Chamber of commerce honors business, community leaders

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 6, 2018

 From left, Grosse Pointe Theatre members Tim Reinman, Marie Boyle Reinman, Theresa Selvaggio, Merrie Gay Ayrault, GPT Board President Jef Fisk, GPT Executive Director Linda Zublick and Emmajean Evans gather Jan. 25 at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club for the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce Pointer of Distinction awards, for which GPT was one of the honorees.

From left, Grosse Pointe Theatre members Tim Reinman, Marie Boyle Reinman, Theresa Selvaggio, Merrie Gay Ayrault, GPT Board President Jef Fisk, GPT Executive Director Linda Zublick and Emmajean Evans gather Jan. 25 at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club for the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce Pointer of Distinction awards, for which GPT was one of the honorees.

Photo provided by Patricia Ellis

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — The Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce saluted some of the region’s best businesses, students, community leaders and institutions during its annual meeting and Pointer of Distinction awards ceremony Jan. 25 at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in Grosse Pointe Shores.

“This is really an annual celebration of what we do and all we do,” GPCC Board member Ted Everingham said, adding that the awards represent “the very best of a very great community.”

This year’s student winners, Rachel Harris and Joshua Rigotti, are both seniors at Grosse Pointe South High School, and both are accomplished academically and have been active as volunteers and in other activities.

“The quality of the nominees was outstanding,” said GPCC board member Tomasine Marx, chair of the Pointer of Distinction awards panel. “We really wish we could have picked every one.”

Community Service winner Vicki Granger, who was unable to make the ceremony, is probably best known for her work as a member of the Grosse Pointe Woods City Council — on which she has served since 1997 — but she has also been active and has held leadership roles in many nonprofit organizations, including Friends of the Grosse Pointe Library, the League of Women Voters of Grosse Pointe and the American Association of University Women.

The Excellence in Business award was given to LaLonde Jewelers & Gemologists of Grosse Pointe Farms. Everingham said owners Dan and Cindy LaLonde purchased the former Pongracz Jewelers on the Hill in 2001. The store, which opened under its original owner in 1931 at a location in the Village, is “the longest continually operated jewelry business in all of the Grosse Pointes,” Everingham said.

He said Dan LaLonde started in the jewelry business in Hawaii in the 1980s, and he has traveled extensively to places like Alaska and Polynesia to develop his expertise as a gemologist. In 2014, Everingham said, the store underwent a “massive renovation.” But besides Dan LaLonde’s deep knowledge of the jewelry and watch business, Everingham said LaLonde and his wife “have been active and involved in their community,” working on Racing for Kids to the Hill, Clambake at the Cottage and the former Winterfest on the Hill. Dan LaLonde is also president of the Hill Association.

“There’s probably 1,000 businesses in the Pointes, and many of them deserving of this, so we don’t take this lightly,” Dan LaLonde said.

He encouraged residents to shop locally.

“We are the community,” LaLonde said. “We — the residents and the businesses — make up this community. We have to work off of each other. Before you travel or buy online out of convenience … check and see if your local business offers that (good or service).”

Grosse Pointe Farms Assistant City Manager/City Clerk Derrick Kozicki said by email that the LaLondes have been a real asset to the Farms.

“As chairman, Dan LaLonde has enhanced the Hill Association’s role as one of the city’s most important economic development partners,” Kozicki wrote. “He truly has the best interest of the community at heart.”

In the midst of its 70th anniversary season, Grosse Pointe Theatre was given the Excellence in Nonprofit Activity award.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to be recognized in this way,” GPT Board President Jef Fisk said before the ceremony.

Immediate past board President Theresa Selvaggio agreed.

“Especially when we’re being recognized by the business community — it’s so validating,” she said. “We’re about arts education.”

Besides its main stage productions, GPT offers educational programs and theatrical opportunities for kids through Youth On Stage, which is directed by Merrie Gay Ayrault. GPT has also been active in other community events, such as Village activities and Relay for Life of Grosse Pointe.

“The families realize what kind of impact we make on a young child’s confidence,” Selvaggio said.

Fisk said it’s particularly inspiring for GPT to see its Youth On Stage alumni end up in GPT productions.

“Grosse Pointe Theatre has done so much for 70 years, in addition to providing exceptional theater to the community,” said GPT member Patricia Ellis. “We give back.”

Everingham said GPT has an estimated 400 volunteers and last year sold about 16,000 tickets to its shows, “breaking (their) all-time sales record.” He said GPT has made “significant continuing contributions to the quality of life in the Grosse Pointes,” offering scholarships to youths, donating or loaning costumes to Grosse Pointe schools, contributing tickets to more than 30 nonprofit organizations and participating in the Halloween event at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores.

“The Grosse Pointe Theatre organization emphasized that they are open to all,” Everingham said. “After 70 years, they’re still growing and going strong.”

Accepting the award, Fisk thanked GPT’s donors, sponsors, volunteers and local schools — University Liggett and the Grosse Pointe Public School System — for allowing GPT to stage its 2017-18 season using their facilities, after losing its longtime home at The War Memorial.

The GPCC — now in its 13th year — has added Harper Woods to its business mix. GPCC board Chair Robert Lubera, who’s also chair of the GPCC’s nonprofit Grosse Pointe Chamber Foundation, said the chamber now comprises 648 businesses.

“We want to bring more visibility and more revenue to our members,” he said. “We will continue to reach out to the community. When we work together, we can do great things.”