Decatur chamber honors its own

Staff Writer

    Louise Ray, winner of the Decatur Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Stephen Decatur Award, in typical fashion deflected the accolades that go with the honor and instead turned the praise on the community she calls home.
    Accepting the award during Thursday night’s annual chamber membership dinner, Ray said, “I’d rather be on the back page than the front page. But you’ll never know the gratitude I feel in my heart right now.”
    Ray, the owner of Don Ray Drive-A-Way and a person who throughout the years has been giving of her time to many organizations throughout Adams County, asked those in attendance to do her a favor.
    “I ask you now to look at your neighbor. You are the Stephen Decaturs — the ones who make everything possible. I realize it every day, when I go to work or to the grocery store or to church: You are there for a purpose. You are a value to someone.
    “You have no idea who you are touching with just a smile,” Ray continued. “That simple greeting means a lot to them.”
    Coni Mayer, executive director of the ACCF, nominated Ray for the Stephen Decatur award and presented the award to her good friend. The support for that nomination, Mayer said, was overwhelming.
    Mayer said Ray was deserving of the award not simply because she is a respected businesswoman who serves on many local non-profit boards, “but because Louise Ray will give of her heart out of love. Louise has made her living through hard work and giving to her own community. Louise does not do things for recognition.”
    In her acceptance speech, Ray said she drew parallels between her own life and the man for which the award was named.
    “Stephen Decatur was a leader because he stood in the gap ... for other people. He’s always been there for us — his memory and what he did for everyone,” Ray said.
    “So to each of you, God bless you. I thank God for each of you and for allowing me to be up here.”

    Recognized as the Large and Small Businesses of the Year were First Merchants Bank and Haggard-Sefton & Hirschy Funeral Home, respectively.
    Ryan Hirschy accepted the award on behalf of the funeral home that has its origins at the turn of the century, in 1904, when J.O. Ball opened an undertaking room in his storefront business on 2nd Street in downtown Decatur.
    In the 30 years that followed the business changed many hands and eventually S.E. Black decided to move the business to a more quaint and home-like setting. In 1933, he purchased a Federal Style Mansion at 225 W. Adams Street — where the business remains to this day.
    “I am thankful for this opportunity,” Hirschy said on behalf of fellow business owners David Haggard and Pat Sefton. “We love what we do. Our staff is fantastic and I couldn’t be here right now if it weren’t for them. It’s been a great ride.”
    Award presenter Dean Fuelling said the funeral home that has served Adams County for 112 years “has shown a commitment to the community and their clients and is a trusted business, one you can turn to in a time of grief.”

    Fuelling then went from presenter to award recipient when he accepted the chamber’s Large Business of the Year award on behalf of First Merchants Bank from Decatur businessman Greg Fleming.
    The origins of First Merchants Bank date back 122 years to its organization as Merchants National Bank of Muncie in 1893. The local office of First Merchants Bank began as an idea of some local business leaders in the early 1960s.
    The first board of directors of Decatur Bank & Trust Company was formed in 1965, and DB&T was formally chartered by the state of Indiana on Nov. 18, 1966. It officially opened its doors for business Jan. 26, 1967, operating out of a specially equipped mobile home at 520 N. 13th St.  In June 9 of 1967 an official ribbon cutting was held to open the new building. Decatur Bank & Trust Company operated under its own name and charter until 2005, when the bank began officially operating under the name First Merchants Bank N.A.
    Fuelling called the award “a pleasant surprise” and said any and all credit for the bank’s success is due to employees and bank directors — past and present.
    “We’ve been fortunate to have exceptional leaders over the years who set examples for us on how to serve,” Fuelling said.
    He singled out former bank president Dennis Bieberich for recognition.
    “Denny is a mentor and a friend, and for 20 years I saw him lead by example. He took pride in providing excellent service, and today I thank our customers. You are the ones who sign our paychecks and you truly matter.”
    Also recognized during the chamber event as the winner of its annual President’s Award was Ron Storey, publisher of the Decatur Daily Democrat.