An enthusiastic sell-out crowd lightened the dark days of January with a perennial boost of pride at the Chamber of Commerce 2017 Citizen Awards Sunday night.

It was an opportunity, as Adrian Harguess said in the invocation, to “honor what is good and right in our community.”

And honor this crowd did, giving every single award winner a standing ovation and cheers.

The Chamber Banquet is not a solemn occasion, it is a celebration and part of the fun is surprising the nominees – all of whom were in the dark about their nominations this year.

The Unsung Hero Award winner for the evening, Ralph Swinehart of Enterprise, for instance thought he had come to witness nominator Rick Bombaci getting an award and was taken entirely by surprise.

Swinehart volunteers in dozens of clubs and organizations, including the Historic Landmarks Committee, The Rotarians Lostine River Run, as a board member of the Nez Perce Homelands project, an Independent Order of Odd Fellows member who was key to the restoration of the Odd Fellows Hall, and many more.

He contributes his expertise as an engineer to numerous projects including the David Wheeler Memorial footbridge, the towers and T-Bar at Ferguson Ridge ski hill, and the courthouse gazebo.

He is, as Bobaci pointed out, “an inspiring quiet achiever.”

David and Jessie Schmidt of Wallowa, owners of Integrated Biomass Resources won Business Leader of the Year, nominated by Mike Hayward, former County Commissioner and current general manager of Wallowa County Grain Growers.

David and Jessie Schmidt came from Canada in 2009 to find a place to make a difference and recognized Wallowa County as that “place” almost immediately.

They wanted a community they could help, and that had the right kind of direction and depth of knowledge to help itself and were soon convinced that Wallowa County was that place.

“Their vision for an integrated biomass center, utilizing raw material previously with a market, and creating products such as firewood, post and poles and energy has turned into a biomass campus employing 24 people and significantly contributing to the economy of Wallowa County,” Hayward said.

The Schmidts operate on the old D.R. Johnson Mill site in Wallowa, building from their original purchase of UpStream21.

The Schmidts are so dedicated to their county that Jessie became a U.S. citizen this year and the pair are will welcome their first Wallowa County native (child) next summer.

Mike Goss, owner of the Dollarstretcher in Enterprise, nominated his assistant manager David Nelson of Wallowa for Employee of the Year. Goss could not sing Nelson’s praises enough and said that Nelson could be Employee of the Year every year as far as he was concerned.

Catherine Matthias nominated Tom Clevenger of Joseph for the 2017 Chamber Leader in the Arts Award. Clevenger, who could have won an award for his volunteer and civic work in other areas was honored for his huge contribution to the Joseph Festival of Arts as both a donor and organizer. Clevenger began his second (or third or fourth) career as a segmented woodcarving artist in Joseph and displays his art at Stewart Jones Designs.

“When one considers how this incredibly talented and successful artist sets ego and pride aside, every year without fail, and jumps into the fray, freely offering his time and energy to ensure that we have a successful Wallowa Valley Festival of Arts event and that his fellow artists all have the best possible foundation (display panels) on which to display their creations ... well, it just makes us all appreciate and respect the man and friend, Tom Clevenger, even more than we do the artist, Tom Clevenger,” wrote Jeff Costello, director of the Wallowa Valley Festival of Arts.

Maria Weer of Lostine was nominated for 2017 Chamber Citizen Award for Nonprofit by the Building Healthy Families Leadership Team represented by financial officer Marilyn Dalton of Joseph.

Maria Weer works two full-time jobs as executive director of Building Healthy Families and lead teacher for the Alternative Education Program. In addition to helping both programs become well known and admired statewide, she was also instrumental in developing the Building Healthy Families Leadership Team.

“Few people truly embody the altruistic spirit of giving for the betterment of others like Maria Weer,” her Building Healthy Families Leadership Team wrote in their nomination. “While her skills, abilities and accomplishments are impressive and easy to describe, it is ultimately her heart-centered leadership and passion for people that is most admirable.”

“Being around her inspires everyone,” said co-worker and early Head Start Teacher Brandy Tilden.

The 2017 Chamber of Commerce Leader in Education Award went to an astonished Nancy Maasdam, a 4-H leader who manages the Golden Arrow 4-H Livestock Club, who has affected the lives of more than 800 kids during her 28 years as 4-H leader. Every year she manages 30 to 40 kids and their animals and hosts a weekly showmanship day at her home. With over 6,000 hours of teaching and organizing training activities, her volunteer hours value come to $138,000, but cost the youth of Wallowa County nothing.

Heather Melville was honored as 2017 Chamber of Commerce Agriculture/Natural Resources/Timber Leader of the Year for her work both as a wheat farmer and a professional forester. Melville has a degree in forestry from the University of Idaho. Previous award recipients Roy Gartner, Bruce Dunn and Bob Zacharias nominated her for the Chamber award.

The extended Melville family includes the Hammacks, longtime residents of Wallowa County and timber landowners of 400 acres on Alder Slope. With Heather as a profession forester in the family the management of the family property has benefited from programs to reduce insect damage and disease, improve species composition and increase overall stand vigor. Heather is also an active participant on the Wallowa County Natural Resource Advisory Committee (NRAC) and a member representing private landowners on the Community Wildfire Protection Plan revision committee.

Gail Swart won the President’s Award for 2017 for a lifetime of service to her community.

“As leaders the greatest gift we have to give back to the community is our time,” said Joe Wanner, Chamber president

Swart had given most of her life to community service as a teacher for over 40 years and a member of the Hospital Foundation for 20 years. Swart continues to volunteer in a dozen different ways, playing piano for plays and presentations, donating to causes, and encouraging others to become involved in local events.

The past president’s award went to Joe Wanner who served as past president last year and is president this year.

Cynthia Warnock read a brief memorial honoring the late Pat Wortman, a former member of the Board of Directors.

The Wallowa County Commissioners and Umpqua Bank paid for the award plaques.

The executive officers of 2017 Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce are: Joe Wanner, president; Jessie Cunningham, vice president; Ruby Lathrop, secretary/treasurer; and Cynthia Warnock, past president.

Directors are Jenni Word, Michael Vali, Tammy Strampe, Kathy Casper, Bridget Brown, John Williams, Liz Neveau, Marc Stauffer, Nancy Rudger, Cheryl Couglan, Heather Tyreman and Doris Woempner.

Chamber goals for 2017 include: customer service trainings, recognition of customer service distinction and workforce development. The Chamber will also focus on social media online trainings, bring back the barn tour and broaden Wallowa County’s presence at tradeshows and fairs.

The Chamber spent $32,000 in advertising last year and processed $29,000 in Buckskin bucks.

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