Local businesses received praise from their peers during the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet Monday night at Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells.

Aside from announcing the Business of the Year – which was awarded to Pierce’s Marketplace – and a number of other awards, the organization underwent a changing of the guard.

Teel Plastics Director of Quality Joel Soenksen will take over for George Althoff as president of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

Soenksen, who is in his fourth year on the board, said he hopes to change and add to the organization’s list of annual events. He also wants to support and expand on the initiatives of Deb Bauer, the Chamber’s executive director.

“The key right now for us is to keep the momentum going Deb and her staff,” Soenksen said. “I think they’ve got a good staff there and from a board perspective, I want to be able to support them.”

Soenksen said the organization will provide new opportunities for members to get involved and benefit from one another. That includes occasional “Wakeup Baraboo” morning gatherings in which members meet at a business’ headquarters to learn about its operations.

Althoff, the former publisher of the Baraboo News Republic, was first appointed to the board in 2009 to fill a vacancy on the board. He was then reelected and is in the second year of his second three-year term.

He served his first term as president in 2012, and was welcomed back to that role in 2013 after former Circus World Executive Director Steve Freese left the post to become Chief Administrative Officer of the Madison-based Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

Althoff said the organization attracted 41 new members in 2013, and finished the year with a modest budget surplus, allowing it to keep membership fees flat.

He said the Chamber assisted in bringing back the Baraboo Circus Parade in July, and also attracted new members from outside Baraboo, including Wisconsin Dells, Sauk Prairie, Reedsburg, and Portage.

“That’s very gratifying because we try to be an area chamber of commerce and attract members from all over,” Althoff said, adding that the area’s diverse collection of businesses – from retail to manufacturing and tourism – help it to thrive.

Bauer said Althoff brought “good ideas and lots of energy” to the Chamber during his time as president. She added that she was grateful Althoff was willing to return as president for a second term.

"I welcomed him back, because not only was he a good board president, but he is also a good friend," Bauer said.

Both Bauer and Althoff said they are confident in Soenksen’s ability to lead the board in the coming year.

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.

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