GREENVILLE - The Darke County Chamber of Commerce held their annual meeting on Wednesday, highlighting some of their successes over the past year, announcing the 2014 Chamber Citizen of the Year, and welcoming Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine as their guest speaker.
A big push for 2014 has been a campaign that started out focused on drugs in the workplace, but has expanded to include drugs in Darke County, a growing problem. For their efforts, the Darke County Chamber of Commerce was selected as the recipient of the 2014 Best Advocacy Campaign award, said Matt Aultman, chairman of the Darke County Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
Mike Williams, owner of The Winery at Versailles, was named the 2014 Chamber Citizen of the Year. Williams was born in St. Marys, Pa., where he “grew up poor,” he said.
“It was a great privilege, growing up poor,” Williams said as he accepted his honors. “It taught me a lot, including that sometimes, your circumstances are not of your making…You need to reach down, and give the guy behind you a hand.”
Williams was selected as the 2014 Chamber Citizen of the Year because of his willingness to do just that; Williams has hired several employees who have a criminal history, helping them to become successful members of the workforce, said Mike Henderson, 2013 Chamber Citizen of the Year, who introduced Williams.
Along with helping to rehabilitate convicted criminals, Williams has been a generous father figure of his winery family, establishing a loan fund for employees who have fallen on hard times, and enabling them to help each other in the process, Henderson noted.
The Winery at Versailles, along with the Williams’ winery in Pennsylvania, also donate to charitable causes including breast cancer research. The Williams’ motto for their business is “Do well, do good, have fun,” and that’s what they will continue to do, Williams noted.
Along with recognizing the 2014 Chamber Citizen of the Year, the Darke County Visitor’s Bureau was able to recognize the 2014 Tourism Citizen of the Year, Gloria Keller-Brinley, manager, The KitchenAid Experience.
“When I think of someone who brings people to Darke County, this person stands out. Like the incredible equipment she sells, she’s a ‘mixer’… she gets people in and around the community,” said Keller-Brinley’s nominator.
The Tourism Citizen of the Year is someone who “looks first at what they can do for tourism within Darke County.” They work or volunteer in a manner that attracts visitors from more than 30 miles away, said Aaron Moran, vice president of the Darke County Visitor’s Bureau board of trustees; the award recognizes someone who has expressed leadership and support in their community, which Keller-Brinley has done since childhood as a Greenville resident.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine was the guest speaker for the luncheon, touching on his duties as the attorney general, acting lawyer for every public entity in Ohio, and the efforts being undertaken to make Ohio a safer and better place to live.
DeWine specifically focused on his challenge, as an elected official, to “change the climate” of where he works, which he said has come in the form of faster results, and the crime labs taking more initiative to reach out to law enforcement to lend a hand in analyzing evidence, he said. One example he gave was the testing of rape kits, sent from local police to regional crime labs, the process used to take up to 125 days, it now takes just 22, he said.
“We have been able to change the culture,” DeWine said. “…Bureaucracy is slow, it doesn’t have to be that slow, we can change it.”
The labs were able to cut out 100 steps of what used to be a 180-step process to test a rape kit, DeWine noted, now it takes just 80, and that’s important to ensuring the safety of Ohio’s citizens, being able to catch the bad guys sooner, getting them off the streets, he said.
“Getting them off the streets and keeping faith with the women victimized by the rapist, and for 15 years, victimized by the system,” DeWine said of their increased ability to identify and capture serial rapists who committed their crimes up to 20 years ago.
DeWine also touched on the state-wide efforts to reduce drug abuse in Ohio, something that the Darke County Chamber of Commerce has been focused on; DeWine said that when he was the county prosecutor of Greene County, “we expected heroin not to be a problem in our county.” Last year, he reported, there were more than 1,000 heroin-related deaths in Ohio.
The solution, he said, is “not easy.” DeWine has begun a unit specifically geared toward tackling the heroin problem because “we can’t arrest our way out of this,” he said. It’s a “cheap product, as easy to get as a pizza, and it costs about the same,” DeWine noted of heroin, which is produced in Mexico and makes its way to Ohio and beyond through their drug cartels.
DeWine said the heroin unit is focused on education and prevention, and staffed by passionate employees, mothers who have lost their teenage children to the drug, he said.
“We supply someone who will work with counties to help bring education…They bring a passion to it,” DeWine said. Local grassroots efforts, such as the one being undertaken by the Darke County Chamber of Commerce, are the heart of the effort, and do more to bring every segment of the community to the fight, he said.