This has been a difficult year for the economy, but Ruby Fleming, accepting the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award Saturday night, told the assembled crowd that the important goal is "making a difference in the community."
The Chamber’s Business and Professional Excellence Awards Gala was held at the St. George Village Botanical Garden’s Great Hall, with 200 people attending, including Gov. John deJongh Jr. and Congressional Delegate Donna Christensen.
The gala honors businesses and individuals that find ways to prosper and help position the island for the future despite current difficulties.
Fleming was one of three nominated for the award, along with Violette Hilty and Sal Sanpere.
When Fleming’s name was announced as the recipient of the evening’s last award, the audience gave her a standing ovation as she came forward to the podium, an experience she called "humbling."
"I’m just an ordinary person trying to do the best I can," she protested, thanking her "natural family," her professional family, and her church family for their support over the years.
Fleming and her husband, Osbourne, started Fleming Transport in 1974.
In 1980, when Osbourne decided to move to Anguilla to pursue a career in politics, she took over the business, building it from its origin as a two-truck business to a fleet of 16 vehicles offering sea and air freight forwarding, heavy equipment rental and handling, storage, and moving.
Her life hasn’t been always or only about business, she said. "I have always tried to make a positive difference in the community."
Other awards presented Saturday included:
Business of the Year was awarded to two businesses: Innovative Companies and Quality Electric Supply.
The award to Innovative Companies recognized the new ownership and management that took over the utility a year ago, which has invested in improving both the technical services it offers and reinventing the corporate culture to focus on customer service and community involvement.
Quality Electric Supply began in 1986, when Karl and Carol Bauknight bought a 20-year-old electrical company, changed the name, and expanded the service it offered. It was recognized for playing a key role in rebuilding St. Croix after Hurricane Hugo devastated the island, and in recent years has become a major player in effort to reduce the island’s reliance on fossil fuels by developing solar and wind generated electricity.
Small Business of the Year went to Geographic Consulting, LLC. Just a year after being formed as a limited liability corporation, Geographic Consulting has already become an important part of the community, applying science and technology to conservation, preservation, and management of the territory’s natural resources. Projects it’s involved in include managing the Sandy Point sea turtle monitoring project and inventorying and analyzing trees on the island.
The Bistro took home honors for New Business of the Year. This upscale coffee shop, located in Gallows Bay, combines a variety of coffee drinks with a menu, including daily house-made breads, pastries, and natural meats.
Professional Business Man of the Year was presented to Aston Wayne Harty. For more than 34 years, Harty has served St. Croix, both as a businessman and a community member. He purchased a small insurance agency on St. Croix and built it until Inter-Ocean Insurance, which is now the island’s largest agency. He has taught insurance at the College (now University) of the Virgin Islands, served on many community organization boards, and is a member of Rotary International.
Simone Palmer was recognized as the Professional Business Woman of the Year. Moving from Maine to St. Croix in 2002, Palmer is co-owner of Sandcastle on the Beach, the west side hotel and restaurant. She and her partner renovated, marketed, and grew the small Dorsch Beach hotel into a specific niche catering to the tourist market. Palmer is also a physical therapist and a member of the Hotel and Tourism Association.
The Non-Profit of the Year award went to St. George Village Botanical Garden. The organization that hosted Saturday’s awards’ gala also won one of the awards. The 16-acre garden occupies a site that was a Danish sugar cane plantation in the 18th and 19th centuries, but has been home to humans long before the Dutch arrived. The gardens are the site of a 2,000-year-old settlement, and students from local schools, community groups, and summer camps use it as a living classroom.