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Celaya wins business award

BY HAWKINS TEAGUE The Mayfield Messenger

MAYFIELD -- Wells Studio owner Jill Celaya received the MVP Woman of The Year Award at the Mayfield/Graves County Chamber of Commerce's second annual Women in Business Luncheon Tuesday.

The MVP Award is named for Mary V. Propes, the founder of the luncheon's presenting sponsor, MVP International Inc. Propes chose the criteria for the award, stating that the winner must possess the qualities of career achievement, being inspirational, having community involvement and being an "authentic role model."

Celaya was working at the luncheon with her daughter, Lacey Coyle, and other employees because Wells Studio was offering to take free business headshots for attendees. After MVP International's Tanya Rose introduced the award, Celaya's other daughter, Leandra Celaya, walked onstage to give the award to her mother.

Leandra said her mother and father, the late David Celaya, took over ownership of the photography studio when Jill was only 21. Even after David suddenly died about 10 years ago, Leandra said her mother persevered, founding a nonprofit organization called "Better Together" and producing a CD to raise money for polycystic kidney disease. She said she had also helped start the local animal shelter and has served on a variety of local boards.

Leandra said there are many challenges to working in an industry that has seen massive change in the wake of digital photography and changing consumer behaviors.

"Many studios of their type across the nation have been forced to close in recent years, as every consumer with a smartphone suddenly became a competitor, but it is not in her DNA to give up," Leandra said.

"I'm absolutely shocked; I don't how these people pulled this (surprise) off," Celaya said after accepting the award at the podium. "You know, I really don't feel like I've done anything extraordinary. Look at all of you ... We're all strong women. We survive. It's what we do. What is extraordinary is the support that we've all received from our community. I don't know if you all know, but in the days, weeks and years after we lost David, we got so much support from everyone here. It's just incredible."

Celaya said the support she had gotten from her family members was also extraordinary. She said she cherished the customers who had trusted her business to tell their stories through photography.

"The honor that we really feel is that you all let us into your families," she said. "You let us tell your story."

"The chamber is so proud to give this year's award to Jill Celaya," said Chamber President Denise Thompson said. "Jill has been so inspirational to many women for the way she was able to take Wells Studio to a new level with her daughter Lacey. Jill has been a very active member of the chamber over the years and is always looking for ways to give back to our community.

"We were excited to be able to surprise Jill by having her daughter Leandra Celaya come in from out of town to help present the award. I know it meant a lot to Jill to have both her daughters in attendance for such a special day."

The event's featured speaker was Susannah Lewis, author and creator of the website "Whoa! Susannah." She detailed how she was inspired by a book she read at 8 years old to become a writer. When she was 11, her father died, and the experience made her realize how much she needed to write to express her grief.

After the Huffington Post published a column she wrote, she began to build more of an online following. She published her first novel and a YouTube video she made about taking her son to his first day of kindergarten got her even more notice. Eventually, she said, she realized she was taking on too much and needed to take a rest.

"We have to leave room on our plate; we have to prioritize things," Lewis said. "Our relationship with God comes first, then our family and thirdly, our career."

The luncheon was held at the Trace Creek Baptist Church Family Life Center. Thompson said a silent auction held in conjunction with the event raised $1,000 for the Mayfield Lighthouse women's homeless shelter. She said Lewis also donated $100 in profits from book sales at the event to Lighthouse.

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