Citizen of the Year: Joe Pillitteri
Joe Pillitteri (left), owner of Lakeview Vineyard Equipment by day, entertains at local fundraisers many evenings, never asking for a fee. He does it as his way of supporting causes that are important to him. Pillitteri and Jack Custers of TVCogeco received NOTL Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Niagara Awards, given out at White Oaks Conference Resort Monday evening. Custers received the Chamber's President's Award. With them is Janice Thomson, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. Ian Goring Special to the Advance
He's a very funny guy. He has proved that many times over, having lent his talent to 49 fundraisers in the community—his 50th is later this month, a show at the community centre that sold out weeks ago.
Joe Pillitteri, business owner, husband and father of four, was named Citizen of the Year Monday at White Oaks Conference Resort by the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce.
He received his Spirit of Niagara Award for being an outstanding role model who uses his popularity as a stand-up comic not for himself, but as his way of helping others.
"Our Citizen of the Year is a hard-working, responsible member of the community," said Lord Mayor Dave Eke, presenting the award.
Minor hockey, lacrosse, the Lord Mayor’s fundraiser, United Way, and Red Roof Retreat are just a few of the recipients of Pillitteri's generous gift of his time, said Eke.
The comic again had the audience laughing as he accepted his award, but always humble, he took time to thank many people for allowing him to entertain on behalf of the community.
Pillitteri thanked his wife, a midwife student, “who is often out delivering babies when I’m delivering jokes,” and his extended family for buying up tickets whenever he’s performing.
He also thanked “Wardie,” Ward Simpson, for setting the bar so high as a volunteer.
“He’s my beacon,” said Pillitteri.
Putting jokes aside, he spoke of the difficulties he faced when he first took over his business, and the toll that had on his mental health. He thanked the former owners of Lakeview and the growers for helping to make his business a success and allowing him to keep on entertaining in the evening. And he thanked the owners of Balance Fitness Studio, for helping him get back on track mentally.
And, unexpectedly, he caused a few teary eyes when he spoke of his wife - “soon to be the best midwife this town has ever had” and her help in getting him through his rough time. He ended by promising to continue to “create a ripple,” doing what he can to help others.
The Shaw Festival was named Company of the Year—for the second time.
The first was back in 2006, but times have been difficult since then.
The festival first charted a new future for NOTL as a destination for tourism and culture, and then, for presenting more than 50 different years of entertainment, through ups and downs with the economy and tourism, closing 2013 with a year of great financial success and critical acclaim.
The Christopher Newton Award for Extraordinary Vision in Business went to Vintage Inns, which includes the Prince of Wales Hotel, the Pillar and Post, Queen’s Landing and the Moffat Inn locally, as well as properties in Toronto and Stratford.
Owned and operated by the Lais Group of Companies, Vintage Hotels properties have demonstrated tremendous commitment to unique marketing initiatives that have resulted in positive and steady growth, said Elaine Calder, executive director of the Shaw Festival, handing out the award.
“Partnerships between Vintage Hotels and local businesses have evolved over the years, with particularly strong ties to the Shaw Festival,” said Calder.
“That partnership fosters creative and strategic marketing programs that have spin-off economic benefits to all tourism businesses in town.”
Vintage Hotels is also an active community partner with the United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. Employees are encouraged to volunteer in the community and are also involved with Gillian’s Place women’s shelter, the annual “Tree of Hope” toy drive and Bethlehem Projects of Niagara, said Calder.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit, in memory of long-time board member Peter Ling, was given to Doug Johnson, creator of A Taste of Niagara-on-the-Lake progressive dining program.
Initially geared to filling accommodation rooms at quieter times of the year, said award presenter Debi Pratt, “the restaurants and wineries are now viewing this as an opportunity to showcase their best and to build customer loyalty.”
Johnson, said Pratt, was “the man with the idea, the man with the tenacity to see it through to today’s success.”
Gary Burroughs presented the award for Community Leadership to “the leaders of the leaders – the amazing fundraising duo of Donna Scott and Jim Garrett,” who worked as co-chairs of the Niagara Health System Foundation’s It’s Our Time Campaign, and led their team to success.
“As a small community within the region of Niagara, Niagara-on-the-Lake certainly makes its financial contribution through taxes. It also, however, has a solid reputation for making fundraising contributions that come straight from the heart,” said Burroughs.
The NOTL team of 14 residents met their fundraising goal of $2.8 million, toward the regional goal of $40 million.
Rainer Hummel, president of the Chamber, presented the President’s Award to Jack Custers of TVCogeco.
Reflecting on the many events that take place each year in NOTL, said Hummel, “there is one common thread connecting every one of these special activities,” and that thread is Custers, not only the ultimate promoter of NOTL, but also a mentor to young people learning the business.