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Chester County Press

Chamber honors Kjellerup as ‘Outstanding Citizen’

02/26/2019 10:21AM ● By J. Chambless

Participants at the banquet gather for a photo after the Outstanding Citizen presentation. From left: 2017 Outstanding Citizen Jim McLeod, 2018 Outstanding Citizen Peter Kjellerup, 2018 SCCCC Chairman of the Board Doug Doerfler, and SCCCC President and CEO Cheryl Kuhn. (Photo by Chris Barber)

By Chris Barber

 On Feb. 23, the 250 guests at the Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce Chairman’s Gala at Longwood Gardens gave a standing ovation to the 2018 Outstanding Citizen, Peter Kjellerup, as he approached the stage to receive his award.

Kjellerup, 73, is the founder of Dansko in Penn Township, a former horse trainer and a passionate environmentalist. As he spoke from the dais, he said he was humbled to be standing on the other side of the microphone, facing so many people.

Of the honor he said, “I asked myself, ‘Why me?’”

He referred to his roots in Denmark where, “There is no poverty, no people on the street, free healthcare and everyone, even the government, is concerned about the environment.” That is what drew him to be interested in non-profits, he said.

Kjellerup, who came to America in the early 1980s, sought to establish a center to train horses for dressage. Sorting out the geographical possibilities, he said the Unionville area came out on top. That is where he and his wife, Mandy, designed, built, owned and operated Five-Star Farm. There, he was the head instructor and trained world-class horses. In 1990, Peter and Mandy co-founded Dansko, an importer of Danish clogs and shoes that now distributes the product worldwide.  The company has grown with Peter as its vice president from 1990 until 2018, when he retired.

In 2012, Mandy and Peter redeemed their shares in Dansko to establish a trust for the employees, and now Dansko is 100 percent employee-owned, according to a biography distributed at the event.

Kjellerup has also initiated environmental and clean water efforts in Costa Rica, Belize and Kenya.  He is proud of his service as a board member of the Stroud Water Research Center, The Land Conservancy of Southern Chester County, the Cabot Kjellerup Foundation and the Cabot Kjellerup Realty Trust.

The Chamber of Commerce has held its annual meeting since 1968, when they honored the first “Man of the Year.” In time, the banquet evolved into the “Outstanding Citizen” recognition. Until recently, the event was named “the annual banquet.”  This year it has been dubbed “The Chairman’s Gala.” Newly elected Chairman of the Board, Erik Gudmudson, said the change was to honor the effort and successes of the people who fill that post every year.

Additionally, the term “gala” more correctly described what has become one of the most prestigious and formal annual events in the region, Gudmudson said.

Acting as host and master of ceremonies, retiring 2018 chairman Doug Doerfler greeted the guests, introduced speakers and identified those who contributed to the chamber throughout the year.

Last year’s Outstanding Citizen, Jim McLeod of Oxford, gave the introduction speech for Kjellerup.

Currently, McLeod is the executive director of the Oxford Area Senior Center, and he sells real estate. But in the course of his 67 years, he has been involved with and contributed to a litany of causes, organizations and businesses.

Chamber President and CEO Cheryl Kuhn reported on the successes and contributions of the chamber over the past year. She said she was especially proud of the scholarships they gave to students in the Unionville, Kennett and Avon Grove high schools, as well as the Pennsylvania Free Enterprise Week for juniors and seniors.