Asher Agency, Blue Jacket round out GFW Inc. annual award winners

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Greater Fort Wayne (GFW) Inc. on Thursday announced the full slate of its annual award winners. Asher Agency was selected as the 2023 Small Business of the Year and Blue Jacket, Inc. was named the 2023 Nonprofit Organization of the Year. They were honored at Thursday’s GFW Inc. Annual Meeting dinner along with the winners of three additional awards, who were announced in May.

The award winners for 2023 are:

Small Business of the Year Award – Asher Agency
This award celebrates the success of small businesses and honors their contributions to Allen County’s economic growth. To be eligible, each nominee must be a Greater Fort Wayne Inc. investor in good standing, located in Allen County, have been in business for more than five years, have 50 or fewer full-time employees, have revenue of less than $5 million in 2022, and be an independently owned and operated, for-profit entity.

Nonprofit Organization of the Year Award – Blue Jacket, Inc.
This award celebrates the local nonprofit organizations that strengthen our community and improve the quality of life for Allen County residents. Eligibility criteria are identical to those for the Small Business of the Year Award, except nominees must be IRS-recognized nonprofit organizations.

Maclyn Parker Swagger Award for Community Vision and Leadership – Bob and Irene Walters
This award is given to an individual (or individuals) who exemplifies the persistence and will to make Fort Wayne-Allen County a thriving community by being a strong advocate for economic development.

Longtime advocates for Fort Wayne / Allen County, Bob and Irene Walters have been leaders in their corporate, nonprofit, educational, and civic endeavors. Irene Walters was a key driver of many community projects including riverfront development and, during her career at the former IPFW, the Mastodons on Parade public-art initiative. She has been heavily involved with nonprofits including GFW Inc., Friends of the Rivers, and the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne. Bob Walters has also been a leader in community redevelopment, serving as a founding member of the Downtown Improvement District, current chair of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Redevelopment Trust, and member of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board. He is retired after a distinguished career as an attorney at Barrett McNagny.

Barb Smith GFW Inc. Service Award – Kelly Updike
This award honors exemplary service to GFW Inc. and dedication to Allen County’s economic growth.

In addition to her work as president and CEO of the Embassy Theatre, Updike has served nine years on the GFW Inc. board of directors. She is the current chair of the Governance Committee, has served on the Executive Committee, led GFW Inc.’s Diversity Task Force, and was instrumental in developing GFW Inc.’s diversity and inclusion pledge and member expectations.

Public Official of the Year Award – John Stafford
This award honors exceptional efforts by public officials to build a stronger community—and grow jobs and wages—by creating the best environment to attract and retain talent and business.

For more than 50 years, Stafford has served the citizens of Allen County. His career in economic development and public finance has included work for Allen County, the City of Fort Wayne, the Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, and the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board.

“We are proud to recognize these award winners for all they do to help propel our community forward,” GFW Inc. president and CEO John Urbahns said. “Allen County has momentum because of talented residents who work hard and work together. It’s an honor to serve a community full of people who are committed to making a positive impact.”

The award presentations were part of GFW Inc.’s Annual Meeting dinner, hosted Thursday evening at the Parkview Mirro Center. More than 450 people attended the sold-out event, which celebrated the community’s accomplishments from 2022 and shared plans for a bright future in Allen County.


About Greater Fort Wayne Inc.

Greater Fort Wayne (GFW) Inc. serves Fort Wayne and Allen County, Ind., as its primary point of contact for economic growth. GFW Inc. focuses on prosperity and community vibrancy through economic development, advocacy, programs, and resources that support business success, leadership development, graduate retention, and community engagement.