Chamber dinner 2021

Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce board President Vicki Blessing (from left) congratulates winners of awards at the 115th annual dinner at Good Times of Olean Events on Thursday: Eric Garvin, represented by son Max, brother Terry, father Spence, and daughter Sophia; LOUIE Award winner Chris Napoleon; and Enterprising Business Award recipient the Mahar Family Businesses, represented by Mahar family members Jim Jr., Jim Sr., Paul and Tom.

OLEAN — This year’s top volunteer at the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce so embodied service that the award is now named in his memory.

The Chamber, at its 115th annual dinner, renamed its top volunteer recognition the Eric Garvin Volunteer of the Year award after Garvin, this year’s recipient, who passed away in August.

“Eric’s skills were an asset to every group he volunteered with, and there are so many shoes to fill,” said Terry Brairton, a Chamber board member who announced the name change during Thursday’s ceremony at Good Times of Olean Events. “I wish he was here sitting there with his family to receive this award.”

Garvin was the recipient of the volunteer award as well as the Presidential Award — given by the Chamber’s board to a business, organization or person who is “iconic and integral to the fabric of the business community.”

Garvin’s career in banking began with Northwest Financial Services as a manager. He then worked for Jamestown Savings Bank, located in the Tops plaza. He joined the Community Bank where he ran the Allegany branch, then moved to its commercial lending department and became vice president of retail lending and also oversaw the operation of 100 branches.

However, his service was felt in various groups across the region, including being a past president and Paul Harris Award recipient of the Olean Rotary Club; serving the United Way and the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce; and as past president of the Olean City School District Board of Education.

Although he volunteered for these organizations, GOACC staff believed that Eric’s heart was in his service to the Chamber of Commerce. He spent almost 20 years on the board of directors, chairing the finance committee and serving as board president. He also volunteered at most events.

Garvin’s father, Spence, said his son was the third generation to roll up their sleeves and help a chamber of commerce to further its mission.

“He embraced service to his community,” he said. “Service is in the Garvin DNA.”

TWO ADDITIONAL awards were feted in the dinner, originally set as the 2020 LOUIE and Enterprising Business awards.

The decision to hold over the awards after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 dinner, said board President Vicki Blessing, was an easy one to make.

“We didn’t think it was fair that COVID hit” and they could not be recognized properly in 2020, Blessing said. “You’re two of Olean’s finest.”

The LOUIE Award — Love of Olean, United In Enterprise, named after the late Louie Marra — went to Christopher Napoleon, founder and president of Napoleon Engineering Services. Born in Allegany, he graduated from Allegany Central School and attended Pitt-Bradford for two years before transferring to the Pittsburgh campus to complete a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering; and later earned a master’s in manufacturing management from Kettering University in Flint, Mich.

Napoleon began his manufacturing career in a bearing engineer position with MRC. He relied on his education, entrepreneurial spirit and experience in creating his own business — he started NES in his garage, and the business has continued to grow each year since its inception.

From a nomination form turned in by Melissa Curran, “Chris is a humble, patriotic, generous human. He strives to support the local economy, to compensate his employees to the best of his ability, to provide ongoing training to support their careers, and to support manufacturing education, opportunities and overall economic growth throughout the WNY area. He is a quiet, careful person who leads by example in everything he does.”

Napoleon devotes his time to numerous organizations, officials said, because he believes that Olean and the people who live here are special. He is passionate about encouraging economic and social growth in our community.

In addition to his business, Napoleon is instrumental in many committees/organizations: Workforce Development Board, current honorary member/past chairman; Olean General Hospital Foundation, board member; Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier; president of the Cattaraugus/Olean Airport Support Group; member of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford Advisory Board; and a participating member of the Olean Executive Alliance.

“Chris Napoleon exemplifies the LOUIE award in so many ways,” said Larry Sorokes, former CEO of the Chamber and emcee for the dinner. “He supports his own company’s workforce, as well as regional workforce development initiatives. He promotes local manufacturing and encourages people to embark on manufacturing careers. He is an entrepreneur and he coaches others to be entrepreneurs as well. He is positive, optimistic, inspirational and motivational.”

The Enterprising Business Award was presented to the Mahar family businesses — specifically the Park and Shop Service Stores.

Francis J. Mahar Sr. started out in the grocery business in 1923, working for the Market Basket stores. Eager to venture out on his own, on his 18th birthday, Oct. 13, 1923, he opened the first Service Store on Center Street in Olean and went full-time at it in 1936 with four locations — 1504 W. State St., 1020 N. Union St. and in Arcade.

By 1942 the Center Street store had outgrown its building, and a new Boardmanville store was opened at the corner of Main and Front streets. Later, when “free parking” became a perk to shoppers, the stores added the name “Park and Shop,” which today is used interchangeably with Service Stores.

Many other helped along the way. His wife, Margaret, joined up before their marriage and served as treasurer of the corporation until her death in 1997. She also raised a family of nine children, all of whom worked in the stores while they were growing up. Francis also also helped by his cousin Frank J. Ryan, vice president of the corporation; and close friend Harry M. Pike, who was secretary and office manager. Long-time friend and manager of the Front Street store, Marty Ruth, later became vice president who with his wife served the firm for almost 60 years.

After his death in 1980, Francis Mahar’s legacy was continued by five sons — Francis (who died in 2015), James, Paul, Thomas and Daniel (who died in 2001). Several third-generation family members also work at the businesses.

Francis Mahar Sr.’s family, friends, employees and customers owe much to the 18-year-old Market Basket worker who wanted to start his own store and who went on to leave a 21st century supermarket chain as his legacy.

(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)

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