COLUMBIA CITY — After postponing last year due to the pandemic, Thursday night saw the return of the Whitley County Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s Center annual banquet. The event took place at the Joseph Decuis Farm, and brought together businesses and Chamber members for a night of celebration.

Those in attendance were thanked for attending, and Whitley Chamber Director Jennifer Romano thanked event sponsors, as well as the board of directors.

Board President Gary Parrett also said a few words, thanking attendees for their commitment to the chamber and the community.

“Without you we couldn’t make this possible,” he said. “We are able to accomplish a great deal due to careful planning and a strong dedication to serving as the advocate for the businesses of Whitley County.”

The meeting was an opportunity to introduce a new change to the Chamber, which recently added the position of Member Relations Coordinator to the team. This position will be filled by long-time county resident and Whitley County Commissioner Chad Banks.

This banquet was also a chance to highlight the many new members that have joined the chamber in the last year. These new members include Anthony Wayne Boy Scouts of America, Autumn Trace, Bee Great, Benchmark, Bonita Vida, Burkes Outlet, CC Plaza, Holiday Inn Express, Indiana National Guard, Indiana Farm Rescue, LT Real Estate, Missy Dewitt Photography, Ole Hitchin Post, Pickles Café, Ride Rescue, Rival Heart Tattoo, Roy G. Biv, TNT Floral, Van Buren Flats and several others.

Business members in attendance that were celebrating an anniversary milestone were given awards and certificates by the chamber, congratulating them.

Certificates were presented to Rhoades Automotive (20 years), Running Around Screen Printing (15 years), Big G’s (15 years), Goin’ Postal (5 years), Birdhouse Enterprises (5 years) and Moo-Over (one year).

Awards were then presented to the businesses with long histories of service to Whitley County and the area. The first presented was to Northeastern REMC, who is celebrating 85 years. Its Whitley County history has its start in June of 1935 when the first meeting was held to develop an electric co-operation. It was eight men who formed the Whitley County REMC, and its office was located in downtown Columbia City on the second floor of what is now the Hinen Printing building. By 1936 the co-op had grown to 1,000 members. Today, Northeastern REMC has 33,000 members and maintains 2,200 miles of line.

Celebrating 100 years is W.R. Hall Insurance. It got its start in 1920 in Warsaw. Over the years the business has been managed by multiple family generations, and today continues to boast its long legacy with 18 employees serving the community.

Also celebrating 100 years is Crossroads Bank. In January of 1920, the Home and Loan Association was formed and located in Wabash. By 1966 the company had received its federal charter and was renamed First Federal Savings and Loan of Wabash. Eight years later, the company expanded to a location in North Manchester. It opened its first Whitley County branch in 1997 in South Whitley. A Columbia City office followed in 2004. Then in 2008 the company changed its name to Crossroads Bank, and it continues to expand.

Smith & Sons Funeral Home was congratulated for 170 years of business. In 1851, H.S. Smith moved his family from Pennsylvania to South Whitley, Ind., where he opened his furniture and undertaking business. Over the years his sons and their sons would join in the family business. In 1924 Smith and Sons moved to Columbia City, and soon after purchased the location that the business still operates from today. By 1982 a South Whitley office was also opened. Gene Smith the family business in 1999. Today Smith & Sons Funeral Home is one of the oldest continuously run family funeral homes in the state.

There celebrating the longest history, and receiving a standing ovation was the Indiana National Guard, with 220 years. Indiana’s National Guard can be traced back to 1801 when Indiana was still a territory. It was organized by local men who wanted to defend local settlements. It was officially designated as the Indiana National Guard on March 5, 1895. Those who have served have played an integral part in America’s history, having active participants in our country’s major wars and conflicts, and the nation continues to call on the National Guard and its people that protect the state and country.

The Whitley County Chamber of Commerce & Visitor’s center has been a part of the community for 102 years, and Romano took some time to thank and reflect on all the people throughout the years who had a part in shaping the Chamber and what it is today.

“We look forward to the future with enthusiasm and excitement” she said, concluding the 2021 banquet.

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