Riverhead Chamber of Commerce hands out its annual awards

Hyatt Place East End
VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Robert Bugdin presents Vincent "Governor" Golembeski with the Lifetime Service Award.

“Community” was the word of the night at Friday’s Riverhead Chamber of Commerce 2011 Awards Dinner at the Hyatt Place East End.

Nearly each and every awards recipient Friday said they do what they do to make Riverhead a better place, and they couldn’t do any of it without the support of the surrounding business community.

“It’s the people that make Riverhead work,” said Chamber president Janine Nebons.

[nggallery id=265 template=galleryview]

The following is a list of those honored Friday:

Person of the Year — Dennis McDermott

Dennis McDermott opened The Riverhead Project, his third restaurant and first in Riverhead, this spring to rave reviews from a long list of media outlets, which included the New York Times.

But it’s the way he opened his business — quickly and creatively — that caught the eye of Riverhead’s Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber couldn’t help but notice how one man in five months took the corner of Maple and Main and brought it back to life,” said Tracy Stark-James, executive director of the Riverhead IDA and treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. McDermott, who recently sat down for a Q&A with our Long Island Wine Press, said Friday night that he was flattered to be recognized.

“When I first heard I was the person of the year I thought, ‘Why me?'” he said. “It’s not what I’m doing, it’s what Riverhead’s doing. I’m just happy to be a pretty face.”

Agritourism Award — Long Island Wine Council

Jamesport Vineyards owner and Wine Council president Ron Goerler remembers a time when there was just five grape growers producing wine on the North Fork.

Today we have a wine region here, with 49 wine producers belonging to the Long Island Wine Council. Over the past seven years, Long Island wine region tourism has grown from 500,000 visitors a year to 1.3 million.

No organization has helped grow Long Island Wine Country more than the Long Island Wine Council, which was founded in 1989.

But both Mr. Goerler and Wine Council executive director Steve Bate pointed out Friday that it’s the help wineries receive from other businesses in the area that means the most to them.

“What’s great about Riverhead is people coming together,” Mr. Goerler said. “It’s the vision of this community.”

Businesspersons of the Year — Matt and Gail Kar

If you live on the North Fork and you like food, it’s hard not to know who Matt and Gail Kar are. And it’s impossible to have never heard of their three businesses.

Want a great lunch on Route 25 in Jamesport? You likely go to the Jamesport Country Kitchen, which the Kars purchased nearly 25 years ago. Looking to class it up a bit at dinner time? Odds are you’ve seen the beautiful Jamesport Manor Inn. And most everyone recognizes the Kars’ Christopher Michael Catering as among the best the East End has to offer.

But it’s not just the quality of the Kars’ businesses that the chamber recognized Friday, but also the way the couple does its business.

“Matt and Gail clearly understand a business can do more for its community,” said East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder.

Like many of Friday night’s recipients, Mr. Kar acknowledged his surrounding businesses in his speech.

“It’s like Ron [Goerler] said, together as a team we can do better,” the longtime North Fork resident said.

Director of the Year — Robert Kern

When you belong to a Chamber of Commerce or any other community service group, it’s easy to butt heads from time to time with the other directors. You aren’t always going to see eye to eye, so sometimes it’s best to just speak your mind.

The CEO of the marketing company 2XS and the longtime general manager of Martha Clara Vineyards, Bob Kern has never had a problem speaking his mind at a Riverhead Chamber of Commerce meeting.

And that’s a big reason he was named Director of the Year Friday, members said.

“He hardly ever misses a meeting and he never holds back,” Ms. Nebons said.

Mr. Kern called the award and his service a “humbling experience.”

“I love the sense of community here,” he said in accepting his award. “Riverhead should be the model for other parts of Long Island. We are doing well in Riverhead.”

Gold Key Award — Riverhead Business Improvement District

The focus of many in Riverhead for years has been about the revitalization of downtown Riverhead.

One group charged with making this happen is the Riverhead BID’s 12-member board of directors, which oversees 322 parcels in the downtown district.

It’s not every year that the BID can look back in December and say the previous year has been a success. But in 2011, few would argue downtown Riverhead isn’t feeling a little more revitalized.

The chamber pointed to the BID’s efforts to host a Mardi Gras festival and its annual Cardboard Boat Race as creative ways the BID has brought consumers to downtown Riverhead.

For their efforts, the Riverhead BID was honored with the Gold Key Award Friday night.

Accepting the award was BID president Ray Pickersgill and directors Bill Allen and Tony Coates.

Mr. Coates told a story of being a bit scared of downtown Riverhead while visiting it as a kid, but how he’s grown to love his adopted hometown, which he’s seen make great strides in recent years.

“We ain’t where we want to be,” he said in his acceptance speech. “But we ain’t where we used to be either.”

Spirit of Riverhead Award — Riverhead NJROTC

For more than 35 years, the Riverhead High students who serve as NJROTC members have been doing good in the community.

The organization promotes leadership development, self discipline, physical fitness, teamwork and community service. It’s the latter that got it recognized by the Chamber of Commerce.

“These students manage to stop what they’re doing at any time, including the holidays, to attend events where they lead prayers and the pledge of allegiance,” said Ms. Nebons, who presented the NJROTC with its award.

Many of the members will go on to serve in the military, others said they have plans to attend four-year universities.

“The unit is really honored,” said commander Matthew Mulvaney, who will attend the University of Maine next year on what he hopes will be a Marine Corps. scholarship. “We take a lot of pride in our community service.”

Lifetime Service Award — Vincent ‘Governor’ Golembeski

Some people would be happy to live 67 years. For Vincent Golembeski, that’s just how long he’s served as a volunteer fireman.

The 86-year-old Polish Town resident has been awarded the department’s Top Responder award so many times, Friday night’s presenter and fellow firefighter Bobby Bugdin joked that other members of the department once took a hit out on his life.

Mr. Bugdin told a story of one time when Mr. Golembeski was responding to a call and his leg was run over by a fire truck.

“He didn’t say a word because he didn’t want to get in the way, knowing someone’s life could be on the line,” Mr. Bugdin said. So Mr. Golembeski hopped in the truck and went to the scene of the emergency.

But his injury would prevent him from winning the Top Responder award that year.

“It took him getting run over by a truck,” Mr. Bugdin joked.

When it came time to accept his award, Mr. Golembeski said just six words. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Said Mr. McDermott: “That was the best speech of the night.”

[email protected]