Editor's Note: Cheryl Bakewell, president of the Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce, contributed to this column.


Each year at the Crystal Winter Gala, the Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce presents awards for outstanding service to both the Chamber and to our community.

On Jan. 26, more than 225 guests were on hand at the Candlewood Inn in Brookfield to celebrate the achievements of our award recipients for 2012.

This year, our business award was presented to John NeJaime of New Milford Spirit Shoppe and NeJaime's Wine & Spirits, both located in New Milford, and NeJaime's Fine Wine & Spirits of Watertown.

Mr. NeJaime has been in the spirits business for 20 years.

It all began when he purchased New Milford Spirit Shoppe 20 years ago, operating it with a family member and two part-time employees.

Mr. NeJaime currently owns three stores and employs 20 people.

Mr. NeJaime has an in-depth knowledge of wine, beer, and spirits and is always more than willing to lend that expertise to area nonprofit organizations.

He has been hosting wine and beer tastings for many years in our community.

Some of the beneficiaries of Mr. NeJaime's efforts include Water Witch Hose Co. No. 2, the New Milford Hospital mammogram program, the Community Culinary School of Northwestern Connecticut, the Village Center for the Arts and the Pratt Nature Center.

Our Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to a gentleman who also holds the title of being the longest running president of the Chamber, serving for 12 years.

Bill Babbino, and his wife, Fran, of 47 years, decided to move to New Milford 20 years ago when they contacted three different Chambers of Commerce and Pat Hembrook, then the executive director of the New Milford Chamber, was the only one to get back to them.

Mrs. Hembrook was so nice to them and described the town so well, Mr. and Mrs. Babbino made the choice to move to New Milford, sight unseen.

In addition to his involvement and dedication to the Chamber, Mr. Babbino also ran A New England New Year in New Milford for several years and became one of the top fundraisers for the Connecticut March of Dimes.

Mr. Babbino served with his wife as chairman and co-chairwoman of the Village Fair Days committee for 12 years.

The Babbinos have always been very supportive of children, looking out for kids who have had little or no home life and giving them a sense of accomplishment through their karate school, Double Dragon Dojo Martial Arts Academy.

Mr. Babbino believes in mutual respect for others and feels some of the best moments in his life have been related to the Chamber of Commerce and Village Fair Days.

We extend our heartfelt congratulations to this year's award recipients and thank you for everything you do to make our community a better place to live and work.

Denise Del Mastro is executive director of the Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce.