For 32 years, the Indianapolis hospitality industry has come together to honor those who make our city the welcoming place we know and love. By going beyond the expectations of their job descriptions, these service champions leave lasting impressions that bring true meaning to the phrase “Hoosier Hospitality.”
On May 11, we honored 93 nominees and celebrated nine winners at the 32nd Annual ROSE Awards Presented by Citizens Energy Group. ROSE is an acronym for "Recognition of Service Excellence," and when asked what hospitality meant to these 93 honorees, it was clear that ensuring our city is known for world-class service is top of mind for those that move our industry forward.
Without further ado, presenting the winners of the 32nd Annual ROSE Awards Presented by Citizens Energy Group.
Teamster at Indiana Convention Center
Barry Wehr has been a full-time set-up Teamster at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium for 25 years. In his tenure, he has seamlessly set up more than 12,500 events inside the Indiana Convention Center. He works behind the scenes to set up exhibit booths, lay carpet, and build bleachers. A good set-up team leader is indicated by how little they are noticed by the client. Barry works two full-time jobs, and after coming straight from his other job, he checks in early with the Convention Center’s night supervisor to see where he needs to focus his immediate attention. He then preps for the day’s big event, with setup completion ready to go before the client steps foot in the door.
“Barry has a level of patience of people in here – newer people – being able to teach them in way I‘ve not been able to see other people break through,”
– Ronnie Osborne: Setup Manager at the Indiana Convention Center
Guest Services Supervisor at Ironworks Hotel
It’s estimated that across the four years Olivia has worked for this northside hotel, she’s penned nearly one thousand personalized welcome notes to visitors attempting to make an ordinary visit to Indy extraordinary. She’s known for going above and beyond in creating personalized pet amenities to welcome Indy’s four-legged visitors.
After making the Dean’s List at Ivy Tech, Olivia went on to explore other tourism hot spots like Hawaii and Miami, Florida, working for a five-star resort. While finding her stride in tourism and solidifying her passion in serving others, she always kept coming back to her hometown and hub for hospitality, Indianapolis.
“She always gives off this energy of knowing exactly what to do and exactly what to say. When you know that you have an issue, you go to Liv first.”
– TK Ellison: Admin Assistant at Ironworks Hotel
Downtown Safety Ambassador for Downtown Indy, Inc.
For the past seven years, Scott has walked Indy’s downtown streets to clean, beautify and welcome visitors. He’s become a familiar smiling face to many. On multiple occasions, Scott has personally escorted visitors to their destinations, whether they were searching for their parking garage or the nearest grocery store. Scott has taken the time to get to know everyone he sees downtown– the bellmen, the valet, the bankers, and conventioneers. He’s also spent time getting to know our downtown unhoused neighbors and hearing their stories. For instance, after earning the trust of one gentleman, Scott ensured he was referred to the Homelessness Initiatives Program, providing him safety and needed care.
“Scott, you are one of the brightest parts of my day when I am working at the store. I have never met someone who is as kind and compassionate as you are. I strive to be like that, and I strive to raise all of the foster kids in my care to be like that.”
– Danielle Cooney, Owner of Small Batch Soups
Sales Manager and Owner of the Indiana Roof Ballroom
When Antonia and her family took over operations at Indiana Roof Ballroom in 2002, the hospitality industry was introduced to the most quintessential industry leader – yet one of the most unassuming professionals. From events large and small, the Indiana Roof Ballroom has hosted presidents to pop stars and the most lavish of weddings. Behind it all is Antonia Zunarelli, never sitting still so that no detail is ever missed. Yet she never seeks attention nor praise. Based on the team at the Roof Ballroom’s tenure, it is evident that the staff all love her. She’s dedicated her weeknights and weekends to this industry for 21 years. Antonia has served nearly 4,300 events here, 14 of those being the Annual ROSE Awards.
“One of the important things to remember is there are a lot of weddings that happen here, and for a bride and groom, this can be the most memorable night of their lives. And to think about how Antonia approaches that with total seriousness, total dedication, is just amazing because she makes memories - lifetime memories - happen in one night.”
– Phil Bayt, Antonia’s Brother.
Server at Charlie Browns Pancake and Steak House
Charlie Browns Pancake and Steak House has had a consistent smiling face for more than three decades. Her trademark is her two-foot spoon she carries around ready to bop any customer who acts out. For the many Indy-based regulars or the visitors who have become regulars, they all know that if you fall victim to the spoon, it’s because Debbie likes you. This Speedway hot spot is no stranger to the crowds during race month. On race weekend, Debbie will show up to work before the sun comes up to get ready ahead of opening. She’ll walk past an already long line of visitors waiting at the door whether they’ve been standing in queue for awhile or they brought their camping chair to hold their spot. For 30 years, she’s compiled a roster of regulars coming from all corners of the globe, bellying up to the booth and anxiously awaiting that smile, that hug, and maybe even a tap of the silver spoon.
“No matter what area she’s working in the restaurant, she sees you – she’ll go out of her way to go over to talk to you. She has that radiant personality and that sense of humor.
– Steve Forrest, Longtime Patron at Charlie Browns Pancake and Steak House
Suite Host for Sodexo Live! inside Lucas Oil Stadium
Barnes & Thornburg has been the benefactor of having James serve as their suite host since the stadium’s opening. He’s now introduced his larger-than-life personality and compassionate character to over 5,000 suite guests. The firm will fly in visitors from around the country and host them in their suite, serving as a recruitment tool to acquire new clients. While their law credentials go a long way, it’s also James’ warm welcome, over-the-top service and genuine care that can seal the deal. He is most often the perception these visitors have about Indy as a destination.
“There’s a quote by Maya Angelou that goes something to the effect of ‘people will forget what you did or who you are, but they’ll never forget how you make them feel,’ and I think that exactly embodies Mr. James.
I know how he has made me feel in the suite. I know how he makes my family feel, I know how he’s made my clients feel. And that’s what has endeared me to him.”
– Angela B. Freeman, Partner at Barnes & Thornburg
Server at Hilton Garden Inn Indianapolis Airport and Schahet Hotels
While Pam’s responsibilities are specific to serving visitors at Hilton Garden Inn, you’ll often find her with her sleeves rolled up helping polish silverware in the banquets department or cleaning the public restrooms. When a restaurant visitor asked for a specific food item one morning, she took it upon herself to go and buy it with her own money. The next morning, the kitchen was re-stocked and ready for the hotel guest to come down for breakfast. Pam is notorious for showing up to the hotel on her off days, just to lend a hand. She has quickly become the heart and soul of the hotel and the trendsetter for their guests’ expectations.
“Pam, we are so proud of you. We’re proud of how you pay attention to detail. How your guests are the most important thing to you. How you recognize that your smile can make a difference. That why you’re so special and that’s why we say that you rock.”
– Les Powell, General Manager at Hilton Garden Inn Indianapolis Airport and Schahet Hotels
Stephen "Woody" Woods
Supervisor of Facilities at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
For the past 27 years Woody has been examining the most iconic racetrack in the world with a fine tooth comb. Every fence row, bleacher seat, tire barrier, or inch of the track’s surface is presented in world-class form so that the millions of visitors and 33 daring drivers can enjoy a safe and seamless experience. As an example of his loyalty and dedication to the visitor experience, Woody couldn’t sleep after watching heavy rain roll through Indy the day before the big race. So, what does he do? At 2 am he gets behind the wheel of the sweeper to begin removing the excess water from the track’s surface. And he did this at the request of no one.
He’ll do whatever it takes to make the track one of the best places in the world to host events and give people from not just the US, but from around the globe, a positive experience in Indianapolis.
“I’m just so proud of him that he’s able to come here every day and do what he loves. He wakes up everyday loving what he does and I aspire to be that. No matter how busy my dad gets at the track he always shows up for me. It didn’t matter what it was; he always made time for me, and he always made time for the track.”
– Camille Woods, Woody’s Daughter
Coach Operator at IndyGo
Jonathon connects our community and visitors to cultural and economic opportunities through safe, reliable, and courteous transportation services at IndyGo. He also has personal mission to help others achieve a healthy lifestyle. He even started a company called “I’m Why," and hosted his first 5K race called “Run for Ya Life” as an opportunity to directly impact others’ lives through accountability and encouragement. As an added testament to his dedication to the community, he donated the proceeds to the Indianapolis Art Center and the Christamore Youth Program.
His care for others continues to shine as he participates in the “Give the Kids the World Village Marathon” each year, raising funds that allow families with children suffering from a critical illness to enjoy a weeklong, cost-free vacation.
Jonathon has been seen handing out food and essentials to Indy’s unhoused population. Out of the goodness of his own heart, out of his own pocket, and, out of his pure will to make others feel seen and worthy. He is the physical definition of hope and inspiration. After losing nearly 100 pounds himself, he has decided to become a source of motivation for others. That strive for excellence has become a part of his approach to those who step on his bus, those he passes by on the city streets, and those who work alongside him – his work family.
“You do an awesome job, not just for IndyGo but for everybody. For every life you’ve touched, you’re doing an awesome job.”
– Janae Freeman, Radio Dispatch Room at IndyGo