Gardner Chamber celebrates accomplishments during annual dinner

Gardner experienced a significant amount of growth in 2022, especially with new businesses, chamber officials said during Thursday’s Gardner Chamber of Commerce annual dinner at Warren Place.

“We couldn’t do what we do without the additional support of our community champions and community builder investors who go above and beyond in their financial support of the chamber,” Jason Lieb, chamber president, said.

Lieb recognized Gold Sponsors Central Bank of the Midwest, TradeNet publishing, Arvest Bank, Olathe Health, Trails West Ace Hardware, Mid-America Bank, the City of Gardner. Others were recognized as strategy builders and organizers Strategy Market and Tech Agency, Cosentino’s Price Chopper, Warren Place Venue, Security First Title, Johnson County Community College, Central National Bank, Hampton Inn Conference Center and Excelligence Learning Corporation.

“Thank you to our members and especially the awardees, you are the star of the show tonight,” Lieb said.

Lieb reflected on his time as chamber president and the organization’s plans for the future. The chamber’s mission, he said, was made up of three pillars: be a catalyst for business growth, convene with leaders and influencers and champion for a stronger community.

“Our commitment to helping businesses thrive has continued to thrive with revamped and new events,” he said.

Lieb said that during the year, the chamber continued to partner with the school district and local businesses. Internally, the chamber itself had renovated its office space.

“We have also coordinated nearly two dozen ribbon cuttings with Mayor (Todd) Winters for new, renovated or relocated businesses,” he said.

Lieb said the chamber had also provided letters of support for businesses seeking grant funding, published GE Magazine as well as moving the City Wide Garage sale listings to digital.

“Our reach has expanded to more people from outside the area to shop at both our sales and local businesses,” he said.

Lieb said officials are starting to results of the seeds planted with the city’s downtown plans, and also recognized the city’s growth east of Interstate 35 and along the southern edge of Gardner Road.

“We look forwarding to partnering with the city to make it easier for new and expanding businesses to form and grow in Gardner,” he said. “Thank you to everyone in the room. You all have embraced and supported me since the day I started here, and I am incredibly grateful for your welcome. It makes me even more determined to do all I can to continue to move this community forward.”

The chamber recognized Warren Place venue for the Small Business Spirit Award.

“The small business spirit award recognizes (a) small business that embodies the spirit and innovation of entrepreneurship, individual initiative and community involvement,” Lieb said. “The winner will be chosen on the use of innovation strategies, enthusiasm for industry and contributions to the community. This is a relatively new award inspired by former board member and Planet Sub owner Dan Weiss.”

Established a few years ago, Warren Place, Lieb said, took on the challenges of a massive remodeling project and business launch during the height of the pandemic.

“It has cleared these hurdles and brought a successful and unique business to downtown Gardner,” he said.

Steve Hines, president of the Gardner Rotary Club and owner of Groundhouse Coffee, presented the 2023 Citizen of the Year Award to Melissa Prins, owner of the nonprofit, The Hope Market, located at 233 E. Main St.

“I am particularly proud tonight to be a member of the Gardner Rotary Club and co-sponsor of the Citizen of the Year,” he said.

Hines said the Citizen of the Year award is presented to an individual who has made a note-worthy contribution to the Gardner area during the previous year or over several years.

“They demonstrate their commitment to the community through their work and volunteer service,” he said. “And they serve as a role model for others. Finally, they demonstrate a high ethical standard.”

Hines said the Rotary Club was founded on the idea of service above self.

“That’s why as a club we are particularly excited about this year’s recipient,” he said. “According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 10 percent of the U.S. population is food insecure, and that rate nearly triples for low income households. While there are several services here locally that help serve those in need, one person stood out in making her personal mission to ensure our Gardner area residents experiencing these challenges have their needs met with dignity.”

As Rotary president, Hines said he understood the challenges of organizing volunteers.

“Herding cats is the term that comes to mind,” he said. “She does it continuously with great success while also managing unique fundraisers to help stock the shelves at Hope Market.”

Prins said she was in shock when her name was announced.

“We opened the Hope Market in 2020 during the height of the pandemic,” she said. “And it was amazing to see how Gardner rallied behind us.”

