Honors served at DSA banquet

Scott Swanson

Mike Reynolds was honored with the Distinguished Service Award Saturday night, March 11, at the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet, held at the Boys & Girls Club.

Sean Morgan was named First Citizen, Jill Wilson was Junior First Citizen, the Sweet Home Alumni Foundation was named Organization of the Year, Murphy Veneer was named Business of the Year, and the Curb Appeal Award went to Taco Bell.

Mona Waibel Hero Award winners were Anita Hutchins, Kyle and Marci Sullens, and Brookelyn Burke.

Also during the evening, Mayor Susan Coleman gave a State of the City report (see page 12) and presented two awards, one to city Public Works Operations Manager Dominic Valloni and the other to Shelly Larson, current Chamber of Commerce vice president, for her efforts in improving downtown buildings.

A crowd of some 240 people attended the event, which was emceed by Don Knight.

Food was provided by Angela Tack Food Services and a table of strategically placed desserts (next to the waiting line for food) was auctioned off as well while students in the Sweet Home High School culinary arts program provided a plate of cookies for each table. Sportsman’s Holiday Court members, who were introduced that evening, and Sweet Home High School Interact Club members helped with the event as well.

Mike Reynolds, Distinguished Service Award

Reynolds was introduced by Knight as “a member of our Sweet Home community who goes above and beyond to serve our town.”

He noted that Reynolds has served on the Sweet Home School District Board of Directors for 20 years, “dedicating countless hours to improving our schools and currently serving as board chair.”

Reynolds has also been treasurer for his church over the past five years, “working tirelessly to ensure the church’s finances are in order so that they can continue to do good and serve our community.”

Despite these accomplishments, Knight said, “he’s a quiet and unassuming man who never seeks attention for his deeds,” instead seeking opportunities to help.

Reynolds “time and time again patiently and generously assists the elderly with their computer,” Knight said. “He’s a true role model for all of us.”

Sean Morgan, First Citizen

Knight called Morgan “an all-around good guy,” and “an exceptional individual who has tirelessly worked for the betterment of Sweet Home. ”

Morgan is a board member for the Sweet Home Coalition for Artistic and Scholastic Enrichment and was a founding member of SHARC, the forerunner to SHOCASE, which focused on remodeling the Sweet Home High School auditorium. He is also a longtime Oregon Jamboree volunteer and crew, and an active participant in Chips-n-Splinters shows over the years.

Morgan, he said, has “demonstrated time and time again that (he) is willing to go the extra mile to make the city a better place to live, work and play.”

He’s inspired others to get involved, Knight said.

“People like this make Sweet Home a wonderful place to live.”

Jill Wilson, Junior First Citizen

Knight introduced Wilson, saying she was involved widely in the community, with “an unwavering commitment to serving our youth” and “works tirelessly to inspire young people in our community.”

Wilson, he said, works with her church’s youth group and, for the past 12 years, has held vacation Bible schools at various churches throughout the community, “impacting countless young lives.”

Wilson also coaches girls soccer at Sweet Home High School, where “she is respected and admired by players and peers alike.”

Knight called her a “shining example of what it means to be a caring and committed community member.”

“Her passion for helping others and making a difference is truly inspiring,” adding that “her legacy will continue to inspire and benefit future generations.”

Sweet Home Alumni Foundation, Organization of the Year

SHAF, Knight said, “has been an integral part of the Sweet Home community for over 30 years” after its 1992 foundation by five Sweet Home High School graduates with the intent of providing financial assistance to graduates looking to pursue higher education.

Knight took a break from his notes and asked the audience to consider how many graduating seniors started at Little Promises, whose founder was Hero Award honoree Anita Hutchins (see below).

“Right? Starting at one business, then going through and being taken care of by other people in our community, going through the entire gamut of their lives here being looked after by people who have set the pace for them and set a place for them.”

Knight noted that SHAF’s efforts have grown from a single graduate receiving a $900 scholarship to more than 600 receiving scholarships totaling more than $706,000, including $56,000 to students who return for their second year of higher education. He added that SHAF presented $79,000 to 41 graduates in 2022.

“That is a measurable impact on Sweet Home graduates and community families,” Knight said. “For those of you who have ever sat there wondering how you’re going to get your senior into college and you get to use a scholarship, you understand that people have an impact on people. It’s incredible.”

SHAF, he added, also started holding the annual Christmas Tree Auction in 2004 to raise money for its scholarship efforts, has sponsored three all-school reunions, has created picture collages of high school graduates in the SHHS hallways, restored the school’s bell and sponsored the High Q Award presented to SHHS alums distinguishing themselves beyond high school.

Before presenting the award to SHAF Greg Ego, Knight asked everyone in the room who had someone in their family receive a SHAF scholarship to stand up. Nearly half the audience rose to their feet.

Murphy Veneer, Business of the Year

Murphy, Knight said, has been in business for 20 years and arrived in Sweet Home five years ago, after it purchased the Foster plywood mill.

“However, what sets them apart is more than their exceptional products and services,” he said, adding that it’s the company’s “commitment to their employees and our community.”

The approximately 100 employees at Murphy participate in the community as volunteers and coaches in various local organizations and initiatives, “positively impacting our citizens’ lives.”

