Business community gathers to celebrate at the annual Visit Cook County and Cook County Chamber of Commerce Fall Gala

After a two-year hiatus, community members enthusiastically gathered to celebrate in Grand Portage.


Grand Portage, MN – October 26, 2022 - There were a lot of things to celebrate at the 11th annual Fall Gala hosted by Visit Cook County and the Cook County Chamber of Commerce. After a two year hiatus, being able to gather together with colleagues and neighbors was at the top of the list. 


Over 180 community members gathered at Grand Portage Lodge and Casino on Tuesday, October 25, 2022 to share a meal and camaraderie. The event program kicked off with a welcome message from Tribal Chairman Bobby Deschampe and included updates from both Visit Cook County and the Chamber, featured an awards presentation, as well as was a celebration of leaders who are retiring this year. Former executive director of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce Jim Boyd, Senator Tom Bakk, and IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips all announced their retirement this year. An introduction and thank you for their service was acknowledged by Judy Erickson, lobbyist for the Cook County Chamber and each were given time at the podium, along with current Representative Rob Ecklund. 


The awards program wrapped up the evening starting with the Cook County Chamber of Commerce’s Business Awards. Nominees included: 

  • Kelsey Rogers Kennedy, Associate Director/Programming Director at Cook County Higher Ed
  • Dustin Hanson & Barry Pederson, Owners of North Shore Waste
  • Jim Boyd, former Cook County Chamber Director
  • Brian, Steve, and David Larsen, Birch Terrace Supper Club
  • Chris Skildum, Vesta Unchained
  • Katie Mumm & Parker Slanga, Fisherman’s Daughter
  • Abby Tofte, The Big Lake


Chamber Award 2022 recipients:

  • Business of the Year: Dave, Brian, and Stevie Larsen, The Birch Terrace
  • Entrepreneur of the Year: Chris Skildum, Vesta Unchained
  • Community Business Leader(s) of the Year: Dustin Hanson & Barry Pederson, North Shore Waste
  • Norman Deschampe Award - Kelsey Rogers Kennedy, Cook County Higher Education


The Heart of Hospitality awards concluded the evening. Nominees included: 

  • Rick Grabko - Gunflint Lodge
  • Katie Clark + Team  - Cook County Historical Society 
  • Katie Oakes - Cascade Lodge & Restaurant
  • Nicki Spry - Grand Portage Lodge & Casino
  • Matt & Cassidy Ritter - Voyageur Canoe Outfitters
  • Jerry Kohl - Holiday Station Store Grand Marais
  • Richard Metzger - Skyport Lodge & Raven Rock Grill
  • Iris Bruniese - The Gun Flint Tavern
  • Nicky Rosseau - Grand Portage Lodge & Casino
  • Leslie Pedersen - Cook County Whole Foods Co-op
  • Ramazan Kilinc - The Fisherman’s Daugher
  • Autumn Strum - Java Moose
  • Renee Pace - Gunflint Lodge


Heart of Hospitality Award 2022 recipients: 

  • Lutsen Tofte Tourism Association: Katie Oakes, Cascade Lodge & Restaurant 
  • Grand Portage: Nicki Spry, Grand Portage Lodge & Casino
  • Grand Marais Area Tourism: Katie Clark + Team, Cook County Historical Society 
  • Gunflint Trail Association: Rick Grabko, Gunflint Lodge


Find a complete list of past award winners for the Chamber Business Awards and the Heart of Hospitality on our website. 


About Visit Cook County 
Visit Cook County encompasses the northeastern Minnesota communities of Lutsen, Tofte, Schroeder, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail and Grand Portage, commonly referred to as “the Arrowhead” and the “North Shore of Lake Superior”.  Grand Marais, Minn., has earned several national accolades -- most recently it was named USA Today’s Best Midwestern Small Town, Outside Magazine’s The 16 Best Places to Live in the U.S. 2016, and Budget Travel’s 2015 Coolest Small Town in America. Rekindle your sense of adventure by exploring the Superior National Forest or paddling through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Discover what makes the communities of Cook County, Minn. “Naturally Unforgettable.” Connect on social media using #donorthmn, Twitter @CookCoVisitors, Facebook, or Instagram @donorthmn. Learn more at 


Chamber Award Recipients 

Chamber Business Award Winners - Fall Gala 2022Chamber Business Award Winners 2022 pictured from left to right: Norman Deschampe Award - Kelsey Rogers Kennedy, Cook County Higher Education. Community Business Leader(s) of the Year: Barry Pederson & Dustin Hanson (not pictured), North Shore Waste. Business of the Year: The Birch Terrace - Brian Larsen, Dave and Stevie (not pictured). 

Heart of Hospitality Award Recipients Heart of Hospitality Award Winners - 2022

Heart of Hospitality Award winners pictured from left to right: Rick Grabko from Gunflint Lodge (GTA), Aliya Marxen & Katie Clark from Cook County Historical Society (GMATA), Nicki Spry from Grand Portage Lodge & Casino, Katie Oakes from Cascade Lodge & Restaurant (LTTA)

Featured Speakers during the Awards Program

Fall Gala presentation 2022 - Senator Bakk, Representative Ecklund, IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips and Judy Erickson

Retiring Senator Tom Bakk addresses the crowd expressing gratitude for being elected to serve for nearly thirty years of service. Also on stage from left to right: Judy Erickson of Conservation Strategies the lobbyist for the Chamber, Representative Rob Ecklund of district 3A, and Commissioner Mark Phillips of IRRRB who is also retiring this year. 

Celebrating Jim Boyd

Linda Jurek presents Jim Boyd with a gift celebrating his retirement after years of service to the Chamber

In July of 2022, Jim Boyd, former director of the Cook County Chamber, announced his retirement. During the program at the 2022 Fall Gala, Linda Jurek thanked Jim for all of his work getting the Chamber launched and presented him with a gift on behalf of the Cook County Chamber Board of Directors.