Huntingburg Chamber honors community members and businesses creating the next generation of leadership

Sourced from Dubois County Free Press

About 180 people left the Huntingburg Event Center after lunch Thursday with a chicken-themed song playing through their heads.

Moments before most had been standing and singing while making like a chicken with flappy arms and shaking booties as storyteller Mary Jo Huff led them through the end of her presentation at the 2017 Huntingburg Chamber Luncheon.

It all fit the theme for this year’s event which honored community members and businesses making lasting impacts for the children in Huntingburg.

Huff’s enthusiastic and erratic presentation on engaging children kept the crowd enthralled as she demonstrated teaching techniques using sock puppets, flyswatter faces and songs. She challenged those attending to let go of themselves and have fun being creative while engaging children. Her message; it’s easy, it’s cheap and it’s important because they are the future of the community.

Along with thanking the members of the local chamber and espousing the year’s accomplishments—nine ribbon cuttings, funds raised through Gardengate Jazz Festival hitting $35,000 to support downtown as well as their increasing membership—the meeting is a chance for the Chamber to recognize individuals in the community.

Annually, the Chamber honors a community member with the Gold Leaf Award but this year, the chamber added two new awards, Business of the Year and the Next Generation of Leadership award.

In building up to the theme for the event, incoming Chamber Board President Jan Renner announced Gary and Kathy Haller as the Gold Leaf Award recipients for 2017.

The Gold Leaf Award honors individuals who have demonstrated exemplary volunteer efforts or outstanding professional leadership. They have shown creativity, vision, leadership, and citizenship by providing service to programs and activities that positively impact the welfare of the Huntingburg community.

The Hallers were recognized for their volunteer efforts in the community as well as their roles in creating a quality daycare facility in Huntingburg. The establishment of A Kid’s Place was largely led by Kathy who as a new member of the community recognized a need for childcare.

“When we moved here, my dad was dying and I had three babies under the age of two and no ability to have childcare,” Kathy said. “I had a master’s in early childhood development and I really saw the need for our community to have a daycare.”

She added that staff members with Gary’s dental practice also had problems finding childcare. “We saw those needs and it was a motivation for me,” she said. “I hated fundraising but this was something necessary. It wasn’t about me anymore.”

In addition to her work to establish A Kid’s Place, Kathy has also served as the president of Holland PTO, Committee Chairman for Southridge Post Prom for 10 years, board member of Huntingburg Youth Board, board member of Huntingburg Museum Board. She has served on Salem United Church of Christ Church Council; the president of EngAGE Committee for Huntingburg and currently teaches Bible Study at Salem United Church of Christ.

Gary admitted his wife was more deserving of the award than he was due to her extensive list of volunteer activities in the community. He actually expected her to be the recipient and was surprised he was included in the award presentation.

But he has an extensive list of volunteerism as well. Among other things, Gary received The Sagamore of the Wabash award in 2016. He has been involved with the Huntingburg Foundation and the Huntingburg Event Center Board. He has been a member of Kiwanis; served as the Salem Church Council president and been a part of the Salem Investment Committee. He operated a dental practice for 28 years and sat on the Indiana Dental Board for nine years.

“I think volunteering draws other people into volunteer as well,” Gary explained about the benefits of their community efforts.

“You don’t always see the benefits of volunteering immediately, but there is always a return,” Kathy added.

Further establishing the theme for the day, A Kid’s Place received the first Huntingburg Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year award. Established in 1991, the organization celebrated 25 years of operation last August.

The nonprofit has the capacity for up to 102 children and currently has 93 children They operate a school-age program at Salem United Church of Christ serving children ages 5 through 12 and it is almost full as well.

A Kid’s Place has national accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The designation means they provide the highest quality care recognized on the national level. They continue to improve their offerings through participation in nutritious meals programs and providing further educational opportunities for their employees. They are an active participant in the Teacher Education and Compensation Helps program which provides scholarships for their staff to obtain their degrees in Early Childhood Education.

Finally, Al Mihajlovits was honored with the inaugural Next Generation of Leadership award for his long history of supporting youth in the community as well as programs to help build leaders. The Huntingburg Chamber established the award in Mihajlovits’ name to honor his tireless efforts to cultivate the next generation of leaders.

Mihajlovits retired last year after working in education for 43 years. He started as a teacher before becoming an administrator He eventually ended up as the Southridge Middle School principal. Mihajlovits admitted he never wanted to be principal at the middle school and even looked at the job as a one-year sidebar to moving up to the high school. However, he connected with the middle schoolers and realized how important those three years were to the formation of students heading off to high school and on to life.

That one year turned into 23.

He also established Southridge’s Wrestling Program and is a member of the Indiana Wrestling Hall of Fame. Through the years he has served the community in many capacities whether it has been part of Kiwanis, the Optimist Club, or his 30 years on the Dubois County Park Board. He is a huge proponent of the Southwestern Indiana Junior Achievement which he has served for 20 years.

After retiring as principal, he became the assistant superintendent and then served as transportation director before returning to principal Holland Elementary School for his final year.

These days Mihajlovits mentors 17 administrators in Southern Indiana as a member of the State Principal’s Association.

Mihajlovits said he was humbled by the award and was completely surprised when it was announced.

“Enjoy what you do and stay with it if you truly enjoy it,” he told the crowd in accepting the award. “When I walked out the door, I had enjoyed the last minute as much as I did the first minute.”

“Leadership is not getting people to follow you, it is creating opportunities for people to lead also,” he said.