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Grundy County Chamber of Commerce hosts awards show

From a table in the crowd, William "Clayton" and Marian Darlington watched as their son, Scott, his wife, Lois, and their grandaughter, Lilly, took the stage to accept the Entrepreneurs of the Year award from The Grundy County Chamber of Commerce.

"I'm proud as a puffed-up bear," Clayton, the original owner of Farmer's Paradise, Clayton's Tap, now just Clayton's Tap, said. "That's what I wanted, my son to take over."

Scott, who started tending bar before he was able to drink, said taking over the bar that had been in his family since 1973 wasn't always in the plans for him. In 2004, things changed.

"I was working at ComEd and didn't think I'd take over the bar," he said. "But then I got laid off and my parents were ready to retire. Things just happened in the right order."

The family was chosen by the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce to receive the Entrepreneurs of the Year award because of their commitment to the community and passion for hosting special events.

"They are very passionate about their community, hosting many special events for local not-for-profit organizations and even more passionate about their family and friends," Caroline Portlock, executive director of the chamber, said during the presentation on Thursday night to a crowd of nearly 240 people at the Morris Country Club. The dinner was hosted by Grundy Economic Development Council (GEDC) and the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

"The number of fundraisers they have hosted for people they know or friends of people they know is truly amazing," Portlock said.

Scott said the first fundraiser they held was for "Operation St. Nick Laus Inc." in Morris to help raise funds to get children Christmas presents.

"We learned from Joe Schmitz how to hold a fundraiser, and from Missy Durkin as well," he said. "Since then, we've held benefits to help many friends and community members. We just get 'er going and get 'er done."

It's not just their commitment to nonprofits that stands out. It's their commitment to growth and change and their love for downtown Morris.

They have renovated two buildings, added gathering rooms and entertainment areas, as well as hosted APA pool tournaments and Yappy Hours, happy hours for pets.

"We recently converted the laundry mat to a private room in the front," Lois said. "We didn't think we'd need that much space, but as we do more business, we've had to expand."

Scott said when he was young and stood behind the bar, he would look at the business and think about things he'd change. That's something their 6-year-old daughter Lilly now does from a stool at a table.

"I like the light up stuff and the markers to draw," Lilly said. "When I run it, I want to change it to a birthday party place, and call it Katie's Place after my cousin Katie."

The place has made changes throughout its life on Washington Street, but its past is ever present, including the bar, which was bought by former owner Hank Briscoe at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. It still graces the establishment today.

"We're huge supporters of downtown Morris, and if we are able to shop there, we do. It's totally thrived, and we are happy to be a part of it," Lois said. "As I drive around downtown Morris, I'm always amazed at what we have."

Portlock and John Adler, chamber board chairman, presented the award to the Darlingtons as well as awards for Business of the Year, Organization of the Year and Ambassador of the Year.

Business of the Year was awarded to "D" Construction, which was founded by Kenneth Sandeno in 1982.

"The company has been recognized by the Illinois Department of Transportation and many major construction publications for their work and thanked by hundreds of organizations for their philanthropic efforts," Portlock said during the presentation, "In fact, you cannot drive by a ballfield, pick up an event program or attend a fundraiser without seeint the 'D' Construction logo. Their ongoing generosity is simply amazing."

Organization of the Year went to two groups, Morris Rotary Club and the Channahon-Minooka Rotary Club for their service to the communities they serve.

"To serve and benefit the community for which it is a part" is the mission of both clubs.

When it was brought to their attention that many children in the area were going with little or no food because a school meal wasn't available on the weekend, they launched a Backpack Program.

The program provides nutritious, easy-to-prepare foods, which are sent home in backpacks on Friday to make sure the children have something to eat until they return to school on Monday.

"The Backpack programs are making a measurable difference for the students and participating schools," Portlock said. "The clubs are made up of some very dedicated men and women, and we are honored to recognize the impact they have made on the community."

Dr. Cary Ann Jenkins, president of the Morris Rotary Club, said Rotarians are proud of the Backpack program. She said they have sent home 13,000 packs of food to kids in Morris.

Lisa Allen, president of the Channahon Minooka Rotary Club, said the club currently is serving 55 children a week with the Backpack program in Minooka.

Ambassador of the Year went to Caitlin Redmond, with Twin Oaks Savings Bank.

Chamber ambassadors serve as liaisons between chamber members and chamber staff.

"They gather feedback and answer member' questions during calls they make throughout the year," Portlock said.

Caitlin believes the most important thing about being an ambassador is helping and being involved in her community.

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