Last updated: August 24. 2013 4:50PM - 345 Views

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LIMA — All the nominees have a passion for what they do.

That was Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce President Jed Metzger’s description of the finalists for the 11th annual Gala Awards. That excellence was on display at the UNOH Event Center Wednesday night.

Marc Bowker, owner of Alter Ego Comics, took home the night’s final award, for Small Business of the Year. He thanked his wife, Angie.

“Not every spouse will support you when you say you want to open a comic store,” Bowker said.

Bowker also thanked the Lima business community, saying he has come to know a town filled with people willing to share their experience and collaboration.

Sondra Ambrister proudly accepted the award for Woman-Owned Business of the Year on behalf of her mother, Jonalee Schmidt, who couldn’t be at the event because she is recovering from surgery.

“I’m very proud representing her. She’s worked hard to be where she is,” Ambrister said of her mother.

Armbrister manages The Ritz, which is owned by Schmidt Inc., which also owns HRJ Hair Solutions. Schmidt is the fourth owner of The Ritz, which has a 70-year history in Lima. Both businesses help people dealing with health issues, such as cancer, feel and look better.

“My mother said she thanks God for giving her the privilege of affecting so many lives positively,” Armbrister said. “That’s why she says she can’t retire.”

Allen County Council on Aging won Non-Profit of the Year. Executive Director Diane Bishop was surprised by the honor because the agency won the award in 2006.

“I’m absolutely in awe,” Bishop said. "I’m amazed by the partnerships and collaborations, and cooperative spirit of the for-profit companies and non-profit agencies in this community.”

Jim Unverferth, president of HCF Inc., earned the Athena Award, given to someone who has promoted and lifted up women.

HCF employs nearly all women in its many health care and nursing facilities. It has helped fund a scholarship for nursing students. Unverferth said his job has been made easier in a community raising children to be great employees.

“What a great community this is to be a part of,” Unverferth said. “You all should be receiving this award. You make my job easier because you raised your kids.”

Tom Ahl, with Tom Ahl Family of Dealerships, was the keynote speaker for the night. He gave the crowd a history lesson on the business started by his parents. By 16, Ahl said, he was helping buy cars at auction. In 1971, the business moved to its current location on Allentown Road. He took folks down memory lane, including sharing an advertisement for “1976 brand new Gremlins,” for $1,799.99.

The Gala Awards are sponsored by Fifth Third Bank and Sheakley.

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