There were no mask requirements during this year’s Genesee County Chamber Awards dinner, however, one aspect of last year’s event was brought to the podium: those 2020 award recipients who had to be recognized virtually due to COVID a year ago.
Tammy Hathaway presented the Geneseean of the Year Award to fellow Geneseean Jay Lazarony, recipient of the 2021 honor. Hathaway was one of several people touting Lazarony’s worthiness during the awards event Saturday at Batavia Downs Gaming.
After accepting a tiara from Chamber President Eric Fix, because she is “the queen,” Hathaway began a tribute to the GLOW Work Force Development Board executive director for his 25 years of working with thousands of youngsters in various roles throughout Genesee County.
“Jay is a pretty amazing human being,” Hathaway said.
Karyn Winters, director of Genesee County's Business Education Alliance, nominated him for being an "exemplary professional and volunteer," and embodying what's great about Genesee County," she said. He founded GLOW With Your Hands in 2019 and has been a "selfless, kind, motivating and fearless leader," she said.
"While his career alone warrants recognition, what truly makes Jay an admirable Geneseean is his infectious enthusiasm to mentor local youth," Winters said in her nomination.
Colleagues, staff, and program participants continued the trail of accolades via pre-recorded videos played on several screens throughout the banquet room. Jocelyn Sikorski has known Lazarony through the county’s Youth Bureau for more than 20 years, she said, and has witnessed his focus on “looking out for the best interests of youth and our families.”
“He’s a very caring and outgoing man,” she said. “I want to honor Jay and say great job, you are so deserving.”
When Lazarony applied for the executive director position seven years ago, the board made “a unanimous decision” to hire him, board member Norb Fuest said.
“He just exceeded our expectations, to say the least,” Fuest said. “Our training numbers have been some of the best in the state, a lot of that because of Jay.”
Entrepreneur Jessica Pratt, co-owner of several businesses in Genesee County, including Whole Life Fitness in Batavia, knows first-hand about Lazarony’s impact, she said. He has helped her become “the person I am today,” she said.
Lazarony thanked and acknowledged his family, wife Donna and children Christina, Scott, and Nick and his grandchildren, several colleagues within Genesee County, and his staff from the GLOW regions of Genesee, Livingston, Orleans, and Wyoming counties.
He noted a group of counselors that, during the pandemic’s social distancing requirements, turned "traditional services into a virtual system and continued to provide unemployment opportunities during a very, very difficult time,” he said.
“What I was most impressed with was the time and understanding they gave to each and every customer case with massive layoffs,” he said.
He also took a few minutes to urge the audience of at least 200 people to “give youth a chance.” He shared a story of a young man named Justin, a program participant who wasn’t sure of his abilities to pursue a job in nursing. Lazarony made him a promise that if he did all of the work, Lazarony would find the funding to help him succeed on a career path. Justin became a nurse practitioner and worked at a facility where Lazarony’s father spent his last days until he died on December 28.
Justin called the family to notify them, and his demeanor was proof that he had absorbed his lessons well, Lazarony said.
“He provided the information with dignity and respect,” Lazarony said. "Take a chance on them."
Other award recipients included:
Valle Jewelers for Business of the Year, presented by Guy Pellegríno, who grew up next door to the Valle family, he said.
“What a wonderful family,” he said. “I’m so proud to introduce you, you so earned this. I looked up to Mary and Dominic; I was so in awe.”
Owners Stephen Valle and Carrie Lawrence, along with former owner and mom Mary Valle, accepted the award. In a pre-recorded video, Mary recounted the story of the store’s humble beginnings 70 years ago. It was founded by Grandpa Dominic, who arrived in New York City with $16 in his pocket. The physical location moved from Carey Mansion to Genesee Country Mall to its current spot at 21 Jackson St., all in Batavia.
Her son Stephen added that over the years the jewelry business has changed, but “customer service has not.” He thanked the chamber, the store’s “fantastic staff” and one person who has been integral to the business’ success, his late father Dom.
“We’re missing one man,” Stephen said, taking an emotional breath. “But we know he’s smiling down on us.”
