Eli Ruiz | Democrat
Parnership for Economic Development President Allan Scott, far left, and CEO Fred Stabbert III, far right, bookend Josh Sommers, second from right, who received the Walter A. Rhulen Award from NYS Senator John J. Bonacic at last Thursday’s Partnership annual meeting.
Josh Sommers, Darlene Fedun get their due from Partnership
By Eli Ruiz
ROCK HILL A list of the who’s who from Sullivan and Orange County’s business community including cable magnate and Bethel Woods founder Alan Gerry were out in full force last Thursday as the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development hosted its 18th Annual Meeting and Cocktail Reception.
In front of 228 attendees at the new Sullivan Hotel and Conference Center in Rock Hill, the Partnership presented the Walter A. Rhulen Award to Focus Media founder Josh Sommers and the Distinguished Service Award to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts Chief Operating Officer Darlene Fedun.
Partnership Board of Directors Chairman Fred Stabbert III opened the ceremony by noting that the Partnership has created more than 1,100 jobs in Sullivan County during the past two decades, which amounts to a $34 million annual payroll and more than $2 million annually in tax payments for the county, municipalities and school districts.
He also thanked Sommers and Fedun for all they’ve accomplished and said, “I would like to add my congratulations and thank both Josh and Darlene for all they have done.”
Stabbert then jokingly added, “Also, I just want to remind them that these awards don’t get you off the hook you’re still on my speed dial, and I will continue to call you.”
Partnership President Allan Scott was Master of Ceremonies, and also presented the group’s annual report. Scott spoke at length about some of the projects being worked on in and around Sullivan County, including a proposed Autism Diagnostic Center in the works with the Center for Discovery.
The 60-bed specialty hospital would have an immense impact on the county economy, creating upwards of 300 new jobs.
Also in attendance were New York State Senator John J. Bonacic, Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and county legislators Scott Samuelson, Ira Steingart and Cora Edwards. But still, the night belonged to Sommers and Fedun.
Gunther said, “ . . . I thank them for their outstanding and tireless work in our community. It takes a special person to devote themselves in the way that both Josh and Darlene have and they join an elite and impressive group of people who have received these awards before and couldn’t be more deserving of this honor.”
Sommers founded Focus Media Group in 2002 after years in radio and as a newspaper columnist. The firm famously had its start in a tiny 300-square-foot office in Bridgeville, yet has gone on to become one of Inc. magazine’s 5,000 fastest growing companies nationwide. The magazine also called Sommers’ firm the fastest growing of its kind in the Eastern U.S. PR Week named Focus Media the largest firm of its kind in New York State.
Fedun has been with Bethel Woods Center for the Arts since 2006 and oversees all of its divisions including programing, marketing, operations and development. Fedun has served as a member of the Town of Liberty Parks and Recreation Planning Board, Liberty Little League Board and has served as Liberty Youth Center Board President. Fedun is founder of the non-profit, Angels for Youth, an organization benefiting at-risk youth. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of Liberty Properties, the Sullivan County Visitors Association and the Liberty Community Development Agency.
Senator Bonacic said of Fedun, “This lady is a dynamic powerhouse. She is intelligent, she is committed, she is a can-do lady . . . It’s been a very successful year for Bethel Woods bringing in over 200,000 people, and while we say Bethel Woods is Alan Gerry, we have to say in the same breath: Darlene Fedun.”
Before presenting Fedun with her award, Karen Fisher of Fisher Mears said, “If you’ve worked with or for Darlene, you know she’s one tough task-master… she questions everything and she leaves no stone unturned.” Fisher even credited Fedun for preparing her to run her own successful business.
After receiving her award, Fedun and Fisher were joined at the podium by Alan Gerry, who presented an emotional Fedun with a wooden case containing New York Philharmonic Orchestra Leader Bramwell Tovey’s conductor’s baton, which was used on opening night at Bethel Woods on July 1, 2006.
Fisher added, “Great leaders are like the best conductors, they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in their players… thank you for your distinguished service, your leadership, and your humanity and commitment to Sullivan County.”
“I am honored to be this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award,” said Fedun. “In accepting the award, I would like to recognize the efforts of the team at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and our Board of Trustees for their dedication and contributions to the center’s success.”
“Creating vibrant communities where everyone works together toward growth and prosperity for themselves, their families and future generations is a collective effort, and while Alan Scott, the staff, membership and board of the Partnership work very hard to cultivate new relationships, Bethel Woods works hard to support those efforts by utilizing the arts, and our unique place in American history to inspire and enrich the lives of individuals and our communities,” added Fedun.
When it came time for the night’s big award, a videotaped message from Senator Charles Schumer was played for the audience.
Having worked with Focus Media over the years, Schumer recalled Sommers’ humble roots, and his meteoric rise.
“How driven is Josh Sommers?” asked Schumer. “Well, in 2006 Josh landed in the hospital with two collapsed lungs, the result of accidentally inhaling pesticide . . . [it] didn’t stop him from working, though, firing-up his laptop while he still had tubes in his chest.”
Schumer commended Sommers for his civic contributions to the region and lauded the Sullivan County Partnership saying, “The Partnership’s work has touched the lives of all who live and work in Sullivan County… it certainly serves its mission of benefiting the general public by enhancing the quality of life and improving the standard of living while protecting and preserving the beautiful environment for everyone who lives in the county.”
In past years, it has been a Partnership tradition to have the Previous year’s Walter A. Rhulen Award winner present the award to the current recipient.
Unfortunately, due to a family tragedy, last years award winner, Darrell Supak, was unable to attend, so when it finally came time for Sommers to be recognized, it was Senator Bonacic who was tasked with presenting the Rhulen award.
“This is the story of a young person who has realized the American dream, said Bonacic of Sommers, “and he’s still young enough that that dream is just going to get bigger and bigger.”
The senator recalled, “A couple of years ago I hired Josh to work on a campaign, and I’m not going to talk about his professionalism or talent, because everybody in this room he’s probably worked for or did something with, and they know his talent. I’m going to talk about the individual that I saw, that I got to know… he has a strong human spirit to succeed, he is aggressive, but never ever will he dilute his humanity, his humility and his civility.”
A humbled Sommers said, “I feel like I have friends in the room, and it’s a privilege to not only be here for this recognition, but also to share the night with Darlene … and she is pretty tough.”
“I often tell people that Sullivan County adopted me, it saw me through the darkest moments of my life and helped me grow as a businessman, a business professional and showed me that even small communities can think big and it became the launchpad for my life’s greatest work, second only to being a parent,” added Sommers.
Sommers continued, “So in Sullivan County it’s my belief that giving back personally and professionally is my responsibility, and one of those ways is to work actively in economic development, to make sure Sullivan County has a better future.”
Sommers then named what he called some of the “shinning stars” of the Sullivan County landscape. Businesses that will usher Sullivan County into the future, businesses like the Center for Discovery and its 300-plus jobs, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Villa Roma resort and its $30 million reinvestment, Crystal Run Healthcare, who Sommers said, “has changed the game in the region . . . and actually made our hospital [Catskill Regional Medical Center] better.”
The evening’s festivities would soon draw to a close and folks would head to their respective homes to get some rest and begin anew the following morning.
Somehow, though, it’s hard to imagine two individuals as driven and tireless as Sommers and Fedun ever getting any rest.
For more information on the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development go to www.scpartnership.com.