Sue Olson named chamber Distinguished Service honoree

Scott Swanson

Four local women, led by longtime community organizer Sue Olson, swept the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce individual service awards Saturday night at the chamber’s annual banquet, held at the Community Center.

This sweep marked the first year in the history of the event in which the individual award winners have all been women.

Olson received the Distinguished Service Award and Wendy Smith was named First Citizen, Kim Wilson Junior First Citizen and Gina Riley received the Patti Woods Woman of the Year Award, which formerly was the BPW Woman of the Year.

The Point Restaurant, owned by Michael and Mira Hall, was named Business of the Year.

Michael Hall was also one of six people named VIP honorees for 2010. The other five were Darold Bolin, Rich Little, Glenn and Dee Dee Looney, and Cheryl Wilson.

The dinner was a combination effort by local restaurants and farmers.

The Point, together with Mr. Lucky’s Deli operated by Amy and Brad Newport, last year’s Business of the Year winners, and Spoleto’s Pizzaria, served a prime rib menu to the some 320 attendees, and appetizers and liquid refreshments were provided by Fraga Farm, Mr. Lucky’s Deli and Umpqua Bank. A no-host bar was made available by Marks Ridge Winery and Fun with Dick and Jane performed bluegrass music during the social hour in keeping with this year’s theme, “Down on the Farm.”

Mayor Craig Fentiman acted as emcee, with VFW Post #3437 providing the parade and retiring of colors, Sweet Home High School Student Body President Kyle Winslow leading the flag salute, Brandon Leaton singing the national anthem and the Rev. Joe Medley of Fir Lawn Lutheran Church giving the invocation and benediction.

Chamber Board member Lerena Ruby introduced a new award, the Outstanding Chamber Service Award, which she presented to Chamber Director Andrea Culy, who, Ruby said, “has been our cheerleader for the last two years” and has participated in nearly every chamber event during that time. She described Culy as “organized, efficient and friendly” and noted that the she attends “meeting after meeting” at all hours on behalf of the organization.

Distinguished Service Award winner Olson was introduced by last year’s winner, Juan Ulep, who described Olson as “one of those amazing people” who “make our fair city a better place to live.”

He noted that Olson has been involved in a wide variety of activities since moving to Sweet Home in 1984, including serving as a leader for both Girl and Boy Scouts, heading canned food drives, mothering four children, organizing “countless band and choir fund-raisers” and school carnivals.

He said she was “an excellent parade float engineer,” who made the Sportsman’s Holiday and Christmas parades happen year after year. Olson also volunteered in the early years of the Oregon Jamboree, served on the Sweet Home Bicentennial Committee, volunteered at the Chamber of Commerce, served as a tireless advocate for loggers during the spotted owl controversy and made and passed out yellow ribbons to support the troops during Desert Storm.

Many of her more recent contributions have centered around the annual Singing Christmas Tree production, which she has served as coordinator since 1991. She has made a quilt each year to raffle off to help fund the choir, in which she sings.

Olson works at the A&W Restaurant owned by her daughter and son-in-law, Patty and Josh Hankins.

“She truly is an ‘Energizer Bunny,’” Ulep concluded.

Olson said the award was “really neat.”

First Citizen Smith was introduced by Bob Dalton, last year’s winner.

He noted that Smith has lived in Sweet Home nearly all her life and has “been a performer in our community both on and off the stage” since she was 7.

She was very active in high school and, after graduating, married her high school sweetheart and had two children. She was very involved in school activities, including the PTC and helping with SAFE parties. She also spent some 20 years teaching ballet, tap and jazz dance, served as Sportsman’s Holiday Court coordinator, Chamber of Commerce board member and treasurer, helped revive Chips and Splinters for Sportsman’s Holiday, was a member of the PEO and has taught Sunday school, Bible studies and serves on the Church Council at the Evangelical Church.

She has also worked for Tomco and Triple-T Studs, and currently serves as office manager at Sweet Home Sanitation.

“This person represents what volunteerism is really all about and has made a big impact on making a difference in Sweet Home,” Dalton said, as he introduced the winner.

Smith said she was honored to be recognized by “people whom I respect.” She said she particularly appreciated the support of her husband, John.

“Most of you know I have been busy my whole life, but I’ve had the support of my husband for 37 years,” she said.

Junior First Citizen Wilson was introduced by Karyn Hartsook, last year’s winner.

She listed some of Wilson’s activities, including serving as Sportsman’s Holiday Court chaperone for many years, putting on the Kiddie Karnival during Sportsman’s Holiday (“making sure that 500 of our children are happy, got their balloon and were safe for two hours during the Saturday after the parade – Oh yeah, that was when she was helping with the court”), volunteering with the Oregon Jamboree as a scrip counter, fund-raising for the SAFE party, and serving as a chaperone for the all-night party. Wilson has also volunteered with the last three Sweet Home Alumni Foundation annual Christmas Tree Auctions. She was born and raised in Sweet Home and attended local schools, then put herself through dental assisting school.

