The Chillicothe Area Chamber of Commerce honored several people for their contributions to the community during the organization's annual awards banquet Thursday evening at the Chillicothe Elks Lodge, with around 200 chamber members and guests attending.

The event also marked the changing of the guard, as outgoing president Kent Peterson stepped aside, and Eric Sensenich moved up from vice president to president.

The evening also included entertainment by local contestants in the annual "Dancing with Our Chillicothe Stars" dance competition.

In his parting comments, Peterson said he has enjoyed his time as Chamber president, and noted some of the popular Chamber activities.

"All the events the Chamber participates in are only successful because of the wonderful volunteers and staff," Peterson said. "Thank you all for a wonderful year."

Peterson introduced incoming president, Eric Sensenich, who presented Peterson with a plaque for his leadership this past year.

Sensenich said he was looking forward to an exciting year, and stated that the Chamber's events are successful and made possible by a strong and active membership. He also announced that a newly-designed Chamber website is expected to go live next month.

The chamber's financial stability allows the Chamber to dream big, to plan, and move forward, the president stated.

"This would not have been possible without the hard work of many, many people, past and present board members, volunteers and most importantly, a very supportive, very loyal, and very dedicated Chamber membership," Sensenich said. "You are the foundation and motivation for all that we do."

Awards presented were:

Personal Community Service: Charley Merrill.

Chamber Person of the Year Award: Staci Baker.

Chamber Business of the Year Award: KCHI.

Ambassador Team of the Year Award: Charley Merrill's team, chaired by team captain Charley Merrill.

Ambassador of the Year Award: Rosina Harter.

Business Holiday Lighting: Nico'Z Catering and Eatery.

The Personal Community Service Award was presented to Charley Merrill by Tony Clark. The award is presented to a chamber member who exemplifies outstanding personal community service.

In introducing this year's winner, Clark said Merrill has been involved with many community projects — both large and small.

"This person has led the way throughout with an ability to 'walk the walk' in terms of commitment, loyalty and faith," Clark said.

Merrill has served on the boards of numerous organizations in the area, including the Grand River Area Family YMCA, the Chillicothe Area Chamber, the Livingston County Development Center and the Salvation Army — just to name a few. He has also been involved over the years with the Area Youth Benefit Fund.

In making the presentation, Clark stated that this year's award was unique, because it was being given as Merrill and his wife, Vicki, move to Iowa to start a new chapter in their lives.

"He will be missed by many, but will be remembered by the large impact he made on many, many in Chillicothe and the surrounding area," Clark said.

Merrill was unable to attend the banquet because he had started his new job on Tuesday in Elkhorn, Iowa. Clark, instead, presented the award to Vicki, who expressed appreciation for the award on Charley's behalf.

The Chamber Person of the Year Award was presented to Staci Baker by Bill Young.

In making the presentation, Young said that Baker is a lifelong resident of the area who has been working in, volunteering for, and contributing to the community and this area for many years.

Baker has been involved with the Chamber over the last several years, as an ambassador, committee person, presenter, event attendee, and more.

Baker is an entrepreneur, a coach of many sports teams throughout the years, and an avid runner. She is vice president of community lending at Citizens Bank and Trust, a board member of the Livingston County Development Center, Chillicothe Kiwanis and Main Street Chillicothe, and a committee member of the Area Youth Benefit Fund.

"Her support of the Chamber and its events has been amazing throughout the years," Young said. "She is part of the original committee that created and presented the first Piccadilly Gala and Auction — and still works on that committee today."

The Chamber Business of the Year Award went to KCHI, and was presented by Kent Peterson.

In making the announcement, Peterson said that KCHI has been a member of the Chillicothe business community for many years.

"It is such an integral part of the fabric of our community that we truly cannot imagine it not being in existence," he said. "Many changes have occurred with it through the years — personnel, ownership, direction, location, but it's main business focus has not wavered — helping Chillicothe be the best that it can be."

KCHI is owned by Dan Leatherman, and Peterson noted the commitment Leatherman made to the community when he and his wife moved to Chillicothe in the mid-1990s.

