Chamber holds meeting

Geisinger-Lewistown Chief Administrative Officer gives keynote speech

LEWISTOWN — Kirk Thomas, chief executive officer at Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital, gave the keynote speech at this year’s annual Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce meeting, held Wednesday morning at the Lewistown Country Club. During the meeting, 10 awards were given to 13 recipients. Each award presented included a senatorial letter of congratulations from Jake Corman.

Metzler Forest Products was given the Community Service award, for demonstrating achievements in public and community improvements. Executive Director of the Mifflin-Juniata United Way, Oksana DeArment, was given the Ambassador award, which celebrates an individual who has fostered a positive image of and support for the Chamber. Penn State Construction was given the Spirit of the Juniata River Valley award, which honors a business that exemplifies the qualities of honesty, fairness and ethical business practices as well as concern for its employees and customers.

Jorge Flores DeValgaz was given the Community Impact award, for his efforts to make his community a better place to live, work and retire. Burnham OIP was given the Pride award for making notable, physical improvements to its facility in the past year and Sara Buffington was given the Volunteer award, for the Adopt-A-Planter project in the Lewistown Borough.

Young entrepreneurs Kayla Zook, owner of the Square Cafe, Sayda Diaz, owner of the Guante Family Restaurant and Shane Peicht, owner of Gritwell, were each awarded the Emerging Business award and both Primary Health Network and the Holiday Inn Express were given the Community #ChooseOptimism award, for providing significant financial and human resource investment in the community.

Don Chapman Jr. was posthumously honored with a lifetime achievement award, which was accepted by his family. Champman was honored for his partnership with Mann Edge Tool, founding Brookmere Winery, co-founding Nittany Paper Mills and serving with the YMCA, Lewistown Hospital and Juniata River Valley Visitor’s Bureau. David Knox was also posthumously honored, with his daughters accepted his award. Knox was honored for his contracting and land development endeavors, including his purchase and rehabilitation of homes affected by the Juniata Terrace fire in 2014, as well as his work with the Locust Campground and volunteer efforts with the JVRVB and Festival of Ice.

Kirk Thomas, chief executive officer at Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital, stepped in at the last minute to give the keynote speech, as Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman had to cancel his participation due to a family conflict. Thomas shared with the crowd the results of a recent Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital Community Health Needs assessment, some newly added hospital staff and how Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital has grown since merging with Lewistown Hospital in 2013. Thomas also stated that the Geisinger- Lewistown Hospital School of Nursing was ranked the number three nursing school in Pennsylvania and he also spoke about the Life Geisinger and Fresh Food Farmacy initiatives, both of which will be housed in the Primary Health Network building by early summer.

Gordon Stapleton, with Quality Digital Office Solutions, was honored as the presenting sponsor this year and spoke briefly about the history of his company as well as the products and services they offer.

Rhonda Moore, executive director of the JRVCC, gave the opening and closing remarks. Moore first recognized visitors and special guests and explained the meeting’s theme this year, #ChooseOptimism. Moore said that the theme was chosen because the past year was difficult for the local community.

“After the announced closing of the Bon-Ton, we observed a very negative self-perception from many in the community,” Moore said. “They felt the Bon-Ton’s closing was somehow a reflection of our community, that we were not capable of supporting this department store. They didn’t realize that it was a company-wide decision, (that) our local store was well supported. After posting some positive messages on social media reminding residents of all the positive things happening in our community, a message was received stating that it was time to remove the rose colored glasses and get in touch with reality. There was truth to that message. I guess we were choosing to observe our community in a positive light, acknowledging that we were experiencing losses, but also many gains. The #ChooseOptimism campaign originated in the Chamber and Visitors Bureau offices (and) grew from there.”

After the keynote speech, sponsor speeches and awards, the chamber had breakfast. They then conducted chamber business by voting on reports and incoming board members and officers. Moore then gave a final report about the previous year. To date, Moore said the JRVCC has 510 members and is planning new events such as a cruise to Grand Turk and the Bahamas and hosting guest speaker Dar Williams as well as their annual Mystery Bus Tour. One new program the JRVCC plans to offer is the JRVCC Leadership Institute.

According to a brochure given to meeting participants, the JRVCC is offering the nine-month course from September 2019 to May 2020, to a maximum of 25 students who seek training that will help develop their business leadership skills. Requirements include fully participating in the team community project and only missing one of seven sessions, which range from learning how the past influences the future, how rules and regulations affect business operations and how business impacts the community. Information and the application are both available at

Moore also touched on the relationship between the JRVCC and the Mifflin County Industrial Development Corporation, the 100th anniversary gala, the inaugural women’s leadership symposium, this year’s fireworks fundraising efforts, the addition of a bus shelter in Lewistown and the monthly entrepreneurial meet-up events.

“One specific thing I have observed is the addition of so many new young entrepreneurs,” Moore said. “Many of our best and brightest are choosing to stay in the Juniata River Valley and are planting roots, opening businesses, purchasing homes and raising their families.”

Moore closed with explaining the “We noticed” campaign, an initiative that encourages property owners who are making an effort to beautify the area and reduce blight.

“Let’s do our best to look at the positives in our community,” Moore said. “We (will) continue to spread the message that there are exciting, positive things happening all over our community.”