Prins said she and her husband started the Hope Market by storing food in their basement, carrying it up, loading it into a truck and taking it to the ARC (Community Space) every other Friday for a year before they found their current space on Main Street.

“We have seen the people we serve go from 70 people a month to over (500) to 600,” she said. “We are looking for a new space, so if anyone knows of a space coming up, keep us in mind. There have been unique challenges whether it has been dealing with parking situations, finding volunteers. Everyone including the Rotary has been amazing to help us through everything.”

Prins said she hoped to see everyone come in to volunteer at some point.

Hines and Lieb presented the 2023 Business of the Year Award to Cordray Roofing.

“The nominees should have similar traits to the Citizen of the Year, but should be located in Gardner, Edgerton, New Century or serve any of those three communities,” Lieb said. “They should have demonstrated excellence in business by their exemplary customer service, revenue growth or addition of jobs. They shall have supported the community economically or by the use of volunteers, and as a result shall improve the quality of life in the region.”

Lieb said government entities and nonprofits were not eligible for the award.

Cordray Roofing was started in 2005 and known for quality craftsmanship and excellent customer service.

“The owner and namesake of the company is described as honest and humble and not seeking the limelight for the work the company performs,” Lieb said. “The company has earned an A+ Accreditation from the Better Business Bureau and certification from multiple vendors showing its commitment to training and education.It is also committed to Gardner helping to revitalize the Main Street streetscape by remodeling a number of buildings to enhance the aesthetics of the community.”

Lieb said Cordray Roofing was so committed, the business moved downtown, further showing its dedication to the city core.

“While they can help with basement finishes, decks and a variety of other projects, they are most known for their mastery of roofing services,” he said.

Jeff Cordray, Cordray Roofing owner, said the award was an honor and a surprise.

““Thank you to the chamber,” Cordray said. “You guys do a lot for the community, and as a small-business owner, you do a lot for us… so honored and thankful.”

Adam Mauck, chamber board chair, presented the Chamber Award to Dr. Roy Jensen, the night’s keynote speaker.

“Tonight it is my great pleasure to introduce our keynote speaker and recipient of the 2023 Chamber Award,” he said. “The purpose of the Chamber Award is to honor an individual, organization or business for outstanding accomplishment or service to the community.”

A graduate of Gardner- Edgerton High School, Dr. Roy Jensen has served as director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center since 2004 and has been published in more than 150 scientific publications. Under Jensen’s leadership and guidance, the cancer center was designated in July 2012 as National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center by the U.S. Cancer Institute. It is the gold standard of cancer centers within the United States.

“It is a real pleasure just to be here to establish my Gardner bona fide days,” Jensen said.

Jensen said he grew up at Main and Central streets and moved to Warren Street before moving to Wayne Street.

“Believe it or not, I actually paid tuition to go to Gardner High School because my father decided he wanted to buy a farm down in Paola after my freshman year in high school,” he said. “The school district I was zoned to was Wellsville, and I was not going to have any of that. I paid $200 a semester to attend Gardner High School for the last three years.”

Jensen said his main reason for staying at Gardner High School was because he liked playing basketball.

“At the time, we had a really great group of guys who were an actual pleasure to play with,” he said.

Jensen said the reason he shared the photo of his high-school basketball team was because of the guy on his right No. 40, Mark Sutton.

“Mark moved with his family to Gardner in fifth grade, and we became fast friends,” he said. “We played basketball pretty much non-stop for the next several years. He was a great player and one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. The reason why I bring Mark up is because Gary Streck, No. 21, called me up a few years ago, and said Mark was in trouble. There is something terribly wrong, and we need to figure out what it is. Turned out Mark had a late- stage, very aggressive brain cancer. By the time he came to medical attention, there really wasn’t a lot we could do about it, and it was incredibly sad for many, many reasons. He was a great father. He was a great friend.He loved Gardner. He was a wonderful guy. He illustrates how much work that we have to do in this job.”

Jensen shared and presented the work KU Cancer Center does for the Kansas City area and throughout the Midwest region.

Since 2004, Jensen said, the center took its cancer research from $14 million a year to $90 million a year. He added KU Cancer Center has also joined forces to work with regional hospitals.

“Because we are better off working together then fighting amongst ourselves,” Jensen said. “They all play critical roles with our cancer center. We draw our leadership from all these campuses and organizations. Together, we compliment each other and make for a much stronger center.”

