Finding a Spark: Winners of the Keweenaw Community Spark Plug Awards honored Thursday

Michael H. Babcock/Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce Keweenaw Community Spark Plug Award nominees from left to right, Copper Harbor Trails Club, Anders Hill, Lt. Nick Roberts, Calumet Electronics, K.C. Bonkers and Orbion Space Technology.

HOUGHTON — The Keweenaw Community Spark Plug Awards have one problem every year. How to narrow nominees down to just six?

This year there were 82 businesses, organizations and individuals nominated by community members.

“There are a lot of deserving people here today that are going to walk away without an award but you’ve got 12 months and many of you will be back here again,” said Brian Donnelly, president of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

The first award was met with cheers as Lt. Nicholas Roberts of the Houghton Police Department was announced.

Roberts was selected for going above and beyond his role as an officer, organizing community events like the Victorian Christmas, Treat Street, and Pigs and Heat, Donnelly explained.

“I’m very humbled to be up here,” Roberts said.

Roberts sees engagement as a key part of community policing rather than just negative situations. It’s a relationship of giving back, mutual support and improvement, he explained.

The second award went to K.C. Bonkers of Hancock for customer service.

“The very first time I walked through the store, the person I was with looked at me a said exactly what I was thinking: ‘I’m going to love this place,'” read the nomination.

The coffee shop and toy and game store is known for quality service and whimsy, the nomination went on, embodying small town friendliness.

“In two years I never heard from anyone that their experience here was anything less than pleasant,” it read.

Co-owner Clay Hilman accepted the award with his daughter who had just started working at the shop.

“I really wish my entire staff could be here, you don’t have customer service without a staff,” he said.

The third award was for growth and was awarded to Calumet Electronics Corporation. The company has been in the area for 50 years with expanding influence as most similar companies fold up and disappear. Now Calumet Electronics is thinking of developing a campus.

“Believe it or not, circuit boards are boring,” whispered COO Todd Brassard. “We sell the story of who we are.”

Fourth came the Innovation award for Orbion Space Technology. The company entirely employs Tech graduates. CEO Brad King took the chance to fire a few shots at the competition.

“Our biggest competitor is a company called SpaceX led by a guy named Elon Musk and we’re going to take him,” King said.

The Project of the Year was awarded to Copper Harbor Trails Club for their work on the Keweenaw Point Trail project an ongoing mountain biking trail through the remote Lake Superior shoreline.

The final award of the night went to the young person of the year Houghton Elementary School Principal Anders Hill.

Hill called attention to his family and staff as the real reason behind the success of Houghton Elementary.

“What makes a great school are great teachers and we have some of the best in the country,” Hill said.