Redwood Area Chamber celebrates Annual Gala with Virtual Gala Week, Visionary Awards


The Redwood Area Chamber & Tourism Visionary Awards are prestigious honors, and recently, Redwood Area Chamber & Tourism celebrated their 24th Annual Gala with Virtual Chamber Gala Week, and presented the first in a series of Redwood Area Chamber Visionary Awards.

With the current StaySafeMN Executive Orders and event guidelines, the Chamber Board decided to go virtual with their 2021 Chamber Gala, their largest fundraiser of the year. The much-anticipated and traditionally well-attended annual event financially supports the Chamber’s ongoing business educational events and advocacy work on behalf of local businesses.

One of everyone’s favorite parts of the Gala is recognizing community members with Visionary Awards. These special awards receive nominations by the public and are intended to recognize an individual or individuals or a non-profit that has followed their vision by getting off to a successful start in their career or mission, and also gives of themselves—their time and talents, and their resources—to our community in such a way that the entire community benefits.

Top left: Recognized as 2021 Rising Star is Matt Smith (center). The award was presented by Valerie Stephens (left), 2017 Shining Star and Rhonda Kerkhoff, 2018 Shining Star. Right: 2021 Shining Stars are Lonnie and Larry Leske (center). The award was presented by 2013 Shining Star, Robin Stegner (left) and 2013 Shining Star Scott Larson. Bottom: 2021 Star Educator Award recipients are music educators Collin Stephenson, Paul Berggren, and Derek Bebeau. The awards were presented by, from left: 2016 Hidden Gem Jeannie Uhlenkamp, 2020 Rising Star Anna Thomes, Co-Nominator Tami Riley and 2018 Ag Star Lisa Orren.

At the time of publishing, three Visionary Award Categories had been announced and presented. Watch the upcoming editions of the Redwood Gazette for more award winners.

Rising Star 2021

The Visionary “Rising Star” Award is reserved for a Chamber member who has been a leader in the business community for five years or less. Congratulations to Matt Smith, the 2021 Redwood Area Chamber Rising Star.

After retiring from the Minnesota State Patrol a few years ago, Smith started his own business in Redwood Falls as a financial advisor for Edward Jones Investments. The Redwood Falls community is very important to him and he is active in many organizations and causes, including Rotary International and the Giving Back Jail & Bail fundraiser. He was a past Rotary Co-President and has continued to lead by assisting the current President during the pandemic. Smith also serves on the Redwood Falls City Council. 

Shining Stars 2021 

 The Visionary “Shining Star” Award is reserved for a Chamber member who has been a leader in the business community for six years or more. Congratulations Larry Leske and Lonnie Leske, 2021 Redwood Area Chamber Shining Stars.

Larry and Lonnie Leske’s dedication to the community has spanned many years. Larry’s been known to take his pharmacy business “on the road” to visit senior housing residents to give them flu shots over the years, but in the fall of 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Larry went above and beyond for his clients. During the pandemic, many many hours of research and paperwork was accomplished to best prepare for being able to administer the COVID-19 vaccination, when allowed.

Lonnie’s dedication history includes being active in many community organizations, including successful Habitat for Humanity causes, in addition to the many ways she keeps things running smoothly at their pharmacy business. These two shining stars are also active in their church community, and have been busy with the First United Methodist Church readers group—reading to Reede Gray Elementary students, virtually, through the pandemic.

Star Educators 2021 

The Visionary “Star Educator” Award has been awarded annually since 2019 to an educator who is making a significant positive impact on youth in the Redwood area, as well as influencing others in the field of Education. Congratulations to Paul Berggren, Collin Stephenson, and Derek Bebeau, 2021 Redwood Area Chamber Star Educators.

The trio of Paul Berggren, Collin Stephenson, and Derek Bebeau of the Redwood Valley HS/MS Music Department has accomplished a lot together this year. Against many odds, these three Star Educators did the almost unheard of this year in high schools in Minnesota—planned, prepared, and successfully executed a Band and Choir Concert during Covid! Plus, with Bebeau being new, Berggren and Stephenson’s genuine sense of teamwork and welcoming attitude has helped these three really gel together, which certainly benefits the amazing Cardinal music department. These three educators are making a difference in their student’s lives, encouraging the love of music and strengthening the long standing tradition of excellence in the music department of Redwood Valley HS/MS.