Follansbee Chamber of Commerce to Honor Those Who Make a Difference
FOLLANSBEE – The Follansbee Chamber of Commerce will be holding its bi-annual dinner Oct. 16 at St. Francis Center to recognize both businesses and people who make a difference in the community.
Chamber Chairwoman Debbie Puskarich said the honorees are picked by nominations from local residents.
“People stopped in my office and mentioned these names,” Puskarich said. “So this is from the community.”
This year, the chamber will be honoring five local businesses and their owners, someone from the performing arts, an educator and an outstanding citizen as chosen by the chamber.
The businesses honored are Lyle’s Auto, of Follansbee; Wilkin Flower Shop, of Wellsburg; PS Marketing, of Weirton; Sil’s Small Engine Repair Shop, of Follansbee; and Borden Office Supplies, of Steubenville.
Honored as Artist of the Year was local musician and lead of the eponymous Ron Retzer Trio. Retzer said he can’t remember a time when music was not a part of his life.
“I have been doing this since I was born,” he said laughing.
While not since he was born, per se, Retzer said his first instrument was the accordion.
“I started playing it when I was 8,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”
Retzer has moved on from the accordion days, though. He and his fellow members of the Ron Retzer Trio — Jennifer Galowina and Bob Wolfe — played at the White House on Dec. 20 last year.
Honored as Teacher of the Year was Ede Ashworth, who started her teaching career in 1973, but has been a student all her life. It was that passion for loving that made the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce select her.
“I have traveled all over,” Ashworth said. “It gave me so much more to share with my students. There is so much to see and so much more to learn, and I was bringing that back to my students.”
Ashworth grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio, were she graduated from Portsmouth East High School in 1969. After high school, she continued her studies at Marshall University, where she got her bachelor of arts degree in 1973, and at the University of Toledo where she got her masters of arts degree in 1977.
During that time she also studied abroad in Madrid, Spain, was a Fulbright Hayes Grant winner in 1976 for the American Academy at Rome. She later was a student the American School at Athens, Greece, and accompanied three other Brooke County educators to Japan for the Japan In The Schools Project.
Ashworth said she was recruited to come to Brooke County in 1973. Ashworth was a classics major in college and taught Spanish and Latin at the high school, where she sponsored both the Latin and Spanish clubs. She also served as the chair of the Foreign Language Department and co-sponsored the Brooke High Tutoring Program.
During her time at the school, the athletic department approached her about becoming the academic adviser to the football team.
“We wanted them to not just be eligible to play, but to be academically superior,” she said.
In her retirement, Ashworth said it is the students she misses the most. Since retiring, Ashworth has continued to travel, learn and educate. She is a part of the P.E.O., a philanthropic organization for women.
“It’s a new passion for me,” she said. “We support women going back to school for any reason. We offer scholarships and support. P.E.O even owns a four-year college.”
Honored as Citizen of the Year was Eric Fithyan, who lives by a motto of “Serve others the way I want to be served.”
As owner of Chambers and James Funeral Homes since 2011, Fithyan dedicates himself and his businesses to the community and those who have served by hosting events such as the Sweaters for Veterans, Operation Valentine and serving as the chair of the Wellsburg Christmas Parade.
Sweaters for Veterans provides warm-weather clothing for active and retired military personnel. Operation Valentine does the same, but with cards and warm wishes for the holiday. He said the project collected more than 1,000 valentines last year to be sent to those serving overseas.
Another new program started by Fithyan as event chair of the Follansbee Chamber was the Monday Music Madness concerts held during the summer. The funeral home also held their inaugural Beacon Award Ceremony this year.
“It was a really good way to boost morale in our city,” Fithyan said.
Fithyan said the programs he takes on showcase what his funeral homes are capable of, with the commitment and compassion of his staff toward those they serve.
“I wanted to work in funeral service since I was a little kid,” he said. “The chance to take a tragic situation and manipulate it into a celebration of life. This is not a job that I work 9-to-5. I have a calling for this. It was this or be a meteorologist (as a child).”
“We couldn’t do what we do without the people we serve,” he said. “I was just shocked (to be chosen). You hear about business revitalization, but there is also a need for revitalization of the heart.”