Keene State College’s Zorn Dining Commons was a meeting ground of circus performances, an elaborate banquet and an awards ceremony all in one Thursday night for the 2023 Thrive! Gala, hosted by the newly rebranded Greater Monadnock Collaborative Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Formerly known as the Greater Keene and Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, the organization presented three awards during the evening as well as the reveal of its rebranding.
Receiving the Windsor Brooks Business of the Year Award was Dublin company Yankee Publishing, which produces Yankee Magazine in addition to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, an annual publication featuring topics such as astronomy, gardening, weather forecasts and trend predictions.
Jamie Trowbridge, Yankee’s president and CEO, highlighted the business’ move to a fully employee-owned enterprise last year in an acceptance speech after receiving the award. He said the previous family ownership feared a breakup of the company and employees losing their jobs if they sold to a buyer rather than giving control to existing staff.
“Essentially, it’s a bet — a bet that the best way for the company to survive and thrive employee-owned in the future is as we’ve always done,” Trowbridge said. “It’s an independent business that will rise to meet the challenges and confront them. With this transition behind us, it’s wonderful to be recognized as the Business of the Year.”
The publisher’s Old Farmer’s Almanac is seeking its 14th editor ahead of the departure of Janice Stillman, a 23-year veteran of the position who became the first woman in the role. In an interview after accepting the award, Trowbridge said the company is pursuing someone versatile in modern media.
“Today’s periodical editor is really not at all a print editor necessarily,” Trowbridge said. “We use print, we have a really robust website with more than 6 million visitors each month, we have e-newsletters, many calendars, digital publications and social media. When Janice took the job, it really was an all-print job and we had a nascent website at the time.”
This year’s chamber gala also heralded a new award honoring a late and revered community leader and prominent mental health advocate: Ken Jue. It’s named the Ken Jue Nonprofit of the Year Award, and it went to The Colonial Performing Arts Center.
Jue was CEO of Monadnock Family Services from 1998 to his retirement in 2011. He was also known beyond southwestern New Hampshire for his InSHAPE program, which provided those facing mental health challenges with opportunities for sociable physical exercise. He died last May at age 77, well-remembered in the region for his involvement in civic groups including the Monadnock United Way, the Keene Elm City Rotary Club and his service as a Keene Public Library trustee.
Colonial Executive Director Alec Doyle spoke on behalf of the center at Thursday’s gala, but he credited a full cast of others for the Keene venue’s inaugural claim to the award.
“This award goes to a lot of people; it goes to an amazing staff, it goes to an amazing board of directors and dozens of dozens of volunteers,” Doyle said in his speech. “... Without the support of the businesses and the individuals in this community and region, a dream like the Colonial Performing Arts Center would never succeed.”
The Colonial Performing Arts Center took on an extensive four-year renovation project of its Main Street venue in Keene, which it reopened in Keene last March. The nonprofit also introduced its Showroom space on Commercial Street after wrapping up construction in early 2022.
Doyle said The Colonial remains excited to make use of the Showroom and the renovated stage in its downtown theater and develop ideas on how to best utilize them.
“A lot of it has to do with trial and error,” Doyle said in an interview following his award speech. “We’re going through a strategic planning process right now to set a course for the future, and we’re going to be revealing that within the next six months.”
And continuing a tradition for the gala, the chamber added Susan Chollet, of Peterborough, to its list of Citizens of the Year. The chamber honored Chollet because of her leadership roles including with the Peterborough Players board of directors, N.H. Public Radio’s board and the endowment for CASA of New Hampshire. Based in Manchester, CASA of New Hampshire trains people to become court-appointed special advocates, who speak for children in courts.
Addressing the audience, Chollet said she was surprised by the award and “really, really touched” to be chosen.
“I can’t think of anything that is more important to me than this community, and by ‘this community,’ I mean Monadnock,” she said. “Most especially Peterborough, Dublin, Keene and the surrounding areas.”
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