Leatherman has been a "champion of the Chamber in many different ways throughout the year — volunteer, sponsor, event chair, board member and president. Additionally, employees are always encouraged to get involved with the Chamber and its many events," Peterson said.

"KCHI Radio Station, and its owner, Dan Leatherman, have made such a tremendous impact on our community," he continued. "Together, with his wife and business partner, Patti, and their three children, they have truly made an impression on those around them, and Chillicothe is certainly the better for their presence here."

Eric Sensenich presented the Ambassador Team Award to Charley Merrill's team, and the top Individual Ambassador Award to Rosina Harter. Other teams participating were Michelle's Heavy Hitters (Michelle Sewell, team captain), Berry's B&B Gators (Martha Berry, team captain), and Sally's Pep Squad (Sally Peterson, team captain). The ambassador awards are determined by attendance and volunteer hours with Chamber events throughout the year.

Following the awards presentation, the evening's entertainment began with "Dancing with Our Chillicothe Stars," a dance competition featuring four teams. Sensenich served as the master of ceremonies. As in past years, Bill and Elaine Walker, of Trenton, served as dance instructors.

"Our stars come from many different corners of our community, but all with a few things in common: a love of dance (or a willingness to learn), a community-minded focus to lend this level of support to further the efforts of the Chamber, and a heroic, daring spirit and heart to brave the terrifying prospect of performing in front of friends, family and co-workers," Sensenich stated.

The panel of judges consisted of Crystal Narr, director of Main Street Chillicothe; Circuit Judge Tom Chapman; and Amy Supple, director of the Greater Chillicothe Visitors Region.

Dancers were as follows:

• Tonya Reed, owner of Clifton's Children's Clothing Store, and Ricky Baker, agency manager at Robertson Insurance Services. They performed the Foxtrot.

• Sally Stefancik, accounting manager at Woody's Automotive Group, and Jared Cosgrove, a welder with Chillicothe Iron and Steel. They performed the Samba.

• Jody Yuille, manager of Chillicothe's Comfort Inn & Suites, and Scott Cady, pharmacist with Hometown Pharmacy. They performed the Waltz.

• Jennier Potter, receptionist/administrative assistant at United Methodist Church, and Ike Holland, city administrator for Chillicothe. They performed the Swing.

In the end, judges presented the Technically Terrific Award to Jody Yuille and Scott Cady; the Twinkle Toes Award to Jennifer Potter and Ike Holland; the Smooth and Sophisticated Award to Tonya Reed and Ricky Baker; and the Born to Perform Award to Sally Stefancik and Jared Cosgrove.

The Audience Award was presented to Sally Stefancik and Jared Cosgrove.

Thursday evening also included the introduction of the 2012 Board of Directors: Eric Sensenich, president-elect; Danette Rardon, vice president; Steve Holt, past president. Members are Martha Berry, Pat Gates, Brent Kline, Julee Nibarger, Cathy Ripley, Matt Wenzel and Brian Wills. Mayor Chuck Haney serves as an ex-officio member of the chamber board. New members for 2013 are Roger Barnes (Chillicothe R-2 School District), Ronni Clark (Piggly Wiggly), and Jill Distler (Essential Kneads).

Sensenich also recognized the chamber staff of Lindy Chapman, as director, along with Susan Price, office manager.

Table sponsors for the evening were Bank Midwest; City of Chillicothe; Empire District Gas; Harden, Cummins, Moss & Miller; Hometown Pharmacy; Midwest Gloves and Gear; Sensenich Jeweler; Woody's Automotive Group; Citizens Bank & Trust; Comfort Inn & Suites; Farmers' Electric Cooperative; Hedrick Medical Center; Hy-Vee Food Store; Robertson Insurance; and Wabash BBQ.

Others assisting with the evening included Murphy's Photography, Original Artworks by Kelly, Sharp Focus Video, and Hy-Vee Floral Department. Jennie Tipton and Martha Berry were co-chairs, with assistance from Margaret Deatz, Jill Distler and Karen Kay Summerville.