Top awards go to Ego, Thorpe

Scott Swanson

Donna Ego was recognized as Distinguished Citizen and Steve Thorpe was named Citizen (formerly the First Citizen award) Saturday night at the Chamber of Commerce’s awards banquet held at the Community Center.

A nearly capacity crowd, led by emcees George Medellin and Nelia Taraski, celebrated to a Mardi Gras theme, with Medellin, who is also chamber president, periodically yelling “Yo, Sweet Home,” and attendees responding en masse, “Let the good times roll!”

Colby Montigue was named First Citizen (formerly the Junior First Citizen Award) and Lynne Cooper was recognized as Patti Woods Woman of the Year.

Medellin said the organizing committee decided to change the name of the First Citizen and Junior First Citizen awards to Citizen and First Citizen respectively.

Business of the Year was Melcher Logging/Timber Harvesting Inc. and a new Curb Appeal Award went to T2 Trucking.

St. Helen’s Catholic Church was named Organization of the Year.

A special recognition award from the chamber was presented to longtime chamber Ambassadors Dana Flores, Rachel Graham-Hillsman, Miriam Swanson and Cindy Thompson, who, Medellin said, “over the course of 10 years, they welcomed new business as they came to the community and supported chamber events,” often by themselves.

Bob Dalton introduced winners of what formerly were known as the VIP Awards, now renamed the Mona Waibel Hero Awards, presented by the Presidents Club. The six honorees were Shirley Austin, Sarah Hewitt, Dick Knowles, Donna Poirier, Kristi Walker and Robert Weidner.

Mayor Greg Mahler introduced U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Nikki Swanson as winner of the Mayor’s Award.

The evening included silent and live auctions – in the latter, Medellin and Oregon Jamboree Festival Director selling a backstage package for six to this year’s three-day festival for $2,500, then doubling that by letting two people purchase it.

J&C Barbecue provided a grilled chicken and brisket meal, complete with jalapeño and bacon macaroni and cheese, and local pastry chefs provided elaborate desserts for an auction that brought in more dollars for the chamber.

Dignitaries recognized included state Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, Mahler and, indirectly, Schools Supt. Tom Yahraes, and the five Lebanon Strawberry Court members, who all attended.

Colors were presented by members of the Sweet Home Veterans Club, led by American Legion Commander Dale Jenkins, and pastor Mark Opperman of Hope Church, also a chamber board member, gave the invocation. 2018

People’s Choice Awards

Distinguished Citizen – Donna Ego

Taraski quoted some of Ego’s associates, who used a common word to describe her: “busy.”

“She is so busy you can hardly keep up with her,” said one, while another called Ego “the busiest 88-year-old I’ll ever meet.”

“I would like to be like her when I grow up,” another said.

Taraski said Ego is a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church who has been active “for decades” as a volunteer in the church and as a business owner. Ego is a former manager of the Chamber of Commerce, and is involved in Singing Christmas Tree, Senior Singers, Manna soup kitchen, and provides pedicures for elderly and homebound residents.

Citizen – Steve Thorpe

Taraski introduced Thorpe, who was not present, she said, because he was at a tournament with some of his wrestlers.

“This person created a wrestling program for young men and women that has brought national awards to Sweet Home High School,” she said, noting that colleagues described him as an “outstanding educator and amazing coach.”

“He has a great ability to teach and guide kids,” she continued, reading quotes from others. “He is able to create young men and women to be good citizens for our community. As a friend, he is approachable and always willing to help.”

Because Thorpe wasn’t present, Yahraes accepted the award on his behalf.

First Citizen – Colby Montigue

Medellin listed Montigue’s activities, both before and after his graduation from Sweet Home High School last spring.

“This person is involved – a lot,” Medellin said.

Montigue is involved with the Sweet Home Auditorium Remodel Committee (SHARC, a board member for Sweet Home Oregon Coalition for Artistic and Scholastic Enrichment (SHOCASE), Singing Christmas Tree choir, Key Club, Kiwanis Club, the Sweet Home Police Department, Sweet Home Sweet Ride car show and the chamber.

He also has participated in multiple Sweet Home High School theater productions, directed the Junior High Christmas choir under district choir director Duncan Tuomi this past holiday season, gives free piano and voice lessons to local young people, serves as McGruff, the Crime Fighting Dog at the local Public Safety Fair and school events, and is youth ministries director for Cornerstone Fellowship.

“If you need someone to move things, he is there,” Medellin said. “If you need someone to lead a choir, he is there. If you need someone to lead a soundboard, he is there.”

Patti Woods Woman of the Year –

Lynn Cooper

Cooper, Medellin said, has served Sweet Home residents for 19 years.

She serves “restaurant-style” Saturday night dinners, where people can order meals on a menu at no cost – “the meals are being served as we speak,” he noted.

She has provided brown-bag lunches and toiletry bags for needy people on Sunday afternoons.

She has directed drama for children, youth and adults for approximately 15 years and created a coffee house ministry on weekends at Hawthorne Elementary, Hope Center and, most recently, at the former location of the Boys & Girls Club.

She also has participated for many years in local Sportsman’s Holiday and Christmas parades.

Business of the Year – THI

Medellin said the Melchers and THI supports the Boys & Girls Club, the Sweet Home Economic Development Group and the Oregon Jamboree and St. Helen Catholic Church with money and time, in addition to involvement in multiple Sweet Home School Districts.

Those have included the artificial turf field at Husky Stadium, the replacement of the tennis courts and the SAFE party. The firm also has supported the renovation of Sankey Park and the Capitol Christmas Tree celebration.

“When approaching this business, you always receive a positive participation and assistance in any form requested, whether monetary or in-kind, donating man-hours, equipment usage, lending property or simply showing up to support in some way,” Medellin said.

