Strong Employees Make for Successful Businesses, Phoenix Award Winners Say

BROOKFIELD, Ohio — This year’s Phoenix Awards drew 15 nominations, and in some categories the decision was close.

The recipients are “amazing” and “top tier” of the nominees, said Olivia “Libbi” Brown, executive director of the Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce. The chamber honored the five Phoenix Awards winners last night at its 2021 Annual Dinner at the Tiffany Banquet Center.

“It was hard to choose. It ultimately came down to a vote to break a tie,” Brown said.

Two-hundred members attended the event, where five businesses were honored, as well as board members for their service to the chamber. The Phoenix Award recipients include:

  • Walberg Family Pharmacy, Innovation Award;
  • Rita’s Italian Ice, New Business Startup;
  • Dean Natural Vending, Growth Business;
  • Mercer County Community Federal Credit Union, Growth Service;
  • McGonigle Funeral Home, Beautification.

The 2021 honorees join more than 120 others who have received the award since its 2005 inception. 

Leaders from each of the businesses accepted their awards, all reiterating the secret to their success is forming a great team. Taking the podium, John Sandrea, owner of Rita’s Italian Ice, thanked his “treat team” for their work.

It’s “hiring quality people,” he said, that makes a business the best it can be.

Sandrea, a former superintendent for both the New Castle and Sharon City Schools districts, has reached out to other superintendents and principals in the Shenango Valley to check references for his younger employees. He encourages staff still in high school to participate in extracurricular activities, and tell him when they can work.

Bretton Walberg, owner of Walberg Family Pharmacy, noted the success of multiple vaccination clinics at his pharmacy throughout the pandemic. His team of 130-some employees is made up of a “very successful” workforce out of Mercer County, he said.

Staff with the pharmacy are constantly working to serve the community, often “thinking ahead,” Walberg said.

Also recognized for its service to the community was Mercer County Community Federal Union. Accepting the award was CEO Sandi Carangi.

Carangi explained the community outreach the growing financial institution provides includes a financial literacy class for high school students. One of the priorities for the credit union is ensuring young adults understand the “real life” applications they can use for the rest of their lives, she said.

Calling Dean Vending “a transplant,” company Vice President Robert Hites said he is anticipating staying the Shenango Valley “for years to come.” Helping the business grow over the last year results from an emphasis on interpersonal communication, he said.

“Customer service is detailed-oriented,” Hites said, noting that employees pay attention to every detail. Forging friendships with the customer base also helps the business to grow, he added.

Taking a different approach to take care of its clientele is McGonigle Funeral Homes. Vice President Marty McGonigle said the family-owned business focuses on taking care of loved ones during a difficult time, but also the community through aesthetics.

Next year, Brown said, the chamber is planning on getting back to business as usual pre-pandemic.

The goal is to resume four annual events: Forty under 40, the Phoenix Awards, a summer event – usually a golf outing – then the annual dinner.

Membership growth remains a priority next year, she said.

Pictured: The 2021 Phoenix Award Winners are Robert Hites, vice president of Dean Natural Vending; Bretton Walberg, owner of Walberg Family Pharmacy; Sandi Carangi, CEO of Mercer County Community Federal Credit Union; John Sandrea, owner of Rita’s Italian Ice; and Bradley McGonigle, owner of McGonigle Funeral Home.