HAVERHILL — The Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce recognized its 12 Business of the Month award winners for 2018 and presented its annual awards, including Business of the Year and Volunteer of the Year during its 28th Annual Business Awards Breakfast on Friday.
During the event, which was held at the Atkinson Country Club and which drew about 250 people, the Chamber introduced two new special recognition awards.
The first recipients of the new John E. Ratka award, to be presented annually to a veteran or veteran-owned business, were Ratka's sons, Ryan and Jake Ratka of Salem, New Hampshire. Their father, longtime director of Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill who served 26 years in the U.S. Navy, died recently following a short illness.
City Council President John Michitson was the first recipient of the Chamber's new "President's Citation for Innovation Award," to be presented annually to an individual who "shares the Chamber's vision for business growth through the lens of innovation and entrepreneurship."
Chamber President Dougan Sherwood kicked off the event saying the city is headed in the right direction.
"I have every expectation that the Chamber will be a thought leader on issues of diversity, equity and inclusivity, supporting the entire Haverhill community and bridging all the neighborhoods across the city," he said. "If you put aside the morality of any one issue, there are countless economic benefits to our being current with today's values in these areas."
The event's emcee, Ron Carpenito, presented the Chamber's Volunteer of the Year award to Jeff Grassie, who along with his wife, Lisa Marzilli, organize the annual Haverhill Farmers Market.
Covanta Energy was named the Chamber's Business of the Year.
Carpenito, presented the award to Mark Van Weelden, Covanta's business manager for sustainable solutions.
State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, stepped up to the podium to remember Ratka, who worked tirelessly to provide veterans with housing and other services.
Campbell contrasted her military service, which included more than 30 jumps as an Army paratrooper, with that of Ratka, who served beneath the sea as a submariner and achieved the rank of Command Master Chief.
"How they do what they do I will never understand," she said about Ratka's service on a submarine. "He was the guy, on the submarine, that the commander went to and said, something's not working ... fix it, and fix it now.
"There's no doubt that having this responsibility for that long, took a toll on John's health," Campbell added. "The fact that he chose to work with veterans after he did that job is something I think is totally amazing. The job that John did, working with veterans, took a tremendous amount of patience."
Ratka's sons, Ryan, 29, and Jake, 24, stepped up to the podium to standing applause and accepted the award honoring their father.
"We know how much he loved doing what he did," Ryan said. "We know how much this would mean to him."
Sherwood told the crowd that John Michitson was the inspiration for the Chamber's new Innovation Award.
"John has an earnest belief in Haverhill," he said in welcoming Michitson to the podium, noting that as City Council president, Michitson is "always in the hot seat."
Michitson told the crowd that his priority as a city leader is to draw innovation economy business and jobs to Haverhill, saying a good job is the best social program.
"It leads to a fulfilling life away from crime and supports a stronger and more supportive home environment for children leading to better outcomes in school," he said, noting that jobs, schools and public safety are the fundamental building blocks to a better quality of life.
Michitson said his current focus is to connect Haverhill and Merrimack Valley manufacturers to the global innovation ecosystem, saying Haverhill can become an advanced manufacturing destination for innovation hubs, such as Boston's Seaport and Cambridge's Kendall Square.
Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce business awards
Business of the Year -- Covanta Energy
Education -- Bradford Christian Academy
Family Owned Business -- Driscoll Funeral Home
Health care -- Holy Family Hospital
Manufacturing -- RAM Printing Inc.
Pioneer of the Year -- Haverhill.biz
Restaurant -- Maria’s Family Restaurant
Retail/Wholesale -- Carter’s Ice Cream
Rookie of the Year -- The Switchboard
Service for Not-for-Profit -- Merrimack Valley Music & Arts
Service for Profit -- Bradford Country Club
Technology & Innovation -- Creatorpult Makerspace
Women in Business -- Elisabeth Brady, Modern Woodmen of America
Art and Culture -- Dale Rogers Studio
Rising Star -- Scott Brandolini, Hard Body Meals
Volunteer of the Year -- Jeff Grassie, Haverhill Farmers Market.
Business of the Month awards for 2018: Machie Designs; CEO: Clean Energy Organics; The Inside View; Black Tie Limousine; Boys & Girls Club of Greater Haverhill; Covanta Energy; Riverside Cycle; Access Tent; Bradford Place Cafe; Maria’s Family Restaurant; Phoenix Rising UCC, and the Haverhill Medical Offices of Anna Jaques Hospital.