Jensen said the cancer survival rate in 1971 was only 49 percent, but the survivor rate has increased considerably since then.

“All the research that has taken place has gotten us to a place with a much better understanding of this disease, what causes it, how it develops and what are the molecular defects in cancer that have the potential to allow us to treat it selectively,” he said.

Today, cancer is treated through a form of chemotherapy that attacks cells in the body that are trying to grow.

“And that includes a whole lot of cells besides cancer cells,” he said. “And so if we could find the so-called magic bullet that would go after cancer, but not go after your normal cells, we could save people a whole lot of side effects.”

Bringing institutions and medical professionals together with various levels of expertise, he said, was the reason why the center has made progress during the last 50 years.

He added that patients treated at NCI Cancer Centers, such as KU Cancer Center, have a 25- percent better survival rate than if treated elsewhere. The reason they are more successful is because of highly specialized physicians who focus on a limited number of diseases, who work in teams with surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pharmacologists and scientists – all focusing on a specific cancer.

“We see 1,300 breast cancer patients every year,” he said. “So we have incredible expertise. We have incredible experience, and we have fantastic docs.”

Jensen said they are excited with their new partnership with Olathe Health.

“Because they have great docs, great staff, great administrators out there as well,” he said. “And we think we can help them, and they can help us. I am super excited for the fact that we are going to extend the services of the University of Kansas Health System and Cancer Center out to my neck of the woods.”

Jensen said cancer is a tough foe.

“It is also an extraordinary common disease,” he said. “One out of every two men and one of every three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. What is unfortunate is that those numbers are going up.”

Jensen said it is expected that by 2030 the number of cancer cases and deaths will increase between 45 and 50 percent.

“The reason for that is changing demographics in the United States,” he said. “We are about to become Florida. Sixteen percent of Americans right now are age 65 and older. In Florida, it is 25 percent. And in 2030, that is where we are going to be. It turns out that is prime time when you get diagnosed with cancer. Simply due to the fact that we are going to see a more aging population. We are going to see more cancer patients.”

Jensen said right now the country doesn’t have the manpower, facilities and people in the pipeline to provide an adequate number of healthcare professionals to solve the problem.

Jensen said there are health initiatives that we can take on as a society to improve our health against cancer from not smoking and a whole other host of areas as well.

“We have now gone up to just under 70 percent survival,” he said. “So in a 50-year period of time we have raised that 20 percent. When you think about it, it is pretty significant, but at Gardner High School 69 percent was still a D+.”

Jensen said we still have a long way to go and just under 8,000 people in the region die from cancer each year. A little more than 24 percent are diagnosed.

“And as I said, those numbers are going to continue to climb,” he said.

Jensen said they have built an outstanding program at the University of Kansas Cancer Center.

“We have a superb bone-marrow transplant program that is now the 10th-largest in the country and has outcomes second to none,” he said.

Jensen said in a new approach to cancer using the body’s own immune system to battle the disease they are one of the world leaders.

“There are now six FDA approved CAR-T therapies,” he said. “The first patient enrolled on the six clinic trials to gt those therapies approved, in three of them the first patient was enrolled at KU Cancer Center in the world.”

Jensen said the clinical program has brought people from every state and 18 foreign countries. He said they were one of the first to have the best liver transplant program, the CAR-T therapies and they also just opened the world’s first most sophisticated protein therapy unit.

“All of those things make a huge difference in offering some of the best care available,” he said.

Jensen said one of their biggest challenges is that someone could receive 12 different answers as to where the cancer center is located.

“The next step on the evolution of our cancer center is is that we want to build a signature facility on the medical center campus that brings all these groups together just like the National Cancer Act intended us to do from the get-go,” he said.

Jensen said they are working hard to make it happen, especially because they are out of space.

“We have grown our research program, we have grown our clinical program, and we literally have people coming out our ears,” he said.

Jensen said Olathe Medical Center gives them the opportunity to continue to grow while they work to build a new facility.

“I am incredibly excited for where we are headed in the future,” he said. “Our goal is to have nothing less than one of the best cancer centers in the world located in our community, no ifs, ands or buts. We appreciate all your help in doing that.”