GFW Inc. names annual award winners, finalists

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Greater Fort Wayne (GFW) Inc. Thursday announced the winners of three annual awards, as well as the finalists for the 2023 Small Business of the Year and Nonprofit Organization of the Year awards. The awards, distributed each year during GFW Inc.’s Annual Meeting event, honor local leaders, up-and-coming businesses, and dedicated nonprofits.

The award winners and finalists for 2023 are:

Maclyn Parker Swagger Award for Community Vision and Leadership
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.

This year’s winners: Bob and Irene Walters 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
This award honors exemplary service to GFW Inc. and dedication to Allen County’s economic growth.

This year’s winner: Kelly UpdikeIn addition to her work as president and CEO of the Embassy Theatre, Kelly 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
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.

This year’s winner: John StaffordFor more than 50 years, John 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.

Small Business of the Year Award
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 2021, and be an independently owned and operated, for-profit entity.

This year’s finalists:

  • Asher Agency
  • Dancer Concrete Design
  • Plant Engineering Services, Inc.
  • Reimbold & Miller

Nonprofit Organization of the Year Award
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.

This year’s finalists:

  • Amani Family Services
  • Blue Jacket, Inc.
  • Children’s Autism Center
  • Early Childhood Alliance
  • Out of a Jam Inc.
  • The League
  • The Literacy Alliance

“Our community is on the rise because we have talented people who make a difference every day. These award winners have generously given their time and talents for decades, and Allen County is a better place thanks to their contributions,” GFW Inc. president and CEO John Urbahns said. “They’re representative of a community full of people who are committed to making a positive impact.”

The award presentations will be part of GFW Inc.’s Annual Meeting dinner, which celebrates the community’s accomplishments from 2022 and shares plans for a bright future in Allen County. The event is set for 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 8 at the Parkview Mirro Center. Tickets are available at

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.