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Progress 64 West honors local leaders for Excellence in Community Development

By CATHY LENNY

Perseverance. “You can if you will!”

That was the theme of the 2019 Excellence in Community Development Awards banquet held by civic leadership group Progress 64 West on Nov. 27 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Chesterfield. And what organization better exemplifies this than the Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.

Against all odds, the Blues won Game 7 in Boston 4-1 to become Stanley Cup champions.

At the midpoint of last season, no one expected the Blues to bring home hockey’s most coveted award, but as Progress 64 West board president Chris Natsch explained in his role as the banquet’s emcee: “The key to success, is moving forward in the face of adversity.” 

The Blues were the first recipient of the civic organization’s Excellence in Community Development Awards. Chris Zimmerman, St. Louis Blues president and CEO of operations, accepted the award before assuming his banquet role as keynote speaker. 

“There has never been a national sports team that has come back from that far,” Zimmerman said during his address. He noted the irony of beating the Boston Bruins, after having lost to them in the 1970 Stanley Cup playoffs. “Taking on the Bruins was poetic.” 

Zimmerman was awarded the Excellence in Community Development Award by Scott Drachnik, president and CEO of the St. Charles Economic Development Center. Drachnik also presented awards to: 

• Ajay Jhamb, founder of American Cricket Academy, who paved the way for his cricket club with a newly constructed cricket pitch in Dardenne Prairie’s Barathaven Park. The club now is recognized as one of the nation’s best youth cricket academies.

Mark Kraus, president Chesterfield Hockey Association with his Excellence in Community Development Award [Bryan Schraier Photography]

• Mark Kraus, president of the Chesterfield Hockey Association. After the Hardees Iceplex closed in 2017, the hockey association needed an ice arena that could support the needs of youth, high school and college hockey. In August 2019, Kraus helped secure the Maryville University Hockey Center, an 84,000-square-foot arena in Chesterfield Valley with two NHL-sized ice rinks and room for 2,000 spectators.

• John Greifzu, assistant director of administration, for St. Charles County Manufacturing Day. Held annually in October, Manufacturing Day is designed to expand knowledge and improve the perception of manufacturing careers and their value to the economy.

Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to Chesterfield Police Chief Ray Johnson and Ernie Dempsey.

Chesterfield Police Chief Ray Johnson with his Lifetime Achievement Award and Bridget Nations [Bryan Schraier Photography]

Johnson, who is Chesterfield’s only top cop, having created the force 31 years ago, hand-in-hand with the formation of the city. Johnson was instrumental in leading his fledgling police department through the disastrous flood of ’93. He also ensured its accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

The Honorable Douglas Beach, who retired as judge from the St. Louis Circuit Court [21st Judicial Circuit], described Johnson as “a true professional who leads by example.”

Demsey is a community leader who serves on the boards of the Boys and Girls Clubs and United Services for Children. In 1994, he was named Citizen of the Year by the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce. But Drachnik described him as someone who never wants to take credit. “He leads from the background,” Drachnik said.

Each of the awardees, exemplify the leadership and perseverance that continue to make the I-64 corridor prosperous in both St. Louis and St. Charles counties. 

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