An 88-year-old gentleman and a downtown businessman for 61 years received the Belleville and District Chamber of Commerce’s highest honor Friday night.
Gerry Bongard, a seller of bicycles, hobby items, clothing and more at Stephen Licence Ltd. in downtown Belleville since 1957 was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual President’s Dinner.
The business itself has been open downtown since Mr. Bongard’s father-in-law opened it 100 years ago.
Stephen Licence Ltd. has been in three different locations, but always between Victoria Avenue and what is now the Empire Theatre in Belleville’s core.
Gerry Bongard is still serving customers six days a week. “I’m devoted to the business. I love the people and I love helping people. Bicycles and hobbies take people away from the stress of their day to day lives. People love wandering the floor here. My theory is that the customers see the store and its products as a kind of soothing therapy.”
The Travelodge’s Windows on the Bay ballroom was filled with over 250 formally dressed members of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, with a piper bringing in several dignitaries and a top flight jazz band, Gatsby, providing musical entertainment.
Mayor of Belleville Taso Christopher swore in the Chamber’s new President, Suzanne Hunt of Templeman Menninga. In her remarks, Hunt suggested there were a couple of very important and exciting events coming up in the months ahead, those being the June provincial election and the October municipal election. “I urge Chamber members to get involved, learn about the candidates, and be sure to make your views on the issues known to them.”
Another major project to be undertaken by the new Board of Directors will be going through the national Chamber’s Accreditation process.
“We are going to have to look at everything we do, from events to membership recruiting and retention, to operations and processes. This is a rigorous process and one that means we’ll have to ask ourselves some hard questions. But the goal to is to improve the way we do things and outcomes each and every year.”
Besides the Lifetime Achievement Award, several other awards were presented at the dinner.
The following are known as Cornerstone Awards, representing important values that lead to business and personal success that benefit the wider community.
The Visionary Award is for a Chamber member who has seen an opportunity to revive or create something unique to boost the overall prosperity of the Community.
Owner of the Royal LePage Pro Alliance Realty and the Empire Theatre Mark Rashotte was the winner.
The Founder Award is presented to a member who has built a business from its beginning or has expanded an existing business.
The winner was Ross McDougall of McDougall Insurance and a former mayor of Belleville.
The Citizenship Award is for a Chamber member who has embraced the spirit of the community by their selfless acts and support to causes.
Kristin Crowe of Alarm Systems & Falcon Security was the winner.
The Mentor Award is presented to someone who, through their daily work, develops others with their leadership and guidance.
Two couples received the honour. They were Mark and Mary Hanley of Hanley Corporation and Ken and Janet Harnden of Pinnacle Music Studios.
Two of the award winners, though decades apart in age, had shared pivotal moments in their business careers.
It was Gerry Bongard who sold the original building housing Stephen Licence Inc., which had been the McCarthy Theatre on Front Street to Mark Rashotte so he could launch the Empire Theatre.
What Rashotte didn’t know at the time of the sale was that Bongard loved singing.
But eventually he learned of his passion and brought him up on the stage of the new Empire Theatre.
It was Bongard who sang the first song at the Empire, which was Bless this House.