Northern Lights Casino general manager Richard Ahenakew expected to be up on stage at the Samuel McLeod Business Awards, but only as a presenter.
By the end of the night, he’d made two more trips to the podium as Northern Lights received the Community Involvement Award, and was named the 2019 Business of the Year.
“I didn’t expect the first one, so the second one was a real shock,” Ahenakew said following Thursday’s ceremony. “It feels incredible to have the recognition.”
Although Ahenakew accepted the awards, he was quick to point out it was a team effort. He said he’s been blessed with great staff during the more than two decades he’s worked at the casino, and gave them full credit for taking home the Community Involvement Award.
Over the past year, casino employees have hosted meals, organized food and clothing drives, and last summer they took a few days out of their schedule to repaint and repair playground facilities at the Bernice Sayese Centre.
“I tried to explain to them how big of a task it was,” Ahenakew chuckled while looking back on the project. “They just called me lazy and got it done.”
Northern Lights beat out Lake Country Co-op and North Country Massage and Medi Spa for Business of the Year, but Akenahew was quick to point out the great work those businesses do too during his acceptance speech. He also, once again, turned the focus back on his staff, as well as his family, the business community and the Chiefs who had the foresight to create the opportunity for him and many others.
“Business is important in the community,” he explained. “The positive impacts that businesses have, they can’t be ignored, and then when the business community turns around and they recognize you, I tell you, the feeling’s incredible.”
Twice is nice for North Country duo
While North Country Massage and Medi Spa may not have walked away with the Business of the Year Award, co-owners Bernadette Lavoie and Lindsey Rask still made plenty of trips to the podium.
The duo received Business Transformation Award, given annually to the business that makes a positive contribution to the community by renovating or restoring an old or abandoned property. They were then named co-winners of the 2019 Female Business Leader of the Year Award.
“We’re so humbled,” Lavoie said in an interview afterwards. “We can’t believe that we were nominated to start with, let alone being able to accept two awards.”
“We’re so appreciative,” Rask added. “It’s just been a beautiful evening and we’re very excited to be here.”
Like Ahenakew, Lavoie and Rask were quick to give credit to the people around them. In this case, it wasn’t just employees, it was also the family members who helped them renovate their current location on Seventh Street East, which previously was a Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall.
Lavoie was initially hesitant to move from their small lease space, especially since they’d just finished some renovations at that location. However, a tip from a friend who happened to be a Realtor, and support from her family and business partner, made her rethink the decision.
“I thought, ‘yeah, okay, it’s a big empty hall. So what?’” she chuckled when asked about her initial viewing. “My husband’s a contractor (and) I asked him to come take a look. He said, ‘if you don’t buy it I will. It’s structurally sound. It looks good. It’s wheelchair accessible and it’s a hall. You can make walls in a hall.’”
Winning the Female Business Leader of the Year Award was equally unexpected, but equally thrilling. Once again, Rask and Lavioe put the focus on their families and their staff for what they achieved.
“I have been fortunate to have so many incredible female role models throughout my life,” Rask said. “Too many to name them all.”
Former Minto earns different kind of victory
Steven Glass is used to getting wins in Prince Albert.
In fact, he racked up 19 of them in 34 appearances as a goaltender for the Prince Albert Mintos during the 2009-10 SMAAAHL season. Although his hockey career took him away from Prince Albert, business opportunities brought him back. On Thursday, those efforts paid off as Glass won the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for his work as the co-founder of Paved to Pines, a camper conversion and rental company.
“I’m really excited to win this award and continue having a lot of fun with one of my best buddies, doing something I love everyday,” he said during his acceptance speech.
That wasn’t his only win that night either. Paved to Pines also took home the New Venture Award, which Glass shared with fellow co-founder and former college hockey teammate Mitchell Rosko.
Winning the New Venture Award left them humbled and grateful, but a bit speechless too.
“First of all we were terrified,” Glass laughed. “We saw everyone unfolding some speeches and they were super prepared.”
“We’re not big public speakers,” Rosko chuckled. “Well, I’m not. Steven seems pretty comfortable up there. He’s putting on a pretty good act if he’s not.”
Paved to Pines started as a passion project, where Glass took a used school bus on trade for his motorcycle and renovated it to create a movable home. After initially setting up in Saskatoon, Paved to Pines relocated to Prince Albert to get closer lake country. It’s a decision neither owner has regretted.
“That was an easy move for me, but I had to beg Mitchell to come out,” Glass said with another chuckle.
“The farther east I moved the less pumped I was about moving,” said Rosko, who originally hails from Airdrie, Alta. “But being out here, it’s actually a lot better than I thought it was going to be. There are so many trees and so many lakes, and it’s a great community full of awesome people and other business owners. Like Steven said, we’re super pumped to be out here and excited to see what the summer brings.”
Award winners eager to turn the spotlight on those who gave a helping hand
The most common response from award winners at Friday’s ceremony was to pass on the credit.
For some, like Male Business Leader of the Year winner Jeff Stumpf, it was to business partners and mentors who helped him along the way. For others, like Prince Albert’s Non-profit of the Year, Habitat for Humanity, it was support and aid from the local community.
Paintball Paradise owner George Lewko summed up everyone’s feelings while accepting the 2019 Marketing Award. He said the unexpected honour was largely due to his staff and family, sentiments that were shared by Stumpf and Habitat for Humanity board chair Tami Lutz, as well as Ivan Trudel, who accepted the Customer Service Award on behalf of Trudel Auto Body.
“I’m very honoured to win this award as customer service is something we very much strive for,” Trudel explained during his acceptance speech. “That being said, it’s a team thing. It’s not just me up there.”
“I want to thank my staff, my friends … and special thanks to my wife Kathie,” Lewko said. “She puts up with all of that weird stuff that I do all the time. That’s always a tough job.”
“It’s easy to be considered a great leader when you have great staff,” said Stumpf, the general manager at Prince Albert Alarm Systems. “So to my staff, thank you very much.”
“Building homes and building hope takes a great community,” Lutz said. “We have a fabulous team and board and staff that we work with at Habitat. We are so proud to be affiliated and associated with them.”
2019 Samuel McLeod Business Awards list of winners
Business of the Year – Northern Lights Casino
Male Business Leader of the Year – Jeff Stumpf, Prince Albert Alarm Systems
Female Business Leader of the Year – Bernadette Lavoie and Lindsey Rask, North Country Massage and Medi Spa
Young Entrepreneur of the Year – Steven Glass, Paved to Pines
Non-profit of the Year – Habitat for Humanity
New Venture Award – Paved to Pines
Business Transformation Award – North Country Massage and Medi Spa
Community Involvement Award – Northern Lights Casino
Customer Service Award – Trudel Auto Body
Marketing Award – Paintball Paradise