes he continues to be involved in and suggesting others who, he felt, were more deserving of the award.
Since 2002, the Night of Roses has been the chamber’s biggest fundraiser, as well as a venue to hand out annual awards and annual scholarships. The awards changed over the years – while some categories endured since before the Night of Roses, others were one-offs, and some that endured for many years have been discontinued.
This year, the Niles Library staff used Creative Studio equipment to take free photos at the “red carpet” entrance. The event entertainment also featured chamber members. Erwin and Iwona Rybczynski, co-owners of Niles’ Interclub Academy of Dance, performed two dance numbers, and Shure Inc.’s employee band sang and played for the crowd.
The Dollars for Scholars scholarship recipients were the first to get their awards. Niles residents, as well as non-resident children of members’ employees, are eligible. In a change from previous years, this year’s scholarships are renewable – the winners got $1,000 this year, and they will be eligible to get the same amount per year.
This year’s winners were Sedra Khan, a Niles West High School senior from Niles who is planning to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago to study chemical engineering; and Lauren Komrska, a Buffalo Grove High School senior, who is planning to attend the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. According to their bios, both students are members of the National Honor Society and take part in a wide variety of school activities. Khan is an Illinois State Scholar, while Komrska sits on her school’s Student Council.
Next came the awards.
The Citizen of the Year Award, which the chamber has been handing out since 1982, went to Lois MacAdam, for her volunteer work at Niles Senior Center. MacAdam said that, when she learned she was a winner, she was stunned.
“It was the night I will never forget,” she said. “I was presented with a beautiful red rose, everyone applauded. I was really in shock, and I don’t remember much of [what happened] afterwords.”
MacAdam said that, since moving to Niles in 1980, she has come to treasure the community, its many civic institutions and its residents.
“Thank you everyone for your support tonight, and always,” she said.
Niles Fire Department paramedic Rich Scipione received the Public Safety Excellence award for his work to improve his department’s medical care capabilities. He used his speech to talk up his department and the programs it does with the Niles Department of Family Services.
Joe Davidas Sr., got a Small Business of the Year award for Bot Spot Robotics, a business he launched two years ago. In his speech, he thanked his wife and two sons for their support, noting that launching a business was challenging and required considerable time.
Christine Pusateri, who launched Christine Pusateri Hair Solutions, a hair replacement company, four years ago at the age of 62, earned the Ken Scheel Chamber Member of the Year award for her work for the American Cancer Society. Pusateri showered praise on NCCI Executive Director Katie Schneider and Membership Director Barb Karawacki for their help when she tried to get her business off the ground.
“It was very scary to start a business at 62, and Katie and Barb were wonderful,” she said. “They were so welcoming.”
Pusateri also praised village police officers, staff and residents in general for everything they’ve done for her over the years.
The Special Recognition award was given to the Niles Public Library.
Library director Susan Lempke noted that, while some things have remained the same since its founding, the library continues to make changes to fit the times.
“The library changes and continues to adopt to meet the needs of Niles and unincorporated Maine Township residents,” she said, adding that, while the library’s name will officially change in July 1, it will still be “your library.”
This year’s Corporate Citizen of the Year award went to Home Depot’s western Niles location for the community service work and customer service of its manager, Brian Kelly. Kelly said he was proud to be welcomed in the Niles community and proud to be a part of it.
When introducing the winner of this year’s New Business Award, Ross Klicker, the Village of Niles Economic Development and Marketing Coordinator a member of NCCI’s program committee, described Mansoorali Lakhani, founder of Lakhani Hospitality Group, the Niles Holiday Inn Express owner, as an example of a quintessential American success story, noting that he started the company from nothing after emigrating from Pakistan. He also praised the company’s contributions to the community, noting its donations to the Niles Family Services Food Pantry and sponsorship of this summer’s Niles Cycling Classic event.
None of the members of Lakhani family were able to attend, so David Augustine, the sales manager at the Holiday Inn Express, to accept the award on their behalf.
Kathryn Sjoholm, a Gemini Junior High School teacher, won the Dedication to Youth Excellence award for her teaching – and for going above and beyond her duties.
The final award of the night was the one that got the most applause – the Bob Wordel Living Legend award, which Johnson earned for his decades of work to raise money for worthwhile causes, as well as his volunteer work.
“I just found out that the real reason why I’m receiving this award is because I’m 86 and still living,” he quipped.
Turning serious, he reflected on everyone who received the award since 2006.
“I am humbled and honored to even be mentioned with those people,” Johnson said.
Johnson also suggested several other people who he felt deserved the award more, including former village trustee Louella Preston, who speaks a nearly every village board meeting, longtime trustee and fomrer Niles Park District director Joe LoVerde, current mayor Andrew Przybylo and former mayors Nick Blase and Robert Callero.
“And [village trustee and former NCCI President] Dean Strzelecki, who is still too young for this award,” Johnson joked.
He used the speech as an opportunity to announce that he would be making $1,000 donations to the Niles Optimist Club, the NCCI scholareship program and the Niles Family Services Food Pantry.
“In conclusion – God bless everyone here, and God bless everyone who wished to be here,” Johnson said. “And God bless the United States.”
“There is nothing else that could be said after that,” Klicker remarked. “I am speechless. Hopefully, [Johnson’s] words will inspire us to live up to his example.”
And, with that, the Night of Roses officially concluded.