Thomas Thayer of Tri-North Builders, Isthmus Indies "Dynamic Developer" honoree.
The ceremony for the inaugural Isthmus Independent Business Awards, held at Eldorado Grill on Monday evening, felt like a quintessential Madison event: genial and informal, with a streak of eccentricity as well as an urgency about saving the world. After margaritas, that is.
And why wouldn't the Indies be a quintessentially local event? Sponsored by Isthmus and Heartland Credit Union, with an assist from Dane Buy Local, the awards were created to honor quintessentially local businesses. The eight winners are dedicated to the principles of innovation, sustainability and community, and all took a turn at the podium to express adoration for a city and a county that share those values.
Did I mention the margaritas? Eldorado's Kevin Tubb laid out a Southwestern feast, and the restaurant provided a cozy setting for a brief ceremony and friendly mingling before and after. Isthmus' associate publisher, Linda Baldwin, introduced winners Carol "Orange" Schroeder of Orange Tree Imports; Anya Firszt of the Willy Street Co-op; Thomas Thayer of Tri-North Builders; Rick Cathcart of SCRAM! Couriers; Bryan Chan of SupraNet Communications; Rev. Gene Ferrara of the Center for Conscious Living; Tom Linfield, an artist who donates his work for community projects; and Barry Levenson, founder of the whimsical National Mustard Museum.
Levenson, who won the Market Spark award for his innovative practices, ended his remarks by singing a song about mustard set to the tune of "On, Wisconsin." Earlier, he explained to me that his archenemy was ketchup. You can't accuse him of taking his prestigious new award too seriously.
By contrast, Bryan Chan, winner of the forward-looking Dane and Beyond award, spoke with touching earnestness of his commitment to Madison. His local philanthropic heroes -- the Goodman brothers, Jerry Frautschi, Pleasant Rowland have given him something to shoot for. "If I can help inspire others to go out there and help make this community even better," he said, "that to me is worth doing."
Rev. Gene Ferrara won the Bridge Builder award for bringing people together, and he certainly didn't take the night off. "It's when we come together and come to know each other that it gets harder and harder to hate each other," he told me. "I think that's the next step for our planet -- to get over the barriers that keep people from seeing each other as human beings."
Orange Schroeder won the Neighborhood Notable award for leadership, and fittingly, she delivered the line of the night. I suggest the Indie organizers emblazon this phrase on next year's plaques:
"Cooperation brings much more strength than individualism."