Hartsook said Wilson has been “very instrumental in the success of many things” in the community and “believes in doing the right thing by giving back to their community without expecting something in return.”

Patti Woods Woman of the Year award was renamed because the Business and Professional Women organization disbanded last year and was converted into a foundation, Kim Palmer, Woods’ daughter and the 2008 winner of the award, explained to the crowd. She said the chamber decided to rename the award for Woods, who died last year after having been a driving force behind the annual banquet and the BPW Award for many years.

Ruby, last year’s winner, introduced the 2010 winner, Riley.

She said Riley is a volunteer with or member of the Kiwanis Club, the American Cancer Society and the Oregon Jamboree; organizes three fund-raisers a year for Help with Cancer, participates in Relay for Life, and co-chairs Walk for the Cause, Shop with a Cop and the Jim Beam Safety Fair. Riley also is a volunteer coordinator for the Oregon Youth court Association, helps serve Manna Meals, works with the Sweet Home Sweet Ride Car Show, serves as a hostess team leader and Sunday school teacher for Cornerstone Fellowship, and helps prepare floats for local parades, among other activities,

“Our award winner tonight is a person who likes to help people,” Ruby said. “If there is a need, she is there.”

Riley said she loves helping people and giving back to the community – and yes, she was surprised.

“I guess I should have known something was up when my sister was here to a dinner that she has never attended before,” she joked.

Business of the Year winners Mike and Mira Hall of The Point restaurant were introduced by Amy Newport, who was greeted with applause after her husband Brad pointed out that she was not present because she was ill last year, when she was named a VIP honoree as well as winner with him of the Business of the Year.

She described The Point staff as “top-notch, friendly and well-trained, and you can always count on a pleasant experience.”

She noted that The Point has contributed to the SHARE Steppin’ Into Fall and Warm and Cozy events, the Little Promises annual auction, and the chamber Awards Banquet. The Point also served a free Thanksgiving dinner last year to those in need.

“Thank you for all you do for our community,” Newport said. “On a personal note, Mike, we wish you many, many great years to come.”

VIP Honorees were introduced by Mona Waibel and Ben Dahlenburg.

Dahlenburg added that Michael Hall planned the Steak-Out fund-raiser for the Police Department and donated 246 meals on Thanksgiving.

“Our cowboy is no dummy,” Dahlenburg said, referring to the banquet theme. “He brought Bernice (Waddle, who founded The Point) back to work, making all those great desserts.”

Dahlenberg introduced Bolin, who, he said, has been a stalwart at the Elks Lodge, working long hours in the kitchen and raising money for the Backpack Program, which raises money to feed needy children on weekends. He also worked on a fund-raiser for the owners of Sweet Home Lanes after the bowling alley burned in January.

Bolin also volunteers at Fair Share Gleaners with his “partner Edie, (who) is always at his side and helping too.”

Dahlenburg also introduced Little, who grew up in a local family of educators and taught school in Alaska for many years before returning to Sweet Home, where he was hired to coordinate the after school program based at Foster.

“It is a paid position but our cowboy does way beyond,” Dahlenburg said. “He makes connections with corporations, gets manpower and ideas to make the after-school program very meaningful. This cowboy can talk people into most anything.”

Little, he said, got Wiley Creek Community to donate spare bulbs to the Foster school garden, procured a technology grant to buy computers for the school, started a community band of former school musicians, served on the KIDCO Preschool Board and built a float for the preschool students to ride on in the Sportsman’s Holiday Parade.

Waibel introduced the Looneys, who, she said, have had a big impact on Foster School in a variety of ways. Glenn Looney, a retired teacher at Foster, has played the piano for the school’s Christmas program for years and “is only a phone call away” as a substitute when teachers at the school are ill, she said.

“He has left the blood drive after giving his blood and hurried to substitute for a sick teacher who needed help,” Waibel said.

Dee Dee Looney has also substituted at Foster after retiring, including a stint of several months when an ailing mother-to-be needed help. Then, Waibel added, Looney took the newborn baby home and babysat.

Looney also developed the Foster Dr. Seuss Celebration, and taught students how to paint Dr. Seuss figures on their hands.

“The students loved this,” said Waibel, whose daughter teaches at the school.

Waibel also introduced Cheryl Wilson, a Sweet Home High School senior and 2010 Sportsman’s Holiday Queen, who is involved in numerous activities in the community.

Wilson is a three-year member of the Key Club and is also involved in Forestry, Spanish and Drama clubs; has played water polo and was the only four-year letter winner this year on the girls swim team; sings in Symphonic Choir and the Singing Christmas Tree; and was a representative at Girls State.

“I could go on all night about her,” Waibel said. “She knows how to work and helps her family with the Cedar Shack. Logging crews would like having this energetic gal.”

A poll of attendees at the banquet resulted in the selection of “Back to the Fifties” as the theme for this year’s Sportsman’s Holiday and next year’s banquet theme, Culy said.