Chamber winners

Longtime local teacher and volunteer Ben Dahlenburg was honored with the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Service Award and Rachel Kittson-MaQatish was named First Citizen Saturday night at the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce’s 71st annual awards banquet at the Jim Riggs Community Center.

There was much laughter and a few tears from the crowd of 220-plus, who enjoyed barbecue, drinks and the chance to win raffle prizes at the Wild West-themed event. Seamingly Creative donated a quilt, Steelhead Strength and Fitness donated a health benefits package, Oregon Jamboree donated two three-day passes and local businesses donated more than $1,600 worth of gifts and gift cards.

Some of the most enthusiastic applause were from clients of Sunshine Industries, who helped serve dinner and then celebrated when Sunshine was awarded Organization of the Year. Jane Moran was named Patti Woods Woman of the Year, Robert Shamek was named Junior First Citizen, Business of the Year went to KFIR and VIP awards were given to Kyle and Marci Sullens, the Thums family, Gary Fessler, Todd Branson, Sierrah Owen, and Shari Melcher Smith.

Distinguished Service Award: Ben Dahlenburg was presented with the Distinguished Service Award for his decades of work in the Sweet Home community.

Presenter Ken Collins, last year’s winner, noted that Dahlenburg taught at Sweet Home High School from 1978 to 2005. His construction classes included building a house across the street from the football field, wheelchair ramps, picnic tables and a play structure at Sankey Park. He also bricked in the Veterans’ Memorial at Hoy’s Hardware and sheet rocked East Linn Museum’s addition.

“We might be a small community but we’re not afraid of big projects,” Dahlenburg said in his brief thank you speech. “There’s no better place to live than Sweet Home.

“I feel like I could be Tom Sawyer and be out there working on a fence and before long, I would have the people in the room helping me. That’s how well people volunteer in Sweet Home.”

Patty Woods Woman of the Year:

When Kimi Nash presented Jane Moran with the Patty Woods Woman of the Year Award, she recalled being taken by surprise last year.

“I was speechless; (I) cried through the whole embarrassing thing,” Nash said. She said it was time to pass on that tradition.

She recounted how Moran has been a team sports mom, coached T-ball and volleyball through the Boys & Girls Club, built the carnival games and booths for the Hawthorne Parent Teacher Club carnival, and is a Boys & Girls Club donor. Moran also is active at St. Helen’s Catholic Church where she works as a Sunday school teacher/director and was instrumental in the building and remodeling of the church. She was involved with the Loggers Olympics and was Oregon Logging Conference First Lady. Moran also raises money for Sunshine Industries.

“I’m confident there are many other attributes that this woman possesses that I am unaware of,” Nash said. “I totally adore this woman.”

Moran blushed as she accepted the award. “I’m glad I wore a red shirt, I think it matches my face,” Moran said.

First Citizen: Presenter Linda Rowton described First Citizen recipient Rachel Kittson-MaQatish as an illustration of caring for friends and family as well as people unmet or unknown.

Kittson-MaQatish is a member of Optimist International, Linn County Mediation-Arbitration Commission, and Linn-Benton Bar Association. She has been a teen parent mentor, a volunteer at the Sweet Home Pregnancy Center, and co-coordinator and publicity chair at the Sweet Home mothers’ of preschoolers. She participated in a committee to brainstorm ideas to support and preserve the Sweet Home Boys & Girls Club and was a primary organizer of the Hero Half Marathon, now in its third year, which raises funds for programs helping Vietnam veterans.

Kittson-MaQatish started out her thank you speech with a laugh.

“My son is going to be so relieved I got an award I can keep, because he’s really really afraid that Lebanon is going to find out that I don’t live in Lebanon,” Kittson-MaQatish joked.

Four days before the Sweet Home banquet, Kittson-MaQatish received the Woman of the Year award at the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Awards.

Laughter subsided as Kittson-MaQatish choked up during parts of her speech. She recalled a billboard she saw as she was driving.

“It said ‘I love you, I love you, I love you, signed God.’ And that has been the story of my life,” she said.

Kittson-MaQatish was nominated for the work she does in Sweet Home on committees and with youth through the Boys & Girls Club, but during her speech she recalled the times she needed help and those who helped her.

