Every year, the Athens Area Chamber solicits nominations from the community to recognize engaged businesses and individuals who make our area stronger and more dynamic, and this year’s nomination pool was filled with exceptional nominees. The time has come to finally announce the winners!

The Chamber is so excited to honor our winners at the sold-out Annual Awards and Dinner Meeting on Thursday, January 25, 2024.

Now on to our winners!

Distinguished Service

Our longest running award, the Distinguished Service Award is presented by the Chamber to an individual who has shown tremendous service to the community over an extended period of time.

Distinguished Service: Rich Hayes

A lifelong resident of the area, Rich Hayes has owned and operated a business in Athens since 1995.

From 1995-2018, Rich co-owned and operated his family business, Bedrock Party Rentals, prior to selling in 2018. He was then able to dedicate all of his time to the current Kona Ice franchise which has been a fun and rewarding experience for him.

Dedicated to making a difference in our local community, Kona Ice is committed to philanthropy in the communities it serves, raising more than $135 million in total donations nationwide since 2007. Today, Kona Ice has grown to more than 2,600 mobile units that serve 49 states across the country.

Kona Ice of Athens continues the franchise tradition of donating thousands of dollars each year to our local school groups, teams, and community organizations.

Rich’s focus has always been to support our local community and the Kona Ice franchise has given him the opportunity to do just that.

Holzaepfel Economic Impact Award

The Holzaepfel Economic Impact Award was first established in 1993 and recognizes a business for exceptional economic impact on the Athens community. Appropriately so this award was named after Mike Holzaepfel a District Manager and Economic Development Specialist for a major utility company in Athens. Mike has since moved out of the area but the Chamber still chooses to honor his efforts with this special achievement distinction.

Ohio Brew Week was started in 2005. A local business owner, Jon Sparhawk, was faced with a problem. The thousands of students who populated our bars and restaurants leave during the summer. How do we get people to head Uptown during the summer? Jon looked to the growing Ohio beer scene for a solution.

“Craft beer is the way to go,” Jon Sparhawk, then owner of The Oak Room, told Dan Gates in April 2005. “Take this idea and run with it.” Sparhawk tapped his friend Dan Gates to serve as the first director of OBW, back in the summer of 2005. Over 70 Ohio craft brews were available at over 36 venues in Athens that first year.

Jon Sparhawk passed away suddenly just before the second Ohio Brew Week. His name and influence are memorialized in both the “Sparbock” beer, brewed by Jackie O’s annually for Brew Week, and in the Athens Area Chamber’s Annual Award, the Jon Sparhawk Small Business Award. Jon was a beloved Athens resident, highly involved and known by brewers all over the state.

Dan Gates followed through on Sparhawk’s vision, working to establish Ohio Brew Week as an Athens institution. Ohio Brew Week grew with the Ohio Craft Brew industry, attracting national attention, notable visitors, and influential speakers. For several years, OBW had key note speakers come in and share their industry knowledge Some past OBW keynote speakers over the years have included:

  • Steve Hindy, president of Brooklyn Brewery (and ironically former Athens Messenger paperboy)
  • Joe Tucker, executive director of RateBeer.com
  • Pat Conway, co-founder of Great Lakes Brewing Company

Marking the “end of an era,” original executive director Dan Gates and his staff stepped down after eight years, with 2013 marking the last year of their involvement. Weston Lombard took over in 2014 and served as director for two years with the tenth anniversary Brew Week in 2015 seeing record crowds and beer sales.

Current director Brandon Thompson took over in 2016, becoming the third director of Brew Week in its (now) 18-year history. Brandon, an Athens native and OU grad, also helps put on the annual Halloween Block Party on Court Street and has a strong desire for bringing people together in his hometown.

With a perfected road map created by the directors before him, Thompson has helped transform Ohio Brew Week into the must-attend Ohio Event. With the addition of the Top Deck Dinner on top of the Athens Parking Garage, Fall Fest, a companion event in September, and the return of First Call and The Brew Choo Choo, Ohio Brew Week has seen tremendous growth and changes along with the burgeoning craft Ohio beer scene, which has grown quite a bit since the first Ohio Brew Week.

It’s the perfect environment for Ohio Brew Week to continue, after 18 years of innovation, to set the bar higher and higher each summer and with seasonal events, including Fall Fest in Athens. The last two years have seen the highest amount of numbers with the Athens Visitors bureau putting the week of Ohio Brew Week 2022 in the top Five highest grossing weeks in terms of tax revenue from overnight stays.

It’s clear that Ohio Brew Week is creating an economic impact on the city of Athens. Ohio Brew Week 2023 included:

  • 45+ all-Ohio breweries
  • 30 local bars and restaurants
  • 300+ craft brews
  • Hundreds of events

And it is important to remember that with all this, Athens, Ohio was the FIRST WEEK LONG celebration of craft beer in the NATION. As far anyone can tell, there have been other craft beer festivals lasting one or two days, but Ohio Brew Week was the first one to create a week long beer festival almost 19 years ago, before everyone else.