Curb Appeal Award – T2

Taraski said, in introducing the new award, that it recognizes the winning business for “its pleasant and outstanding exterior appearance.”

T2, located west of the Narrows along Highway 20, has participated in the community through both the Boys & Girls Club Auction and the Sweet Home Alumni Foundation, she said.

“Regarding their business location, they’ve taken a barren piece of land and made it beautiful with improvements such as a gated entry and a classy office building. When you drive by their property on Highway 20 you see a clean and landscaped front, and for Christmas you see their trees lined with lights. It’s a beauty to see.”

Organization of the Year –

St. Helen’s Catholic Church

Medellin said St. Helen, which has been located in Sweet Home for 65 years, has been involved in the community through weekly kids backpack donations, distributing hundreds of personal hygiene kits for homeless teens, organizing the community Pro-Life Prayer Chain, holding blood drives, providing community baskets for needy families, conducting three parish collections each year to support the SHEM food bank, providing parish workers at Manna soup kitchen, and serving as board members at Sunshine Industries. The church also holds a vacation Bible school and is starting an American Heritage Girls troop.

“As an organization, they provide a complete array of programs and sacramental opportunities in spite of having only about 100 families in attendance,” Medellin said.

Mona Waibel Hero Awards

The awards presented by the Presidents Club, formerly known as the VIP Awards, were renamed after Dalton’s late mother-in-law because “Mona defined what volunteering was about,” Dalton said.

“Her whole life here in Sweet Home was dedicated to community service and making our community better. She broke down the walls of indifference to get things done, found good in everyone, wasn’t afraid to speak up for the betterment of all, and did it with enthusiasm, respect and a smile – the same qualities that our recipients here tonight share.”

He said members of the Presidents Club decided “without reservation” to change the name of the award to Mona Waibel Hero Award.

“Mona was and still is this community’s hero.”

Shirley Austin

Austin, Dalton said, has been “key” in the formation of SHARC, which aims to improve Sweet Home High School’s auditorium.

She’s also volunteered at the Oregon Jamboree for 25 years, most recently as merchandise supervisor, and has helped with the Mystery Concerts.

“As Chips-n-Splinters director, she brought back a great tradition to our Sportsman’s Holiday, Dalton said.

He quoted Councilwoman Susan Coleman, who led the organizers of the Capitol Christmas Tree celebration last year, who said Austin planned all the musical entertainment for the event, wrote the emcees’ scripts, directed practice, brought in food carts and was “the main point person.”

“At the end of a 15-hour day, she thanked me for letting her be a part because, as she described it, ‘I felt like I was in the middle of a Hallmark movie.'”

“She always works hard, with a smile – a real ambassador for Sweet Home,” Dalton said.

Sarah Hewitt

Hewitt’s accomplishments “amaze us,” Dalton said, noting that the senior at Sweet Home is “among the elite,” maintaining perfect grades while taking all Honors, College Prep and Advanced Placement classes, in addition to being named Freshman Girl of the Year and, more recently, Linn County Junior First Citizen, in addition to other honors.

Hewitt has been a member of two state champion swim teams for Sweet Home and has been involved in other sports in addition to serving as president of the high school Key Club, editor of The Huskian school newspaper, co-director of the South Santiam Youth Watershed Council, vice president of the Sweet Home Youth Advisory Council, director of the Class of 2019 Board and a member of the 2018 Sportsman’s Holiday Court.

“Her academic abilities are outstanding, but what is even more impressive is that she’s been able to maintain these standards while being an athlete and involved with numerous school and community service projects,” Dalton said.

“This individual has amassed over a thousand community service hours during her time at Sweet Home High. She truly is a hero for this community and we are pleased to honor her and she’s here tonight – volunteering once again,” he said as he waved toward the back of the room where Hewitt was cleaning up after dinner with other volunteer bussers from the high school.

Dick Knowles

Dalton described Knowles’ extensive involvement in the community since arriving in the area in 1997 after a 25-year career as an administrator in inpatient, psychiatric facilities in Northern California.

He noted that Knowles chaired the Wilderness Village Project, working to develop the old Willamette Mill site, and was a member of SHEDG, the city’s Health Committee, and has been involved in seeking solutions to homelessness and working with the community’s Adult Services Team.

Knowles has also been actively involved in public and mental health and housing issues, both within the county and regionally.

Donna Poirier

One of only seven original Oregon Jamboree volunteers still involved in the festival, Poirier has also been involved in raising money for Special Olympics through her family’s involvement in the Polar Plunge, helping at The Point restaurant’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, playing Mrs. Santa Claus at the Singing Christmas Tree, volunteering at school events and founding and coordinating the annual Christmas Caroling hayride.

Kristi Walker

After 20 years at Sweet Home Family Medicine, including in a supervisory role, Walker decided she wanted to work with kids and took a position as Health Services Project director for the Sweet Home School District.

Though many of her duties require confidentiality, Dalton said, Walker has established the Clothing Closet, which provides garments to 25 to 30 needy families a week.

She also helps her husband operate Moose Creek Machine and Repair.

Robert Weidner

Weidner has spent the last 50 years helping people, “usually by feeding them,” Dalton said.

Weidner has spearheaded St. Helen’s Christmas food basket program for about 25 years and has cooked and served monthly breakfasts as a Knights of Columbus member for 40 years, which he also does at the Elks Lodge, where he has been a member for nearly 50 years.

Weidner is active and has served on the Board of Directors at SHEM and on the board of the Sweet Home Senior Center.

“Since he is an Army veteran, he takes great pride volunteering at the Edward C. Allworth Veterans Home in Lebanon and the American Leagion,” Dalton said.