Vets' parade, Gilson honored at SRVVB awards

From left, Graham Showalter and Kevin Bittenbender, on behalf of the Union County Veterans 4th of July Committee, accepted the Herb Bendt Award from Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau board President Amanda Woolsey.

SHAMOKIN DAM — Two entities which hold events that draw thousands to Central Pennsylvania were honored during the Susquehanna River Valley Visitor’s Bureau’s (SRVVB) annual dinner and awards ceremony, held Thursday evening at the Susquehanna Valley Country Club.

The Union County Veterans 4th of July Committee received the bureau’s Herb Bendt Award, while Gilson Snow was presented with the 2019 Dan Baylor Tourism Award.

The award winners were introduced by Amanda Woolsey, president of the SRVVB board of directors.

Woolsey said Bendt is credited with starting a tourism committee, under the umbrella of the Lewisburg Chamber of Commerce, in 1962. The award is presented to an entity that has a favorable impact on tourism in the valley.

Woolsey said the first parade was held in 1995, when a group of individuals came together to organize the event to be held in conjunction with the rededication of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which had been vandalized.

“Since 1995, the parade has grown exponentially,” Woolsey said. “It is typical to have 250 entrants in the parade. Each year, 80 to 100 veterans who represent conflicts from World War II to the present proudly participate.”

The award was accepted by committee President Kevin Bittenbender and President Emeritus Graham Showalter.

In accepting the award, Bittenbender announced that helicopter rides will be offered as part of this year’s festivities. The parade steps off at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 29, in Lewisburg.

Rides in a Huey helicopter will be available following the parade from the BZ Motors lot. A Huey will also fly over Lewisburg prior to the parade.

In addition to thanking the SRVVB for the award, Bittenbender recognized Showalter for serving as his mentor in organizing all of the festivities surrounding the parade, which draws thousands to the area each year.

Showalter also expressed thanks for the award, and reflected on the true meaning of the parade.

“We can never thank our veterans enough for what they’ve done,” he said, adding that the parade is designed to thank veterans from across Central Pennsylvania.

In presenting the Dan Baylor Tourism Award, Woolsey described Baylor as a founder of tourism promotion in the region. The award is presented to an individual or organization demonstrating entrepreneurial spirit in promoting tourism.

Based in Winfield, Woolsey described Gilson snow as one of the country’s fastest-growing snowboard and ski manufacturers.

She noted that the business hosts a Summer Snow Day each July, which draws thousands to the area.

Gilson’s Austin Royer and Andrew Mikowski accepted the award.

Royer noted this will be the fourth year the business has hosted a Summer Snow Day. This year’s event is scheduled for July 27 and is expected to draw around 3,000 attendees.

The first year the event was held, Royer said 750 people attended. That number quickly grew to 2,000 by year two.

In addition to the awards, SRVVB Executive Director Andrew Miller spoke on the state of tourism in Union, Northumberland and Snyder counties.

In 2017, Miller said $400 million was spent on tourism in the three counties.

“We are a tourism destination and we need to think like one,” Miller said.

He said the area must be promoted on a national level, which is already taking place.

Miller highlighted the many marking tools utilized by the SRVVB, including the production of brochures, magazines and the utilization of digital promotions and social media.

He said the SRVVB has utilized videos in both Toronto and Times Square to promote tourism in the tri-county area. Miller noted that the Times Square video was visible in the background during an episode of “Good Morning America.”

Staff writer Kevin Mertz can be reached at 570-742-9671 or email

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