Theresa DeMars nominated Valle Jewelers for its customer service, engagement with and support of the community, steadfast participation in downtown events, and being a “fixture in our community for three generations,” DeMars said.
“Valle Jewelers is a community staple, a true family-run business, and one of our best-kept secrets,” she said in her nomination.
Alleghany Farm Services for Agricultural Business of the Year, presented by last year’s recipient L&M Specialty Fabrication.
Their business protocols pushed the company into its sixth state and garnered the attention of Jeanna Clark of M&T Bank and Farm Credit East. Clark’s nomination cited several reasons, including how the company has:
- Increased their fleet of tile plows from two to four, including a prohibitively expensive mini tile plow that fits the space constraints of vineyards and orchards
- Expanded company size and employees by 25 percent over the last two years
- Thanked and gave back to customers with a yearly Field Day
- Focused on drainage education by working with local soil and water districts
Farm Credit East also cited the company’s impressive expansion statistics and lauded it for its remaining loyalty to Genesee County with headquarters in Basom.
Company partners Drew and his son Chad Klotzbach accepted the award. The business began in the 1980s with a landscaping focus, followed by Alleghany Farm Services, which was founded by Drew and his wife Dianne in 2001.
The process is about much more than sticking a pipe in the ground to drain water from a field, Drew said. And Alleghany Farm Services has mastered that process to become one of the leaders of drainage issues in the Northeast.
Business Operations Manager Christina Fetzer acknowledged those who helped make the company a success.
“We wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for the support of the ag community and our loyal customers. Every project that we do is unique and we take pride in being able to customize a solution that will benefit each farm,” she said. “Our goal is to build long-lasting relationships with each customer to provide ongoing education, maintenance, and guidance. A large portion of our growth has been through word of mouth from our existing customer base. And for that, we are very thankful.”
Drew thanked the Chamber, the company’s employees, and the ag community.
Batavia Muckdogs for Entrepreneurial Business of the Year. Dan Ireland, representing Rochester Regional Health, commended owners Robbie and Nellie Nichols and General Manager Marc Witt for their efforts to bring “baseball back to Batavia in 2021.”
“They didn’t just bring baseball back,” Ireland said. “You revitalized it. We want to say thank you for what you did.”
Their first year at Dwyer Stadium couldn’t have gone any better, Witt said.
“The community embraced everything we threw at them,” he said. “We’re already off to a great start. We can’t wait for the first pitch in June. We found zero challenges and accomplished all our goals. Thank you to the community.”
There was a dance competition, an Alzheimer’s Walk, a Dogs Trick or Treat Halloween event, and other public happenings at the Bank Street facility, plus participation in off-site activities including the Memorial Day parade, he said. Batavia Muckdogs drew the community support, he said, including from City Manager Rachael Tabelski who “was true to her word,” and the very first team sponsor, Bill Hayes of Turnbull Heating & Cooling.
In his nomination of the Batavia Muckdogs for the award, lifelong Batavian Tom Turnbull said the city and county have been enriched because of Robbie and Nellie Nichols’ hard work and community spirit.
“While the Batavia Muckdogs may not seem like a new business due to the continuation of the name (from the former New York-Penn League), the new Batavia Muckdogs … are not only an incredible local business success story but have enhanced the quality of life for the residents of Genesee County,” Turnbull wrote.
Photos by Howard Owens. Top photo: Jay Lazarony reacts to words of tribute for him as 2021 Geneseean of the Year during Saturday's 50th Genesee County Chamber Awards dinner at Batavia Downs Gaming.
Tammy Hathaway, the 2020 Geneseean of the Year, received a tiara from Chamber President Eric Fix.
Lazarony acknowledged his GLOW Workforce Development Board staff during his acceptance speech.
Carrie Lawrence, Stephen Valle, and Mary Valle say a few words of thanks and remembrance for Valle Jewelers' Business of the Year Award.
Drew and Chad Klotzbach of Alleghany Farm Services accept their Agricultural Business of the Year Award.
Batavia Muckdogs General Manager Marc Witt and owner Robbie Nichols accept and say thank you for the Entrepreneurial Business of the Year Award.
The crowd watches speakers at the podium and on screens placed throughout the gold-adorned room at Batavia Downs.