The 2021 EPIC Awards ATHENA recipient Kathi Bankes, podium, stands with four of her five grandchildren during her acceptance speech.
                                 Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

The 2021 EPIC Awards ATHENA recipient Kathi Bankes, podium, stands with four of her five grandchildren during her acceptance speech.

Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

Chamber hosts annual awards in-person at arena

<p>Ellie Bartoli, left, hands Mary Erwine flowers, as one of the recipients of the Volunteer of the Year Award, Tuesday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.</p>
                                 <p>Tony Callaio | For Times Leader</p>

Ellie Bartoli, left, hands Mary Erwine flowers, as one of the recipients of the Volunteer of the Year Award, Tuesday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

<p>Theodore Wampole, Luzerne County Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director, at the podium, along with C. David Pedri, outgoing Luzerne County manager, left, and Will Beekman, Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza general manager, center, are shown receiving the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Innovator of the Year Award, Tuesday night EPIC Awards at the Mohegan Sun Arena.</p>
                                 <p>Tony Callaio | For Times Leader</p>

Theodore Wampole, Luzerne County Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director, at the podium, along with C. David Pedri, outgoing Luzerne County manager, left, and Will Beekman, Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza general manager, center, are shown receiving the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Innovator of the Year Award, Tuesday night EPIC Awards at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

<p>Sandy Insalaco, right, recipient of the Volunteer of the Year Award is congratulated by Lindsay Griffin, Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce executive vice president/COO. Wico van Genderen, Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO looks on.</p>
                                 <p>Tony Callaio | For Times Leader</p>

Sandy Insalaco, right, recipient of the Volunteer of the Year Award is congratulated by Lindsay Griffin, Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce executive vice president/COO. Wico van Genderen, Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO looks on.

Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

<p>You’re not seeing double. That’s Kathi Bankes, recipient of the ATHENA Award, poses with a cutout of herself at the Epic Awards, Tuesday night.</p>
                                 <p>Tony Callaio | For Times Leader</p>

You’re not seeing double. That’s Kathi Bankes, recipient of the ATHENA Award, poses with a cutout of herself at the Epic Awards, Tuesday night.

Tony Callaio | For Times Leader

PLAINS TWP. — The Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce held the 2021 EPIC Awards on Tuesday evening at the Mohegan Sun Arena honoring people that inspire area communities. It was the first indoor event put on by the chamber since pre-pandemic times.

“Last year we offered EPIC virtually only so we aired it on Facebook, YouTube, WBRE, to the public so this year we transitioned back this year,” Lindsay Griffin, Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce executive vice president/COO, said. “It’s just exciting to (see) everyone again safely. It’s welcome back to live entertainment, welcome back to community events, and we are so excited for our honorees and to see everyone again.”

The 2021 categories are the ATHENA Award, the Innovator of the Year Award, the Volunteer of the Year Award along with seven organizations being recognized for achieving milestones.

Innovator of the Year

The first award of the evening was the Innovator of the Year Award, sponsored by Penn State Wilkes-Barre. The award goes to an individual or individuals demonstrating the ability to drive innovation in Luzerne County.

Theodore Wampole, Luzerne County Convention & Visitors Bureau, executive director, C. David Pedri, Luzerne County manager, and Will Beekman, Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza general manager, are this year’s recipients. Led by Wampole, the trio came up with the idea of taking the Rockin’ the County on the road through several boroughs and cities when the planned Rockin’ on the River event had to be cancelled in Wilkes-Barre due to the pandemic.

Wampole said his idea about taking Rockin’ the County to the street was a good idea when people came up to him to thank him.

“I knew right then maybe I wasn’t crazy after all and maybe we were on to something that would offer hope, happiness, and break from the emotional trappings we were all experiencing because of the pandemic,” Wampole said. “It was one of the most heartwarming experiences in my short career hear at the Visitors Bureau.”

Volunteer of the Year

The Award for Volunteer of the Year honors an individual whose voluntary support of community-based and nonprofit organizations in the Greater Wilkes-Barre region not only allows these entities to better meet their mission but also attract and retain other volunteers.

Mary Erwine — President of Erwine Home Health and Hospice, Inc. and Sandy Insalaco, Sr. — Owner/Director of Insalaco Development Group are the recipients of the Volunteer of the Year sponsored by Community Bank, N.A.

Erwine and Insalaco were being recognized for their volunteer contributions to the Misericordia University. The duo led the $30 million goal in raising money for a new science building.

“Tonight is beautiful,” Erwine said. “You don’t need to receive an award for what we (Erwine and Insalaco) did, I felt it was a responsibility to do what we could do for the students at Misericordia with the new science building. It’s an honor to be here and celebrate.”

ATHENA Award

The ATHENA Award is presented to a person who personifies the highest level of professional excellence in her business or profession, has devoted time and energy to the community in a meaningful way, and, most especially, has generously assisted other women in attaining their full potential.

The 2021 recipient is Kathi Bankes, Director of Catering and Special Events, Culinary Creations by Metz & Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

Bankes thanked many on her way to accepting the award, but she singled out her husband and children foremost including her five grandchildren who escorted her on the stage.

She compared her life to a tapestry.

“I never allow my tapestry to unravel, no matter how bad things got, I’d pick myself up and move on with the help of my friends,” Bankes said. “This past year, we have had impossible obstacles thrown in our path, we’ve faced those challenges and together we won this war. We’ve survived and it is so amazing to be here with all you tonight. I look forward to the brightest and best future for all of us.”

Community Celebrations

The 2021 Community Celebrations honors seven community and business services were recognized for noting milestones, sponsored by Geisinger. The seven are:

• Family Service Association of NEPA, celebrating 125 years,

• Pittston Chamber of Commerce, celebrating 100 years,

• United Way of Wyoming Valley, celebrating 100 years,

• Maternal and Family Health Services, Inc., celebrating 50 years,

• Leadership Wilkes-Barre, celebrating 40 years,

• Diamond City Partnership, celebrating 20 years, and

• Dress For Success Luzerne County, celebrating 10 years.

“We are usually giving out the awards,” Michelle Mikitish, Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce, said. “It’s nice that the Greater Wyoming Valley Chamber of Commerce is recognizing us.”

The 2021 EPIC Awards followed all local, state, federal, and arena health and safety guidelines in making the event happen.