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Chamber celebrates its 75th birthday

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By John Barnhart

    The Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce packed the Oakwood Country Club for its 75th anniversary dinner.

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    The event drew 175 people. Actually, this is the anniversary of its incorporation in 1939. The Chamber is actually somewhat older and a House Joint Resolution, presented by the area’s House of Delegates delegation, recites some of that history.
    The joint resolution states that the Chamber dates back to May 8, 1925, when the already existing Bedford Board of Trade changed its name to the Bedford Chamber of Commerce. Back then, horse-drawn conveyances had not entirely disappeared from Bedford’s streets.
    The year the Chamber was incorporated was the year television was introduced as a new technological wonder at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and Gone With the Wind made its theater debut. Bedford still had theaters back then.
    The Chamber worked on a number of economic projects. It helped attract an oil distribution terminal to Montvale and helped develop the Peaks of Otter Lodge. It also helped attract the Sam Moore Chair Company and Rubatex to Bedford. The Chamber was one on the organizations that supported the opening of Bedford Memorial Hospital.
    The Chamber produced its first Community Guide, originally called the Community Pamphlet, in 1927. The current 75th Anniversary Community Guide contains an illustrated time line of the Chamber’s history.
    The dinner featured its annual awards.
    Layman Family Farms was honored with the Agri-Business award. Eric Layman, a fifth generation farmer and his wife, Sharon, purchased a parcel of land in Blue Ridge eight years ago. As an “agri-tainment business” they opened the first corn maze in Bedford County. According to the nominee submission questionnaire they filled out, they have 500 apple trees and 200 peach trees and a 40-acre pumpkin patch and grow corn, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, peppers and melons.
    Also nominated was the Peaks of Otter Winery, owned by Danny and Nancy Johnson. Danny Johnson’s family has farmed in Bedford County for more than two centuries and the Peaks of Otter Winery became the county’s pioneer winery just before the turn of the century.
    Rehabilitation Associates of Central Virginia won the Emerging Small Business award. The business started in 1966 and has expanded to 10 sites —  including the two newest sites, in Bedford and at Westlake. The business saw a 19 percent growth in 2013. According to Dr. Harrison Hunt, a co-owner of the business, the goal is to make physical therapy available to people in rural areas so that patients don’t have to travel long distances.
    “In Bedford we try to be involved in Liberty High School and Staunton River High School by attending the football games, meeting with coaches, and offering injury prevention at the beginning of each season,” Dr. Harrison stated on her nominee questionnaire. “Last year I gave a talk at the YMCA on shoulder pain and appropriate exercise to avoid injury and gave a talk at Liberty High School to the volleyball team on knee injury prevention.”
    Also nominated were All Fired up — Ready to Paint Ceramics, Blue Ridge Copier and Stand Up, Inc.
    Olde Liberty Station received the Community Impact award.
    Olde Liberty Station opened in 2001 in Bedford’s former passenger train station and features railroad station décor. The restaurant was badly damaged by a fire in 2009, but was repaired. Once the reconstruction was complete, it was impossible to tell that anything terrible had happened. Harry Leist, who owns the restaurant, stated in his nominee questionnaire, that he used local businesses for the reconstruction and developed an “Appreciation Booklet” that customers could pick up. This listed the businesses that did the work, what sort of work they did and their contact information.
    Chamber members supported the Station.
    “It was unbelievable what you did for us,” Leist said.
    The Station provides a free meeting place for various organizations and donated meals to Liberty High School’s Teacher of the Month awardees. The Station also donates gift certificates to National D-Day Memorial volunteers.
    BB&T was also nominated for this award.
    The Non-Profit award went to Bedford Domestic Violence Services. This organization assists victims of domestic violence. Help includes a 24-hour hotline — (540) 587-0970 — and a battered women’s shelter. They also provide a knowledgeable staff member to literally walk a domestic violence victim — actually personally accompanying her — through the court system to get a protective order.
    The program started in 1997 as First Steps Domestic Violence Program. “It is the only comprehensive Domestic Violence Program in Virginia to operate within a local department of social services,” Leanne Dudley, the organization’s director, stated in the non-profit’s nominee questionnaire.
    Also nominated were the Alzheimer’s Association — Central & Western Virginia Chapter, the American Red Cross — Historic Virginia Chapter, Bedford Ride and Big Otter Mill Foundation.
    The Chamber presents its Lifetime Achievement award once every three years. The last recipient was Lacey Putney, who represented the 19th District in the House of Delegates for more than half a century.
    Thursday night, the Chamber presented this award to Harry Schickling. Schickling owns a consulting business and has served in a number of roles with the Chamber. He was appointed to Virginia’s Broadband Roundtable and currently serves on Bedford County’s Broadband Authority Technical Advisory Committee.
    Also nominated were Hugh Bond and Sue Montgomery.
    Each nominee recorded a video presentation that was shown at the dinner. To view these, go to www.youtube.com/user/BedfrdAreaChmbr.  This site also includes the “75 Years in Review” presentation that was shown at the dinner.