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Chamber unveils annual Athena, Virginia Fry award recipients

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The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce this morning announced the annual recipients of its Athena and Virginia Fry Rising Star awards.

Affordable housing developer Debbie Shantz Hart is this year's Athena Award winner, and attorney Jarica Oeltjen is slated to receive the Virginia Fry Rising Star Award, according to a news release. Nominated by the public, the award honorees were chosen by an independent panel of judges, and a luncheon is scheduled March 20 at White River Conference Center to celebrate the recipients.

“Debbie and Jarica are two shining examples of the spirit behind the Athena and Virginia Fry Rising Star awards,” chamber President Matt Morrow said in the release. “Debbie is a leader of tremendous vision, who excels at creating strategic partnerships, while encouraging others to serve and lead in our community along the way. Jarica has demonstrated deep personal commitment to empowering women, while setting a standard for excellence in her profession and in our community.

"They lead by example and inspire others around them to be their very best.”

Hart co-owns DHTC Development LLC, Housing Plus LLC and Sustainable Housing Solutions LLC. She's also an attorney whose legal career included 13 years as general counsel for John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts, according to past reporting.

She's receiving the Athena Award that honors individuals who have exceeded in their fields, contributed to the community, supported women in leadership roles and dedicated time to improving quality of life for others, according to the release.

Oeltjen serves as deputy general counsel for FORVIS LLP. Last year, she served as president of the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association and received the Women’s Justice Award by Missouri Lawyer’s Weekly in 2019.

The Rising Star award, named after late Springfield attorney Virginia Fry, recognizes Oeltjen’s pro bono work and her legal expertise, according to the release.

Last year, the Athena Award went to Stephanie Stenger, president of Ron Stenger Cos., and the Virginia Fry Rising Star Award winner was Heather Hardinger, a Springfield City Council member, according to past reporting.

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