Politicians get jabbed, local student wins Youth Citizen of the Year
BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
The Welland/Pelham Chamber of Commerce held its annual Ruby Awards ceremony, which recognizes outstanding members of the local business community, at Lookout Point Country Club last Friday. The event was advertised as black-tie-optional, and most exercised the option. The club even extended a 15-foot red carpet outside its main doors. There were no paparazzi waiting alongside it, though there were plenty of photographers inside in addition to the funhouse-mirror photo booth that was present for the enjoyment of attendees.
The evening began just as the sun was setting, and many went straight through the clubhouse, out the back doors to the empty patio, to take photographs overlooking the golf course.
“Make sure you get Toronto in the background,” said one woman to her friend, who was taking her picture.
“I think that’s Niagara Falls,” the friend said.
“Ah, yes, you’re right,” the woman said. “I thought that the CN Tower looked smaller.” She took her phone back from her friend and put it in her purse. “Anyway, let’s go back inside. It’s getting cold.”
Attendees lined up at several food stations. There was a table full of salad plates, each with a single piece of battered fish, tomato, and avocado on top of a flour tortilla. There was a poutine station, which appeared to encourage the filling of sundae goblets with french fries and gravy. There were several other spreads.
At last, everyone was called into a main dining room and instructed to be seated. The sun had sunk below the horizon by then and the windows were filled only with reflections and none of the previous vista. The night’s Master of Ceremonies, Kevin Jacobi, was introduced by an official from the Chamber of Commerce.
“For everyone here, and for the audience watching on the Cogeco feed, I have a disclaimer: the opinions expressed by Mr. Kevin Jacobi tonight in no way reflect the beliefs or positions of the Welland/Pelham Chamber of Commerce.” The crowd laughed, seemingly unsure whether this was a joke.
When Jacobi came to the microphone, it soon became evident that it was not.
“Does anyone actually watch the Cogeco stream later, just to see if they were on TV?” he said. No one raised a hand. “Ah,” he continued, looking at Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn. “Just you, Mayor Dave.”
Augustyn soon had his own turn at the podium, during which he welcomed all to Pelham for the evening. Next up was Niagara Centre MP Vance Badawey, who thanked Augustyn and called him “a politician with great integrity,” saying that, “There are so many great things going on in Pelham.”
Badawey admitted that he was feeling a little woozy after just arriving from Ottawa, but at great length expressed his thanks to the community-minded individuals nominated for Ruby Awards.
The last politician to speak was Welland Mayor Frank Campion, who likewise thanked Augustyn for allowing Wellanders onto his turf for the ceremony.
“I promised that most of us will be gone by two in the morning,” Campion joked.
Finally it was time for the awards to be announced, and the same Chamber of Commerce official who provided the disclaimer on Jacobi also said that when winners first received their awards, they wouldn’t be allowed to take them back to their seats. “We don’t want anyone to leave early,” he said.
Jacobi announced the winner of the first category, Employee of the Year, as Joseph Pimentel of Modern Vision Mixed Martial Arts. The second award, for community service, was given to Mary Dolan, who has long volunteered for numerous organizations in Welland.
“I’m so proud of everyone that helps me,” said Dolan during her speech. “I’m seventy-six, and I keep on doing this, with all the help. I have seven people on my team—and they’re all related!” When Jacobi asked her what her future plans were, she said, “I sure don’t want to be a politician like those guys,” gesturing to where the politicians were sitting.
There were three Pelham students nominated for the Youth Citizen of the Year Award. It was won by Julia Labricciosa, a Grade 12 student at E.L. Crossley Secondary School. Jacobi joked that this award always makes him wonder what he’s done with his life, and after Labricciosa spoke, his potential regret was not allayed.
“The most important thing is to think globally and act locally,” she said. When Jacobi asked what a day in her life was like, she replied that she typically begins with rowing at five in the morning, and doesn’t stop with other activities until she goes to sleep.
“I guess there’s no point in asking your favourite TV show,” said Jacobi, as he trailed off. The crowd laughed, and Labricciosa smiled.
Jacobi announced the winners from a podium on one half of the stage, then join the winners on the other side, where he would engage in a brief Q&A. This process took time, and Jacobi acknowledged this as paced in front of the stage while Labriciossa returned to her seat.
“I know we’re losing minutes when I walk around,” he said, and then held up his wrist. “But I’m wearing my FitBit tonight, and after two more awards I’ll get a nanaimo bar.”
Jacobi then spoke with Lisa Allain, winner of the Venture Niagara award, given to an extraordinary woman who has owned a small business for at least a year.
Allain’s speech quickly became serious.
“A year ago, I didn’t think that I’d be here,” she said. She explained that she had once been a nurse, but had been in a severe car accident that had left her in the hospital for months. Just as she was rehabbing her injuries, she started to have intense headaches and seizures, and was subsequently diagnosed with a brain tumour.
“And at that point, my ex-husband decided to cheat on me,” she said, to an already-silent crowd. “It was hard to start picking up the pieces.”
Allain, who won the award for her baking business, Talent 2 Design, said that she was making a cake for her son using a mix, when he told her just to use her own recipe. When she had finished, the room gave her a standing ovation.
Jacobi was choked up. “Well, I’ve got to lighten things up,” he said. “We’re going to play a game. I’ll give you a person in this room, and you tell me what kind of cake they’d be. Let’s start with…Mayor Dave.”
Allain smiled weakly.
“Who’s Mayor Dave?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” said Jacobi. “Ha. That’s all right. You’re from Welland. Mayor Dave is the Mayor of Pelham, sitting right there. He was first elected when he was twelve years old—he’s sort of the eternal boy scout.”
Allain looked at Augustyn, who was wearing an orange bow tie.
“Ah,” she said. “I think I’ve seen you before, because I remember you wearing a bow tie then too. So your cake would be a bow tie cake, maybe with two layers.”
Amidst the crowd’s guffawing, Jacobi moved on.
“The person you probably heard the most from was MP Vance Badawey, whose two-minute speech went on for like an hour forty,” he said, looking at Badawey, whose speech was substantially longer than those of anyone else.
“Well,” said Allain. “I just finished doing some Harry Potter cakes, which said, ‘Never would I lie’ on the tops. So I think that this would be fitting for a politician.”
Everyone laughed again, though a few grimaced, too.
Jacobi made reference to the game gag a couple of other times throughout the awards. When giving the Small Business Award to Textile Waste Diversion, he said, “I won’t even ask what sort of textile waste Badawey would be.” And near the end of the night, when Black Sheep Lounge owner Lucas Spinosa was given the Business Initiative Award, Jacobi asked Spinosa what sort of coffee bean Augustyn would be.
“A very beautiful one,” said Spinosa gamely, and Jacobi smiled too, perhaps pleased that his humour had managed to become less biting as the end approached.
When it really was the end, and the winners were about to receive their prizes for good this time, Jacobi finished even more softly.
“Thank you for coming to such a great event,” he said. “One that celebrates the best of what Welland and Pelham have to offer. This part of the night is over, but please…the bar is still open.”
Many people heeded his suggestion and shuffled out to line up at the bar, watching the winners take photos, but more walked straight past the line, over the red carpet, and back to their cars.