Jon Sparhawk Small Business of the Year Award

This special small business recognition was instituted in 2001. Several years later, after the untimely passing of local restaurateur and Chamber Board member Jon Sparhawk, the Chamber chose to honor his achievements and memory by renaming this award. This business should have ingenious marketing promotions, a thoughtful and conscientious work ethic, and be a community supporter.

Founded by Patty Mitchell in 1998, Passion Works Studio was designed as a collaborative community studio housed within a sheltered workshop where people with and without developmental differences made art together. The studio became a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2018, and it remains a trailblazer in creating integrated settings where people investigate their own talents and interests while participating in community-based programming and creative employment opportunities.

Passion Works’ signature art product, The Passion Flower, is the Official Flower of Athens, Ohio. The flower is made of upcycled newspaper printing plates, painted and decorated in bright, bold colors by PWS Artists. To date the studio has sold over 35,000 of these blooms and kicked off a “green” product line including; jewelry, clothing, ornaments, cards, prints and fine art that has generated over $2,750,000 in sales.

Passion Works also engages the community by offering opportunities throughout the year to create and volunteer, including the chance to build puppets and more for their annual Honey for the Heart parade, which kicks off the start of the Athens Halloween Block Party. In 2022, Passion Works engaged with 3,770 volunteers who completed more than 6,904 hours of work.

Community Support

The Community Support award was created in 2014 to honor a business or individual who exemplifies community by going above and beyond to support the Athens Area for a variety of causes in the area.

Athens County Public Libraries

Entering their 89th year of service, the Athens County Public Libraries aim to be a trusted system of information hubs, welcoming community centers, and vibrant destinations for learning and connection. ACPL started both one of the first library bike-share programs and summer feeding programs for children and teens in the nation, and was among the first in Ohio to stop charging late fees. With buildings in Albany, Athens, Coolville, Chauncey, Glouster, The Plains, and Nelsonville, ACPL also hosts a Bookmobile and community wifi sites with locker libraries in Amesville, New Marshfield, Shade, and Stewart.


Young Professional of the Year

This award was established in 2014 to highlight the work of individuals under 40 who have excelled in their professional lives and made an impact on their community.

Young Professional of the Year: Kelcie Stevens

Kelcie Stevens is a 31-year-old Athens County native who grew up and currently resides in Glouster. She graduated from Trimble High School and then from Ohio University, where she majored in Health Administration.

Kelcie began her career at OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital in July 2015 working as a Credentials Coordinator in the Medical Affairs office and as an administrative assistance in the Plan Operations department. For three years now, Kelcie has served as a the Plant Operations Manager and has also recently become manager of the OhioHealth Controls & Energy Team.

As Kelcie says of her career: “My Glouster roots are where I learned strength in community and that living in Appalachia is irreplaceable. I’ve found that same sense of community at O’Bleness. It is a place filled with passionate people who work endlessly to ensure we are providing top tier patient care. I do my part by ensuring our facility and critical systems are running efficiently and safely so that our medical teams can focus on that care.”

When she’s not handling a power outage or other hospital situations, she likes to get outdoors at Burr Oak with her husband Jon and their two dogs, or spend time with her 11 nieces and nephews.

Best New Business

This award was created in 2022 to recognize a business that has opened in the last 24 months, shows community support and engagement, and offers a much-needed service or product to the community. This award is to celebrate start-ups and entrepreneurs or to welcome a new business to our community.

Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, Cam Kasler often thought about owning his own business, but didn’t know what type of business that might be. As a young teenager in high school watching Cupcake Wars, he developed an interest in baking. Acting on this interest, Cam developed a philanthropic project called Cookies for a Cause in which he baked cookies and donated the proceeds, over $1,000, to local charitable organizations and individuals in need in just a few months’ time. Bakery 323 evolved from that project.

In 2021, during his senior year as a Business Entrepreneurship major at Ohio University, Cam started baking at the request of family and friends, and Bakery 323 literally created itself, growing quickly after customers started tasting his creations and friends posted about their orders on social media. In less than two years it has grown into a thriving home-based delivery business, where they’ve had the privilege of delivering treats and smiles to OU students, birthday celebrations, weddings, corporate events, business clients, and anyone who just needs a cupcake in their life.

Additionally, Cam is proud to announce that a brick and mortar location of Bakery 323 will be coming soon to the Market on State in 2024.

According to Cam, the name Bakery 323 comes from his favorite Bible verse, Colossians 3:23 – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” The goal of Bakery 323 is to provide customers with a quality, small-batch product that they will enjoy during special celebrations or just because life is better with cupcakes. At Bakery 323, they believe EVERY DAY is a CUPCAKE DAY.