~ PVN staff report
LURAY, June 7 — More than 100 gathered last Thursday at The Pavilion at Shenandoah Woods near Stanley to celebrate the 95th annual banquet and awards ceremony for the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve come through this year by working together for a common goal,” Chamber President Gina Hilliard told the crowd near the close of the evening. Several speakers at the banquet addressed the difficulties that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented in 2020 and 2021, but each followed with positive notes of local success.
“There’s always been a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Chris Jenkins, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors and owner of Faithbrooke Barn and Vineyards, “and now it’s shining pretty damn bright.”
Due to its many outdoor offerings that allowed for social distancing, many in the local business community have noted how well Page County has weathered the “pandemic storm” as tourists continued to flow into the area.
“It’s wonderful to see each other again,” Rod Graves of Luray Caverns told the large crowd at Shenandoah Woods. “We’re so lucky to have the resources we have. It’s been a pretty strange year, but we’ve learned a lot and Page County has grown a lot.”
Most cabin owners have seen high occupancy rates in their rentals over the past year, as many people in “hot spots” of the pandemic sought a refuge from the panic and anxiety of metro areas. Visitation figures continue to rise at both Luray Caverns and Shenandoah National Park, and the trickle down affect can be seen in Downtown Luray, where more than a half-dozen ribbon cuttings have been held for new businesses in just the past few months.
To celebrate the year’s success, highlight the cooperative efforts that grew from its difficulties, and welcome an opportunity to gather in a crowd where hugs and handshakes are acceptable — the Chamber offered a three-course meal, 10 prize packages ranging from $200 to $500 in value, four community awards and a dazzling fireworks display to cap-off the evening.
Among the four annual awards that were presented last Thursday:
• The 2021 Agricultural/Eco-Friendly Business of the Year award was presented to Leslie and Tom Mack of Birdsong Pleasure Garden.
“This year’s…award is being given to a business that truly goes above and beyond to offer a friendly atmosphere for visitors, as well as one that helps to preserve the beauty of the earth,” stated Jenkins in his presentation of the award. “Over the years, our winner has turned their land into a beautifully landscaped and manicured garden that offers not only beautiful flowers, but fruits and vegetables that they use to feed themselves year-round. In an effort to preserve the Earth and environment, they offer tours of their award-winning property to visitors in hopes that they’ll inspire them to do their part in protecting the only home we have.”
• Blue Ridge Hospice earned the 2021 Service Business of the Year award.
“[This] is being awarded to a business that has, time and time again offered the highest level of quality care services to thousands of families and patients,” said presenter Mark Dofflemyer of Pioneer Bank, who serves as vice chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors.
“For the past 40 years, our winner has worked with families that are in the end stages of a loved one’s life, and has offered services not only to patients, but families as well, no matter their financial situations. With an established network in Page County, their nurses and staff offer a variety of services that aid in giving families peace and patients comfort in their last days,” Dofflemyer continued. “Throughout 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic, they have remained a driving force in care and comfort for those who are in need, and found ways to work with the required precautions, making sure that no family had to go without their vital services. A true representation of strength and perseverance.”
• The 2021 Hospitality Business of the Year award went to Riverside Camping, LLC.
“This year’s…award is being presented to a business that has been serving the tourism industry in Page County for the past 50 years,” said presenter John Shaffer of Luray Caverns, who serves as chairman of the Chamber’s Tourism Division.
“With an expansive 6 acres of property along the Shenandoah River, our winner has been offering camping and RV sites for visitors of Page County since 1970,” Shaffer continued. “A ‘simple place where people can sit and relax along the river and enjoy life at a slower pace,’ this hospitality business not only offers a place for campers to stay, but works with a local river company in Shenandoah, giving their visitors the option to be adventurous while they’re enjoying a relaxing vacation. With a clean, quiet, and hospitable atmosphere, they worked hard through the coronavirus pandemic to be able to give visitors a place to escape to, while still remaining safe.”
A special volunteer award took on special meaning this year after the community lost its namesake. Mary Lee Wiley Bryant passed away on May 28, 2020 at her home in Luray with family present, as she wished. She volunteered extensively in the community with the Luray Library, Meals on Wheels, the United Way, Page County Heritage Festival, the Luray Garden Club, the Purple Prunes Chapter of the Red Hats Society — and the Luray/Page County Chamber of Commerce.
“We lost a true asset to our community this past year,” Hilliard told the crowd on Thursday evening. “She will be greatly missed, and it makes this award even more special this year.”
• The Mary Lee Bryant Volunteer of the Year award for 2021 was presented to Amos Thomas of Shenandoah.
“With a community so full of rich history, our Mary Lee Bryant Volunteer of the Year is going to an individual who works to preserve our history through pictures,” said Dr. Kim Blosser, Chamber board member and president of Lord Fairfax Community College.
“Not only does our winner volunteer his photography skills for the many events and changes that Shenandoah has, along with all of his volunteer work, he also has a massive collection of historical pictures of Shenandoah all the way back to 1954,” Blosser continued. “Recently, he published his first photography book, featuring photos from his collection. It should come as no surprise that any proceeds from sales of his photography book go to helping preserve the history of Shenandoah. Our winner also volunteers his time to Shenandoah Newz, a website and Facebook page that’s goal is to keep residents up-to-date on all events and special occurrences going on in Shenandoah.”
To honor the night’s “Roaring ’20s” theme, Dennis Fleming brought his Model T out for display and some wore attire from the period. The theme spawns from the Chamber’s founding from the Luray Board of Trade on May 17, 1926. According to the evening’s program, “President J.R. Mims hosted the first meeting in the historic inn and the first order of business was to produce a float to represent the new organization in Winchester’s Apple Blossom Festival. The main concerns of the year were to make improvements in the telephone service, roads, bridges near Luray, publicity for the area, a post office for Luray, education and condition of the schools, new business for the area, and to install lights for the town that would be on all night.”