BRANDON — It's likely that not all who graced the pews at the Arise Assembly of God at Brandon on March 15 are church goers, but there's no doubt most everyone's spirits were lifted high by those honored during a prestigious awards presentation by the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
Ingrid Hooglander of the Brandon Legal Group, Lennise Jackson-Germany of Livy O's Catering and Doan Solutions owner Sam Phillips Jr. headed up the list of winners at the chamber's 2018 Business of the Year Awards. Music Showcase owner Heather Stump-Ochalek, Merchantside Marketing owner Ishamm Harris and LLT Academy principal Lesley Logan also earned awards at the March 15 event.
Hooglander, who in 2008 founded the legal firm that also has offices in four surrounding communities, was dumbfounded when her name was called out.
"I didn't expect to win because I'm a lawyer and nobody likes a lawyer," she said later. "It was like a Sally Fields moment (upon receiving an Oscar in 1985). I thought they like me, they really do.'??"
Jackson-Germany, who started her catering business three and a half years ago, said she and her husband began by selling meals from the trunk of their car.
"I love to cook … but the hard part until now has been not knowing if this is the place we should be," she said. "I'm really on cloud nine because of this award."
Phillips Jr., who's only been with the company that helps people reduce their student loan debt for about a year, believes the couple of brunch-and-learn events he's held in Brandon with the chamber's support have benefited him in that people in the area got a chance to meet him and learn what his business has to offer.
"First of all being nominated was an honor and to win was really a blessing," he said. "I'm really grateful and I just want to do more in this great community."
Stump-Ochalek, who also was visibly surprised when Music Showcase was named a winner, said she learned an important lesson early on in her more than 20 years as a business owner.
"Trust yourself and stick to the heart of what you do," she said.
And Isham Harris has a unique backstory regarding the chamber and the website design and search engine/social media marketing company he founded in 2015.
When first starting out he happened to find affordable office space for a short time inside the Brandon chamber's headquarters on Pauls Drive. But it required that he become a member of the organization.
"The funny thing is I didn't know anything about the chamber at first and until I learned otherwise, I thought it was a government agency," Harris said, also noting that in the six or seven months he was there he found it to be of little value in helping his business grow.
In fact, when he relocated his company elsewhere in Brandon he wasn't sure if he wanted to re-new his chamber membership.
"But then Rick Lewis (the Brandon chamber's president and CEO) came on board in the spring of last year and ever since the chamber has made a huge difference in our business," Harris said. "He's done a great job and there is a real humility about him that makes me want to learn from him."
In addition to the business awards, the Justin Kropff Marketing Award — given in memory of the chamber's former director of communications who died August 7, 2015 at the age of 39 due to ocular melanoma — went to TGH Brandon Healthplex, Music Showcase and the Magruder Agency, owned by Patricia Magruder.
Tony Del Castillo, Tampa Bay Times advertising general manager and past chairman of the chamber's board of directors, created and presented the award. He also determined the winners based on essays submitted by a field of applicants.
Magruder Agency owner Patricia Magruder was especially moved by the honor.
"Money is not a measure of success for me. It never has been," she said. "Success is helping people."
Lewis made it a priority to bring back the annual business awards following a four-year hiatus. He even added the woman-owned, emerging business and non-profit/government agency categories.
"This is really the highlight of my first year to lift these businesses up for what they do," Lewis said. "It recognizes the excellence of these businesses."
Brandon chamber chairman Chuck Burgess agreed.
"It's great that this happened under Rick Lewis's leadership," Burgess said. "He's just phenomenal and he's really focused on building up the chamber."