Carbon County Chamber of Commerce honored outstanding volunteers and community members during the 2011 Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony held Wednesday at Blue Mountain Ski Area, Vista Ballroom.

It was a night of celebration to honor the many volunteers and community members who have helped the area and chamber thrive and grow and help make Carbon County a wonderful place to live, work, play and raise a family.

David Althouse, chairman of the CCCC board, welcomed the crowd of about 150 people. Jack Sturm, vice chairman, served as master of ceremony.

The keynote speaker was Bill Fontana, executive director of Pennsylvania Downtown Center. Fontana, who took the reins of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center in 2000, encouraged people to work together, because not working together hinders progress.

After Fontana's speech, the various councils honored their selected honorees.

Dave Figenshu, chairman of the Penn-Kidder Council presented the Citizen of the Year award to Rich More. More was honored for his dedication and outstanding service to the chamber and the Penn Kidder community.

More thanked the chamber for giving him the opportunity to serve.

Honored with the Outstanding Volunteer Award for her service as the Jim Thorpe Fall Foliage chairwoman by the Jim Thorpe Council for the past two years was Mari Gruber. Under her direction, the Jim Thorpe event was expanded to four weekends, making organizing a challenging project, but one that has gained Jim Thorpe Fall Foliage Weekends as Yahoo's top destination in the country.

Gruber thanked Bart Springer, chairman of the Jim Thorpe Council, for his kind words.

"I know that the festival is not done by one person," she said. "It's an effort of a lot of people. This award is for the entire committee."

When Panther Valley Chamber chose its recipient, it honored Lansford-Summit Hill Community Partnership to receive the Volunteer Group of the Year Award. This group of individuals formed in late 2010 by pooling the resources of two local nonprofit organizations, Lansford Alive and Summit Hill Community Improvement Organization to form the partnership. In April the partnership established an office and hired a project manager. Members are Mark Sverchek, Chris Ondrus, David Benevy, Deborah Ranck, Harry Miller, Michele Toniatti and Dale Freudenberger, chairman.

Martha Rex of the Panther Valley Council presented the award to the group.

Freudenberger invited any energetic people to join the group.

Peter Kern of the Palmerton Council presented the Palmerton Council Citizens of the Year award to "All the men and women of the Palmerton area who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States to protect and defend our country." Kern noted that when the council seeks a citizen or group to honor, that there are many worthy people, but none more worthy than the people who were selected this year.

"This room wouldn't be large enough to hold them all," he said. Kern said that representatives of the group are working hard to unveil a monument in the Palmerton Park next year that will honor veterans who have served for the past 200 years.

Speaking for the group was Joe Uhnak, commander of the Palmerton Legion. Uhnak said the organization has collected 3,000 names so far and has raised $88,000 toward the project.

"I want to thank everyone who has supported the project so far," said Uhnak. "It is an honor for me to represent our Armed Forces today."

The Carbon County Chamber Distinguished Community Service Award honored Ralph Cortazzo for his service to the Carbon County Chamber. Accepting the award was his wife Carol. She also accepted on his behalf a citation from the House of Representatives and state Rep. Doyle Heffley.

Presenting the Lehighton Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award was William A. Billowitch to the daughters of William H. Bayer, esquire. Bayer passed away at the age of 89 on Sept. 24. Bayer was devoted to his family and hometown and offered continued support to the Lehighton Area Chamber and the Carbon County Chamber. He was active in his church, service organizations, veteran organizations, and non profit organizations. Accepting the award were Tricia Bayer, Beth Bayer and Barbara McCullion.

The various board members attending the function were also given an opportunity to address the group, introducing themselves and giving information on their various projects and upcoming events.

Special recognition was given to Heather McClure, CCCC office staff and to Dina Tulli Davis of JumpSpark Creative Group for designing the awards program booklet.