The Wallowa County Chamber Citizens Awards Banquet proved the usual success this year with citizens providing nearly wall-to-wall coverage of Clover Leaf Hall.

The annual event celebrates the selfless works of citizens who have given of themselves to make Wallowa County a unique and caring place. Residents filled 30 tables and ate prime rib, chicken or a vegan plate provided by Heirloom Catering while staff from La Laguna restaurant manned the no-host bar.

Along with the President’s and Past President’s award, nine citizens were chosen for their service in such varied categories as Business Leader Award, Leader in Natural Resources award to the Unsung Hero award.

The event took place on the evening of Jan. 26, and “Once Upon A Time.” served as the event theme. President Jessie Cunningham of the Rockin J Ranch served as the Emcee and is also the chamber’s president.

When it came to the President’s Award, sponsored by the chamber, Cunningham chose Joseph Charter School Family and Marla Dotson, who teaches consumer studies and is an adviser for the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America club. Like most school teachers, Dotson’s exploits go far beyond the classroom. Dotson said she had held Cunningham when she was a child, and Cunningham’s children as well.

Dotson, like virtually every other recipient, accepted the award graciously and with humility, remarking, “I was very surprised and touched that Jessie thought of me for the award. It’s really an honor to be chosen by someone I respect so much.”

The Business Leader Award, sponsored by the Chieftain, saw business partners Dick Stangel and Doug Crow as recipients after their nomination by local businesswoman Sondra Lozier. The two men jointly own Main Street Motors, an auto repair and auto sales business in Enterprise. Lozier recounted their efforts in 2012 to build their successful business in a historic Enterprise building and the fruition of their idea to start the “Show and Shine” vintage car show in Enterprise, still going strong today. The two men kept their comments brief, thanking both Lozier and local citizens for their award and business success.

Wallowa Memorial Hospital registered nurse and Enterprise mayor, Stacey Karvoski, took home the plaque for Employee of the Year after her nomination by WMH nursing chief, Jenni Word, who also serves on the Enterprise City Council with Karvoski. Word recounted not only Karvoski’s deft mayoral hand, but also gave her kudos for several major awards the hospital recently received, including the sixth-ranked rural hospital in the U.S., Karvoski, who is the hospital’s infection control quality director, was quick to give credit to those she worked with for her success.

“I don’t do this all myself,” she said. “Everyone works hard.”

Long-time Fishtrap employee, Cameron Scott, won the Leader in Arts award, sponsored by the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture, after his nomination by Fishtrap executive director, Shannon McNerney. Scott received the nomination for his selfless efforts regarding his Youth Story Lab, that teaches Wallowa County students to tell their stories through all forms of media, including writing. Having taught literally hundreds of students, their descriptions of him ranged from passionate, caring, and inspiring among others. “Every time someone gets their own voice a little better and feels more empowered to do their own writing or own good work from knowing their voice is even more awesome.” After crediting the importance of collaboration, Scott continued, “a single voice is like a single steelhead retiring to a river system. Tens of thousands of returning fish are way better than one. That is when fishing can start to sustain an entire community.”

Wallowa teacher Nancy Roberts earned the Educator of the Year for her Title I work in both reading and math. The program now reaches all students in the school, thanks to her efforts. Her dedication to students is shown not only through her endless patience and ready laugh, but by the 50-plus miles she drives each day from Joseph to Wallowa.

Nominated by fellow instructor Marilyn Soares, who said Roberts deserves the award every year, the recipient said,”I’m passionate about what I do.”

The Oregon Department of Forestry Wallowa District Office received the nod for Leader in Natural Resources, sponsored by Wallowa Resources. Unit Forester, Matt Howard, brought several of his employees with him as he recounted the value of various firefighters and foresters he works with. In addition to firefighting, the group also promotes forest health through providing free technical assistance for healthy forests to private landowners both large and small. They also serve on the county’s Natural Resources Advisory Committee that advises the county on resource issues.

During his audience address, Howard said, “This is the most selfless group of foresters and firefighters I’ve ever met.”

Julie Wheeler, president/director of Divide Camp secured the honor of Leader in Non-Profits award for her selfless dedication to the camp, both financially and with her vision. Wallowa County Commissioner, Todd Nash, nominated Wheeler for the award and told of the director’s vision to start a nature camp on the Big Sheep Creek Divide with the purpose of healing post-9-11 veterans.

Wheeler, with the aid of volunteers, built the camp literally from the ground up, including refurbishing cabins and property improvement so veterans can heal physical and psychological wounds through nature experiences such as hunting, hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting and the opportunity to “get out of their minds.”

Wheeler was unable to attend the event as she is taking care of her mother in southern Oregon, but camp vice-president, Andy Marcum spoke on the director’s behalf about her thankfulness for community support. Nash added that if Wheeler had something to say, it would be, “I give all the glory to God.”

In an email to the Chieftain, Wheeler said she “couldn’t be more pleased with how the mission has grown” in the last eight years. “I love the support we get from our vendors and friends in Wallowa County — it’s the right place to go to take care of veterans!”

The last award of the evening, the Unsung Hero Award, went to 92-years-young, Hope McLaughlin. No one deserved the award more. Age hasn’t slowed McLaughlin down as she’s very busy in the Wallowa Mountain Quilters Guild, not only sewing, but with patience and humility, teaching others the craft while acting as friend, teacher and mentor. Members of her quilting group joined her on stage for the award. Members Gail Hillock, Linda Koloski and Marietta Herincks sang McLaughlin’s praises as quilt members gifted her a beautiful log cabin quilt.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the award winner still helps son, Erl McLaughlin, raise and harvest barley and wheat on the family farm outside of Enterprise. When she took the microphone to accept the award, her words were brief, but poignant, and a fitting closure to the event.

“I want to thank the community for this award,” she said. “I love you one and all.”

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