Chamber celebrates 'great partnerships'

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BRATTLEBORO — Dick DeGray and Missy Galanes, the 2019 Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce's Persons of the Year and married couple, are credited with having an outsized role in making the community beautiful.

"They have a sincere love of Brattleboro that they demonstrate every day through their deeds and actions," Kate O'Connor, executive director of the chamber, said during her group's annual meeting Thursday at the Brattleboro Retreat. "In the winter, wreathes, greenery and thousands of white lights make the downtown sparkle like a holiday wonderland. In the spring, summer and fall, it explodes with vivid living colors because of their handiwork and green thumbs."

The Main Street beautification efforts began "modestly in 2012 with buckets, flowers and solicited donations" and has since become "one of the most highly prized programs of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance funded by downtown property owners," O'Connor said. It now involves a pick-up truck, a 210-gallon water tank and DeGray starting at 3 a.m. five days a week.

The couple also plants flowers at West Brattleboro's Creamery Covered Bridge and puts up lights there during the holidays. O'Connor said they are "huge cheerleaders" for the Harris Hill Ski Jump and have been involved in other volunteer efforts such as St. Brigid's Kitchen, which serves free meals to community members.

DeGray has served on the Select Board and on a board that governed the Brattleboro Union High School. Galanes served on the board that ran the now-dissolved Reformer Christmas Stocking, which outfitted children in need of clothing during the winter season.

"It is truly an honor for Missy and I," DeGray said of the award. "And what a partner I have — she has been a true role model for me."

DeGray said he met Galanes in the early 1980s when he first came to Brattleboro. He had been coaching a youth basketball program and went to see her about ordering t-shirts. He later coached her two sons.

DeGray encouraged people to donate their time if they could not contribute funds.

"You make me proud to be part of our community," he told meeting attendees. "I love our town. We do have our scars on our knees but we continue to try to fix those. That's what communities do."

Addressing rumors that he wants to be mayor if the town changes its town manager system, DeGray said, "I am the mayor. I just don't get compensated for being the mayor." He helped organize the petition that put the question of whether to move to a mayoral system up for vote on the March 3 ballot.

The chamber also recognized the Galanes family for being part of the business community in Brattleboro for 90 years. There was a billiard and bowling establishment on Elliot Street, then the Galanes Shoe and Smoke Shop on Main Street, then Galanes Sporting Goods on Main Street, and now, Missy runs Galanes Vermont Shop on Main Street.

Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and the United Way of Windham County were named Chamber of Members of the Year for their collaborative work in establishing the Windham County Dental Center last year.

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"Because of the center, all residents of Windham County now have access to high-quality oral care," said Tracey John, president of the chamber board. "The center accepts everyone regardless of ability to pay — Medicaid patients, patients without insurance, and commercial insurance for people who live or work in Windham County."

John noted that a community health needs assessment estimates about 5,000 adults in Windham County do not regularly see a dentist. To date, she said, the center has seen more than 600 patients "and it's making a difference."

Steve Gordon, CEO of the hospital, thanked his board of directors for making a financial commitment to get the center going.

"We look forward to its continued growth especially with the new dentist who is coming on," he said.

Carmen Derby, executive director of the local United Way, said staff at the center work hard every day to remove barriers for patients. She thanked the hospital and the patients who come in despite challenges that might arise from not having dental care for years.

Jim Giddings and Petria Mitchell were named the chamber's Entrepreneurs of the Year. They "have been successful professional artists for over 46 years," said Gina Pattison, secretary of the chamber board.

"Though Brattleboro is known as an arts town, our entrepreneurs realized early on that the town had few standalone galleries showcasing high-quality works of art," she said. "So in 2014, they took a risk and opened a commercial gallery in the basement of the Candle in the Night building at 180 Main St."

In five years, the gallery is said to have shown more than 40 exhibits representing 30 artists. Three years ago, Giddings and Mitchell had the opportunity to start conversations about purchasing storefront space as the Candle in the Night owners set out to retire and decided to do so.

Recently, the artists brought First Proof Press to the basement space previously occupied by them. And Brattleboro School of Dance is moving into the building, which Pattison described as "full of artistic energy from top to bottom."

"We are so grateful to be able to be living in this town, working on an arts community that we dearly care about but it wouldn't be happening if it weren't for all you guys caring about the arts and what creativity can offer all of us," Mitchell said. "So here we go. Thanks."

O'Connor said her group ended 2019 with almost 400 members. Chamber members celebrating anniversaries this year included Groundworks Collaborative with five years, the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro with 20 years, High 5 Adventure Learning Center with 20 years, New England Youth Theatre with 20 years, Kitchen Sync with 25 years, Windham Coach & Carriage with 25 years, Burton Touch-Free Car Wash & Self Service with 45 years and Vernon Homes with 100 years.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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