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Opinion: 2021 awards highlight community’s best, brightest

Truth Be Told

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Springfield Business Journal wrapped its 2021 awards season this month with the Health Care Champions event. It was a powerful night to culminate an exceptional year of honorees.

It’s rare I get emotional at my job. But our awards events and coverage are certainly the exception.

Each health care professional who took the stage had gone through “war,” as one provider called it, over the past 20 months battling COVID-19. Some honorees were on the front lines of the pandemic, and others had to navigate providing care amid the uncertainty it created. To be nominated and selected as a top care provider by their peers was clearly a career highlight for the honorees, as many accepted the award with tearful words of gratitude.

The event was a moment for the honorees to pause, be celebrated and feel validated in their work by colleagues and the business community. The Health Care Champions event has always been important, but the dedication of the people in this industry has never been more apparent, and it was a privilege to be a part of giving them the recognition they earned by sharing their stories.

Throughout the year, SBJ honors people and companies across industries who are making an impact on our community. Our awards are evaluated by an independent panel of judges made up of past honorees, which is important to preserve the integrity of the awards. These judges spend many hours carefully reading each honoree’s questionnaire, resume and recommendation letter. We could not put on these awards without them.

Let’s take a quick look back at this year’s events, which we safely hosted in person after a year of Zoom awards.

We kicked off 2021 awards in March celebrating the class of 40 Under 40 with a drive-in party. We got creative with this event for its 22nd iteration. The class was composed of one of our most, if not the most, diverse group of honorees to date. It’s a promising look at our community’s young and future leaders.

In late May, we gathered for an in-person ceremony as we counted down the 12 fastest-growing companies in the Ozarks and honored top professionals through the Dynamic Dozen awards. This year’s front-runner was new to the awards altogether. Insurance software provider Next Level Solutions recorded 1,094% growth from 2018 to 2020 and was tracking an ever-growing employee count. Amid a year of economic trials and uncertainty, it was great to see so many businesses post record revenue.

That was followed by another showcase of business influence in our community with the Economic Impact Awards in July. We celebrated Nancy O’Reilly with the Lifetime in Business Award for her efforts advancing women’s equality. Four of the five companies who received top honors were health care agencies, which seemed incredibly fitting amid a pandemic.

In the following months, we turned our attention to the top individuals in our business community with Men of the Year, Trusted Advisers and Most Influential Women. Over decades of these awards, we have not run out of stories to share. Local talent runs deep.

The men and the women honored demonstrate what effective leadership looks like, and they model how to use talents and time to invest in your community. We also honored Shaun Burke as Legacy Adviser. He started his career as a bank teller and rose to president and CEO of Guaranty Bank.

With these awards, SBJ in 2021 honored 129 people and 33 companies. And the honorees collectively raised $44,500 for this year’s charity partners, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri, United Way of the Ozarks and Women in Need.

Long before an event is held, every award at SBJ starts with you. We rely on the community to nominate and let us know about their standout co-workers or companies that are revving our community’s economic engine. You can nominate anytime at

It truly was an exceptional year for award honorees. I’m confident 2022 will be no different.

Springfield Business Journal Executive Editor Christine Temple can be reached at


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