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Phillips Spirit Award honors local business



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September 15, 2010 | 09:07 AM
For the Primex family of companies, the Walworth County Memory Walk is much more than a one-morning event to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer's disease.

The Alzheimer's Association and the walk has become a year-round focus of many Primex employees, which has led to a summer packed with special activities with the goal of fundraising for their cause.

Because of those efforts, the Lake Geneva based business will receive the second Wally Phillips Spirit Award Saturday in Library Park during the Memory Walk. Phillips was a well-known Chicago WGN radio broadcaster and Lake Geneva resident who made his final public appearance at the first Memory Walk in Walworth County in 2007. He died in March 2008, after a four-year battle with Alzheimer's.

"They are inspiring," Memory Walk co-chairman Andy Kerwin said of everyone involved at Primex. "They truly embody the spirit of Wally Phillips. They clearly have embraced this cause and now because of Primex, this isn't just a Memory Walk weekend, it's a summer of Memory Walk."

But, in the past few months, the effort to hold events and raise money to battle Alzheimer's has become even more serious for the Primex family. Three years ago, some members of the company randomly selected the Alzheimer's Association as their charity.

Primex sales representative Sonja Akright said since that time, she has lost both her grandparents to Alzheimer's and her husband's grandfather is battling the disease.

"So, I am very dedicated behind the Alzheimer's Association for those reasons," she said.

Akright isn't the only Primex employee dealing with the realities of Alzheimer's.

"Four or five weeks ago, both my parents were officially diagnosed," Primex Wireless Vice President Vince Guarna said. "It was a bit eerie at first because we chose it (the Alzheimer's Association) at random and now here it is staring me in the face. For me, before, I wanted to do some community service, but now it is personal. I really want to see what I can do."

All of the events have been held with the company's goal to raise $10,000 this year. Last year, they raised about $6,200. According to Akright, as of late last week, they already had raised $7,393.

"I am expecting to blow the lid off that $10,000 number," Guarna said. "We have had things going on throughout the year."

Those efforts also included employee donations and activities such as selling cookies.

"For the Primex Family, it is about team and teamwork," Chaney President Jon Balicki said. "Part of our core value system is giving back to the community which includes Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. We are very big into wellness and this is not only to give back, but through the Alzheimer's Association, which is very near and dear, but this (walk) also gets a number of folks together as a team to show we are serious and raise a new level of money for the organization."

Last month, the Primex family of companies, which includes Chaney Instrument Co., Klockit, Primex and Primex Wireless, held a benefit on a Friday night that included live music. The next day, they organized a car show and craft and vendor bazaar at Lake Geneva Middle School. This Friday, the night before the walk, another evening event is set, which will include a band and pig roast along with a silent auction and raffle prizes.

This is the third year Primex has been involved in the Memory Walk.

"This started as a desire of a core group wanting to do some community service," Guarna said. "Everyone does some community service in their church or in their own community, but there is a certain unifying feeling you get when a company tries to attack a goal."

The effort started as involvement in the walk. Guarna said the company had an "internal band" which included employees of the company. That's when they thought about incorporating music to help generate funds for a cause. From that thought came the other activities.

But, the walk is still the main event of the summer. Guarna pointed to Akright as the Primex employee who puts more time in than anyone regarding the Memory Walk and other events.

"She has a tremendous passion for the cause," Balicki said about Primex's walk chairman Akright."

Akright said she enjoys every aspect of being involved in the planning. Guarna said he enjoys being part of the band that entertains the crowds at the Friday evening events.

"I just love to do that," Guarna said. "To entertain, feed people and get the community to donate and have a good time all to generate money for the cause — that's what I like to do."

Balicki said he enjoys seeing the employees come together to participate in the walk.

"The walk is a great cause and you know the money being raised is meaningful and that it's going to something we are affected today or will be in the future," Balicki said.

Currently, Primex has 51 walkers on its team. That and the focus on teamwork is why Balicki was pleased everyone was together for the announcement about the award.

Kerwin attended the Primex annual picnic two weeks ago, where he announced that the company had been named the recipient for 2010. Kerwin said they were surprised and he was thrilled to be able to present the award to the group.

"He presented the spirit award to the entire organization, so it was very exciting for all of us to be together," Balicki said. "The fact that the team had come together made it a very special day."

The Wally Phillips Spirit Award was created and given out for the first time last year. Winners for the 2009 inaugural award were Dawn Dykstra and Debbie Sims.

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