A packed house was on hand Thursday, Jan. 26 at the iconic Little Log House Pioneer Village as the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated the past year’s success, while honoring its community award winners at its Annual Awards Dinner.
Chamber members, local officials and local residents had time to reconnect prior to the dinner. Dressing casual was required at this event, with the theme of “Denim and Dazzle.”
Award winners were Colleen Thome, Educator of the Year; Heidi Langenfeld, Volunteer of the Year; and Barb Hollenbeck of SC Toys, Business of the Year.
Chamber President Kristi Barse introduced the award winners, all receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.
In honoring Thome, Barse said, “Our teachers are a vital part of the community, and the chamber is pleased to honor the hours spent dedicating to engaging students and inspiring future leaders.”
Thome was nominated for the honor by peers and 31 parents of past and present students.
“I wish every kid in Hastings had the opportunity to have her as a schoolteacher. She shows kids how to give learning 100 percent of their attention,” Barse said, quot-School ing from one nomination.
Thome, who teaches at the Tilden Learning Center, took the podium for remarks.
“Thank you to the chamber of commerce. It’s really an opportunity to represent educators,” she said. “I know I stand here alone, but in reality, it took relationships, connections and community to shape whom I am and what I’ve been able to achieve and hopefully what I’m offering back to the community and to children.”
“Educators are in the business of children and families. I love that responsibility, and I take it very seriously. We’re not doing anything heroic, but sometimes it feels like magic. Humor is our best friend,” she said. “Eventually, these children will take their place in life and in our communities. I have a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to impact lives of children and their families. I have the privilege of working and collaborating with a diverse group of people. I continue to be influenced and shaped by the relationships and the connects and the communities that I’ve been involved in.”
She finished, “I will end with our class motto. ‘The more we know about one another, the better we can actually take care of one another.’ So, keep connecting. Keep making meaningful relationships.”
Langenfeld personifies community leadership and in her role overseeing the Hastings Pioneer Room at Hastings City Hall, where the community history is chronicled and proudly on display.
“The City of Hastings has long prioritized historic preservation as a core piece of community culture. This commitment to understanding our past in order to shape the future is only possible through the work of volunteers,” said Barse. “Heidi Langenfeld is the primary source for questions about the history of Hastings and its citizens. Fellow volunteers say that she’s hardworking, humble and extremely generous of her time. As a historian with a great depth of knowledge about Hastings, she is often called up to research particular families, events and other historical information.”
When her round of applause quieted, Langenfeld humbly accepted the award.
“I feel really honored to be representing a city like Hastings that is just packed full of volunteers, and I’m the one standing here tonight receiving this award,” she said. “The thing about volunteering in Minnesota, I feel like it’s the fluid that keeps a community going.”
She recounted stories of her, with the help of her family, cutting ice from the lake for the LeDuc Historic Estate icehouse and the connections she has made interpreting the community history.
“At the Pioneer Room, I feel there’s such a connection to the past,” she said. “We actually get pretty excited about the past and how we can share that with the community.”
She credited the help of her co-volunteers and urged more people to do it.
“I really recommend it for everyone,” she said.
Hollenbeck’s business, SC Toys, has been a mainstay in downtown Hastings for 25 years.
“Its unique offering of innovative toys has captured the attention of kids, teens and adults and provided lasting memories for multiple generations as a destination shop,” said Barse. “SC Toys brings positive exposure to Hastings’ historic downtown, attracting new customers for neighboring business.”
Barse also credited Hollenbeck’s sense of community.
“She has dedicated countless hours giving back to her community. Barb is a past city council member, a longtime leader of the Hastings Downtown Business Association and the Hastings Tourism Board. Just this past year, she has championed an Arts & Culture Commission for the City of Hastings, along with a series of summer events at city parks with programming geared toward middle school students. SC Toys is a prime example of a small business making a big impact,” said Barse.
Taking her place in the spotlight, Hollenbeck explained that SC stands for “second childhood.”
“It’s just been a blast every day,” she said. She loves helping kids of all ages find the perfect toy or gift.
“In getting so much feedback from the community, so much support, I felt it was my duty to give back and reinvest in the community. By reinvesting my time, talent and treasure into community causes that I thought were important,” she said. “I have spent 27 years in these various organizations which has allowed me to develop my personal and professional skills. It was within those great organizations that allowed me to hone my skills and become a leader to help move Hastings forward,” she said.
The past year, Hollenbeck and other volunteers spent countless hours getting the Arts & Culture Commission set up. It received final city council approval recently.
“I’m excited to see how the Arts & Culture Commission can help Hastings thrive,” Hollenbeck said. “I plan on continuing doing my volunteer work, being engaged in the community. I can’t tell you what a great honor it is to receive this award.”