VALPARAISO | It's been 45 years since Len Ellis suggested the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce give an annual Community Improvement Award, and Thursday a total of 21 plaques were given to various entities.
Ellis, now 84, told the crowd of about 175 attending the annual luncheon at the Valparaiso Harre Union that it was originally a traveling trophy given to one winner each year. After the fourth year, they lost the trophy, so the chamber began offering a $100 reward for its return. The offer still stands, he said.
In addition to hosting the luncheon, VU received two of the awards -- one for the Donald V. Fites Engineering Innovation Center and the other for the university's arts and sciences building.
Eric Johnson, of VU, said the Fites center's certification for energy efficiency serves as a living classroom for students to learn engineering principles while observing it in the infrastructure around them.
The award for the city's Central Park Plaza was accepted by Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas.
"We're so pleased the community loves the park already, and we look forward to expanding it over the next few years," Costas said. "We are still looking for ideas. A lot more is planned as we continue to make the downtown the coolest place in the Midwest."
Costas urged people to "invest in the city because we've got some great years ahead of us." Others who received improvement awards because they already invested in the city included:
Bargain Barn, Caribbean Pools, Excel Driving Instruction, Farm Credit Mid America, Fifth Third Bank, Horizon Bank, Kennedy Mazda, La Cabana Restaurant, North Coast Distributing, Osan & Patton LLP/Valley Kitchen & Bar, Paul Sur Buick GMC, Plaza Place, Porter Regional Hospital, Shoe Carnival, Taco Bell, Team Chevrolet and the Valparaiso Family YMCA pavilion.
The city's Historic Preservation Commission presented the annual Heritage Award for the restoration of the building at 259 Indiana Ave. Originally built in the 1850s as a foundry and later owned by McGill through the early part of the last century, the building is now owned by Valparaiso Partners.
"These community awards are some of the most important awards a community can give," Porter hospital CEO Jonathan Nalli said. "They allow us to see there is a quality of life here. With all these businesses, there is a common theme that they made investments in the community because they have pride in their surroundings."