“Love changes people. It changes the person you love but it also changes the person extending the love. It was love that changed a pregnant 17-year-old girl and turned her into a lawyer.”

Junior First Citizen: In presenting Robert Shamek with the Junior First Citizen Award, last year’s recipient Wendy Younger talked about several of Shamek’s contributions to the community, including work for the Oregon Jamboree, Foster Lake Trail clean-up, and Harper House.

“Something I can’t leave out, is that in 2008, he received a public service award for helping catch a bank robber, which is something that not many people can say they have done,” Younger said.

Business of the Year: Rita Houston of last year’s winner, Rita’s Relics and Oregon Prospecting, presented the award to KFIR radio, noting that the station has been in Sweet Home since 1965 and has been a voice for the community, particularly with its long-running, popular “Country Store” program.

Organization of the Year: Stanley Gray, representing last year’s winner, the Sweet Home Veterans Club, presented the Organization of the Year award to Sunshine Industries for the work it does with disabled in the community. The organization provides employment, guidance and training for adults with developmental disabilities.

Clients gain experience in areas such as gardening and yard work, janitorial services for local businesses and certified confidential document shredding.

Several Sunshine Industries clients were on hand, serving the barbecue meal at the dinner and enthusiastically trooped up to the podium, where all took a turn with the mic to step up and say thank you for the recognition.

VIP awards

While the other awards were given by last year’s recipients, Debra Paul and Wendy Smith took turns presenting honors to Sweet Home’s VIPs.

Smith said Todd Branson was awarded a VIP award for the “years he spent ‘bugging the powers that be’ to let him clean up limbs, bushes, debris and trees along Highway 20 in front of Foster Lake.” He helps elder citizens by cutting their wood, and paying their bills, she said.

“And who doesn’t appreciate his Oreos and milk at Christmas time,” Smith said. “If you’re not on his list, we’ll see what we can do about that next year.”

Although they have three young children, Kyle and Marci Sullens still find time to volunteer at church and throughout the community, Paul said.

Marci has taught in the Sweet Home School district for six years, and is the director of religious education at St. Helen’s Catholic Church. She organized the Hero Half-Marathon Relay and coordinated a Wounded Warrior benefit at the Oregon Jamboree.

Kyle is involved with the Knights of Columbus and coaches soccer and basketball at the Boys & Girls Club. He also volunteers at the Oregon Jamboree and helps with career days at the high school.

Sierrah Owen already knows the importance of volunteering, Smith said. She leads young girls in youth meetings at her church and digitizes music for the high school band on her lunch break.

She participates in the choral council and plays her flute to raise money for Sweet Home Emergency Ministries. Sierrah also is a three-sport athlete and participates in high school theater productions, Sweet Home’s Singing Christmas Tree and is the 2015 valedictorian.

She has represented Sweet Home as a Sweet Home Sportsman’s Holiday Princess.

The Thums family – Mary, Frances, and Herb – has lived on the same farm in the Brush Creek area since 1937, Paul said. They have spent decades volunteering in the community and at St. Helen’s Catholic Church and have been very active at the East Linn Museum.

“The annual parties after midnight Mass wouldn’t be the same without Mary and Frances,” Paul said.

When Gary Fessler and his wife Cassie moved to Sweet Home in 2000, he put his landscape design experience to use, Smith said. He immediately volunteered to help where he could with landscaping needs, giving many hours to the design and planting of the Highway 226 and Oak Terrace project.

He is not just a fount of knowledge, Smith said, he is hardworking, dedicated and quick with a “joke of the day.”

“Our welcoming spot of beauty is, thanks to Gary, Clover Park,” Smith said. He works quietly behind the scenes, never seeking thanks for himself, however, his gifts so freely shared.

Shari Melcher Smith is passionate about kids and making a difference, Paul said.

An outstanding athlete, who went to college on a softball scholarship, she worked at the Boys & Girls Club in the early 1990s before taking a job in Bend to work with the juvenile work crew and troubled youth.

She then moved back to Sweet Home to serve the Boys & Girls Club as athletic director until recently.