NEW RICHMOND -- More than 400 guests, many attired in plaid and smelling of mosquito repellent, paid $45 a ticket just to rub elbows with who’s who of New Richmond for a night at the Chamber’s Campfires and Cocktails annual gala Wed., Jan. 29, at Ready Randy’s Banquet Hall.

The City Beautiful’s equivalent of the Oscars also served as the swansong for the chamber’s favorite daughter -- membership coordinator and events planner Michelle Scanlan. Her farewell tribute accompanied by a plaque and life-sized cardboard cutout drew a standing ovation . Residents in need of a Scanlan fix can find her serving in her new position as clerk at City Hall.

Chamber Director and master of ceremonies Rob Kreibich fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams when he opened for Chris Kroez delivering an inspired and entertaining introduction to kick off the evening’s festivities.

“This is our largest event. It’s our biggest fundraiser and it’s the reason we can fund two fireworks in this community, lure the Packers here, promote the area statewide and provide free programming and networking to our members,” Kreibich said.

He recounted how climate change dominated the 2019 chamber schedule when the thermometer bottomed out at minus 52 for the annual gala and the state’s worst April blizzard greeted fans for the Packer Tailgate and Chris Kroeze concert.

Following the meal, auctioneer Lucus Evenson commenced bidding in the annual cake auction. When the frosting settled, eight cakes totaling 75,000 calories sold for a total of $12,000.

The highlight of the evening saw Kelli Espiritu, co-founder and president of Halos of the St. Croix Valley, take home New Richmond’s 2019 Citizen of the Year Award.

“Kelli turned her own heartache into a cause. After losing her son Max, 38 weeks into her pregnancy, this woman felt hopeless and alone in her grief. She wanted to make sure no parent ever endured what she did. She formed a nonprofit that offers financial, emotional and ongoing support for parents who have lost a child. This organization has helped families all over the county deal with the unthinkable,” Kreibich said.

Halos provides support to families suffering from the loss of a child up to age 20. Espieritu leads a team of volunteers that helps families during some of their hardest days. Working quietly in the background, Espiritu and her staff have helped the community through some tremendous losses helping with everything from the immediate need for financial support to connecting with resources for the ongoing emotional support families so desperately need.

In her heart-felt acceptance speech, Espiritu paid tribute to the power of community.

“When moving here 19 years ago, I never could have imagined I would be in front of all of you tonight accepting the Citizen of the Year Award. Although New Richmond cannot be my birth place, it is my home. Mr. Fred Rogers once said, “Real strength has to do with helping others.” I never thought of myself as strong, but after the loss of my son, I could never have imagined looking into the eyes of another bereaved parent and not helping them to see what I know they cannot see at that very moment, the love, the courage, the hope and the healing that so many here in our community are able to offer them.”

Other chamber awards included:

Chamber Member of the Year - Angela Logan

Ambassador of the Year - Cindy Croes, Countryside Plumbing & Heating, Inc.

Chamber Business of the Year - SF Insurance/ Owner, Sean Fitzgerald

Small Business of the Year - Wild Badger Saloon / Owner, Brian Meyer

Chamber Business of the Year - Doar, Drill & Skow

Nonprofit of the Year (tie) - American Legion Butler-Harmon Post 80 and Kiwanis Club of New Richmond