“They have proved that it’s possible to thrive in business while also making a meaningful difference in the lives of those around us.”

Taco Bell, Curb Appeal Award

In presenting the Curb Appeal Award, Knight emphasized that what happens in a business is the result of people making decisions that “actually impact the communities around them.”

He said Taco Bell has made “quite an impact in the short time it has been in our community, with clean lines, vibrant colors and impeccable landscaping” at its downtown site where “it has brightened up the whole block.”

“I am actually thrilled to announce” Taco Bell as the winner, Knight said, jokingly adding that if the company has seen a “bump in your earnings” since opening in Sweet Home, “it’s Kaden Knight,” his son.

Mona Waibel Hero Awards

Before presenting the awards, Bob Dalton, son-in-law of the award’s namesake, reminded the audience that Waibel, who died in 2018, “set and defined what volunteering was all about in our community; her energy and smile were contagious, as well as her personality – she brought people together and always found ways to get things done.

Over the years, among many other activities, Waibel served on the Sweet Home City Council as director of Linn-Benton Community College’s Sweet Home Center, and as Chamber of Commerce executive director.

The award, formerly called the VIP Award, honors “volunteers that give of themselves so unselfishly to make Sweet Home the great place it is to work and live,” Dalton said.

Anita Hutchins

Dawn Dalton introduced Anita Hutchins as a 57-year resident of the community, “a truly dedicated individual who has added to the spirit of what Sweet Home is.”

Over that time, she said, Hutchins has worked with special-needs children, was instrumental in organizing summer Bible schools and fundraisers at her church, has volunteered for the Oregon Jamboree, and has contributed annually to the Christmas spirits in the community by creating a myriad of handmade holiday wreaths.

In addition, Dalton said, “her biggest love, passion and contribution to our community for 33 years, of which many of you probably have been recipients of or your children, is Little Promises, which provided daycare, preschool and kindergarten.”

Kyle and Marci Sullens

Bob Dalton described the Sullenses as a “dynamic duo (who) are the first to show up and the last to leave.”

“They represent what being a volunteer is all about. They bring leadership, enthusiasm and the heart of caring to the spirit of what Sweet Home is all about.”

Marci Sullens, he said, plans and hosts events for Hawthorne School, where she also coordinates Classified Staff Appreciation Week activities, decorates lockers for the high school’s athletes, is an assistant soccer coach as well as team manager and Team Mom, is spiritual education director and instructor at St. Helens Catholic Church, is a founding member and unit leader for the local American Heritage Girls, and leads training for school district classified and certified staff.

Kyle Sullens is a member of the Jamboree Ice Crew, an AYSO soccer coach, an American Heritage Girls board member, participates in school field trips and activities, serves on the Sweet Home Cemetery District Board of Directors, and heads a Christmas food basket drive that supports 30 to 50 needy families.

“They could have chosen to live anywhere, but they chose Sweet Home,” Dalton said, introducing the couple.

Brookelyn Burke

Dawn Dalton introduced Burke as “a servant leader – she is the first to arrive and the last to leave. She’ll sweep the floors, wipe the tables, pick up the garbage – you name it, she’s there to help.”

Burke, who was last year’s Sportsman’s Holiday Queen, also serves as student body president at the high school and is a three-sport athlete who carries a 4.0 GPA, and who plans to play basketball and study kinesiology at Pacific University.

“Her enthusiasm abounds, not only for her school but this community,” Dalton said.

Dominic Valloni, Sweet Home City Pride of Ownership Award

In presenting Valloni with the 2023 Sweet Home City Pride of Ownership Award, Coleman noted that it is a “new” award and cited Valloni’s leadership of city staffers and in the community.

She noted that outside his job for the city, Valloni has been heavily involved in local youth baseball since 2007.

Valloni oversees a staff of 12 for the city. Its members maintain city parks and other public works activities.

She described Valloni as “a hard worker behind the scenes … who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and he wouldn’t ask you to do something he himself isn’t willing to do.”

Citing the challenges the city’s faced with homeless encampments at the old City Hall, Coleman noted that Valloni and his crew cleaned the area multiple times in recent months.

Co-workers, she said, “express their gratitude for his steadiness and quiet strength,” adding that although Valloni possesses “valuable institutional knowledge,” he’s humble.

“If you need something done,” the mayor said, “he’s the guy to call.”

Shelly Larson, Mayor’s Award

In presenting the Mayor’s Award, Coleman described Larson as a “philanthropist” who was “all about seeing people improve and grow in a way that honors our history.”

Larson, she said, has “quietly” led fundraising efforts for the SAFE party, Kids Food Pack, Little Promises and the SHAF Trees for Scholarships auction.

When local schools closed during the COVID pandemic, Larson made property she and her husband owned available for practice.

Larson led an effort to upgrade the Chamber of Commerce building, purchasing the historic structure and then coordinating a nearly $80,000 rehabilitation project, Coleman said. She has done the same with the former Wells Fargo building and is now working at the building complex on Main and Long streets that once included Mollie’s restaurant.

On top of all that, Larson is famous for her “delectable handmade chocolate truffles at Christmastime,” making 20,000 one Christmas, the mayor added.

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