Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce marks 100 years of service

Sean Mace and Judy Diogo, right, present the Economic Development Achievement Award to Jennifer Cohan, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Transportation. (Submitted photo/CM Baker Photography)

DOVER — Back in 1919, what would become one of the state’s most prominent business associations humbly established itself as the Dover Chamber of Commerce.

Setting out to promote the civic, industrial, commercial, agri-business and social interests of the community, the small group grew and evolved over time. Eventually merging with the Smyrna-Clayton Chamber of Commerce, and more recently, with the city of Harrington Business Association, it became the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce (CDCC).

The organization celebrated that 100-year history at its annual Awards for Excellence Dinner held at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino Thursday evening.

Hundreds of business leaders, entrepreneurs, delegates and politicians turned out for the event, packing the Rollins Center ballroom. As is their custom at the annual dinner, the CDCC distributed various awards to their community partners, outstanding volunteers and board members and gave a “State of the Chamber” address.

Providing the update, CDCC board of directors chairman and Eden Hill Medical Center Vice President Sean Mace heralded 2019 as a year of high engagement.

“Our retention average for this year was 96 percent and our average membership number for the year is 876 members,” he said. “The membership engagement number was up at 78 percent this year and I’m really proud to say that we’ve again been awarded a five-star accreditation.”

Shane Breakie, left, Incoming CDCC board chairman, thanks outgoing chairman Sean Mace during the passing of the gavel Tnursday night at Dover Downs’ Rollins Center.

According to the United States Chamber of Commerce — the accrediting body — just over 200 chambers of commerce nationwide (out of over 7,000) have received the five-star distinction.

At the end of the event, Mr. Mace formally stepped down from his role as chairman and passed the gavel to Shane Breakie, assistant vice president of Chesapeake Utilities. Mr. Breakie, formerly the vice chairman, will now serve as the CDCC’s leader on the board of directors.

Standouts of the year

Nominating Harvest Ridge Winery, Parkview RV Center and Shore United Bank for the 2019 Small Business of the Year award, the CDCC chose the Marydel-based winery for the distinction.

In business for about five years, Chuck Nunan got his start making wine in his basement in 1995. Eventually, Mr. Nunan was inspired to purchase farmland in Marydel in 2005, which he decided to turn into Harvest Ridge Winery. The name Harvest Ridge was the original name of the farm and was retained for the winery. The first vines were planted in 2011 were Chardonnay, Viognier, Malbec and Merlot.

The winery opened to the public (as Delaware’s fourth winery) in November 2013. Starting with only two full-time and seven part-time employees, the business has grown to need 10 people full-time and 30 part-timers.

According to the winery, they sold approximately 7,000 cases of wine and cider in 2018 and hope to increase that to 8,000 cases this year.

The Delaware State Housing Authority, Johnny Janosik World of Furniture and The Modern Maturity Center were nominated for the 2019 Large Employer of the Year. The CDCC awarded it to the Dover-based senior center.

Modern Maturity Center was named Large Employer of the Year.

Modern Maturity Center has sat on 1121 Forrest Ave. in Dover for 50 years.

The center’s stated mission is to provide programs and services that “enhance the quality of life, with respect and dignity, for individuals age 50 and older.” The have 58 full-time employees and 186 part-time workers.

The nonprofit notes that it had an annual operating budget of $6.7 million last year.

In a tight race for 2019 Young Professional of the Year, Fifer Orchards’s program coordinator Jessica Yocum was selected for the honor. The other nominees were Kelly Hurd, a CPA/supervisor with Faw Casson, and Ashlee Walker, a manager with Dover Federal Credit Union.

Ms. Yocum, a native Delawarean, has worked for Fifer Orchards for 12 years. She’s responsible for planning, coordinating and implementing the Wyoming grower’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program. She also maintains and cultivates partnerships with local businesses, organizations and schools on behalf of the orchard. In the coming years, she hopes to expand the CSA, which is a direct partnership with the consumer to providing fresh and local fruits and vegetables via a weekly membership.

Lifetime achievement

Though it’s not an award given every year, John Fleming — district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Delaware Office — was on hand to give the 2019 Lifetime Achievement award to Judy Diogo. Ms. Diogo, the CDCC president, received a standing ovation while getting the honor last Thursday night.

Harvest Ridge Winery was named Small Business of the Year.

After working at the Milford Chamber of Commerce for 10 years, Ms. Diogo joined the CDCC in 2005.

“On the 100th anniversary of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, we couldn’t think of a better person to honor than our own Judy Diogo,” said Mr. Fleming.

“After becoming president, she quickly got the chamber accredited with the five-star rating and has maintained it as the only accredited chamber in the entire state. She’s really made a difference.”

Saying she’s “humbled” to receive the award, Ms. Diogo deferred to the support of her family and the opportunity to work with alongside “great” people.

“My parents taught me that you can do anything you want. You just have to be willing to work really hard to do it,” she said.

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