Visionaries of our Time

Barbara Pizzola walks the red carpet to the stage after being named Woman of the Year at the Distinguished Citizens Awards Banquet Jan. 16. The banquet is hosted by The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce. Mark B. Gibson photos

A host of citizens and businesses were recognized as “Visionaries of Our Time” during The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Citizens Award Banquet at the Fort Dalles Readiness Center Thursday. The event also featured the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation’s philanthropy awards, previously awarded at a second annual banquet hosted by the foundation.

The banquet is a Chamber kick-off for the coming year, and Connie Ford of Zim’s Brau Haus was introduced as the Chamber board chair for 2020, receiving the gavel from former chair Andrew Myers. The seventeen board members were also introduced, as were 14 chamber ambassadors.

Outstanding Awards

Lisa Farquharson, executive director of the Chamber, announced each of the Chamber’s eight ‘distinguished citizens,’ noting that the theme of the banquet was “Visionaries of Our Time.”

“When we think visionaries, we think of someone who thinks about the future or advancements in a creative or imaginative way. When you are in the presence of a true visionary, you can feel their power because they are focused and present. Tonights honorees are a great example of ‘visionaries’ in our community,” Farquharson said.

Volunteer of the Year

The 2020 Volunteer of the Year award was given to Eunice Denudt, who was described as one who “does not sit idly and always has the need to serve others.” Farquharson explained that in recent years, Denudt had suffered a stroke that left her, temporarily, unable to walk or talk. As she was learning again how to walk and speak, “an act of kindness spoke to her and gave her comfort and peace.

“She decided that when she had regained her speach, and her ability to walk, she was going to make sure that others would receive that same gift in the hope it would give them comfort,” Farquharson said.

For over three years now, Denudt has been crocheting blankets for the welcome baskets at Columbia Basin care center. She has crocheted over 150 blankets, and each resident now has one.

“She never forgot the wonderful feeling to gave her to have something handmade, just for yer during her rehabilitation and the many moments of feeling down and frustrated,” Farquharson said.

Youth of the Year

Honored as the Outstanding Youth of the Year was Jacob Field.

“I had the honor of meeting our student of the year a few years ago, and was impressed with his level of collaboration, leadership, ingenuity and creativity on a team,” said Farquharson.

Field is working to make sure elementary students, fellow high school students and the community have the opportunity to learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics.) Field was part of a team that worked to research, design, build, program and test a specialized gaming controller for a Columbia High School teen with Cerebral Palsy, and now has an internship with the STEM Hub in the Gorge. “I can’t wait to see what he creates next,” Farquharson said.

First Responder of the Year

Project ELFF received the First Responder of the Year award, represented by Eric Pyles, Bob Palmer, Tim McGlothlin, Captain Ray Morris and Dave Lutgens. Project ELFF began in 1986 as a two-day food drive in The Dalles organized by Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue command, and has since expanded to Dallesport and Murdock. Prior to the actual event, assigned volunteers go to local businesses seeking cash donations. During the drive itself, fire apparatus hit the streets in area neighborhoods with lights ablaze and sirens sounding. Volunteers canvass door-to-door collecting nonperishable foods for the local food banks. Assisted living facilities in the area help transport volunteers from area to area, and Meadow Outdoor Advertising provides sorting and storage space for the donated items. The program collects an average of 16 to 17,000 food items, with as many as 23,000 collected in a single drive. A total of 152 volunteer collectors, 27 MCFR volunteers, 25 Dallesport Fire volunteers, 5 MCFR administrative staff and members of The Dalles Lions Club, Salvation Army and St. Vincent De Paul turn out for the event.

Educator of the Year

Longtime The Dalles teacher Coutney Kiser was named as Outstanding Educator of the Year. Farquharson read a number of quotes from students in introducing Kiser. “I want this teacher to hear the impact they had on our community and many familes,” she said.

“He was one of the corner stones of my childhood, when I look back,” wrote one. “For a lot of us, he’s been one of our favorite teachers and coaches, as his compassion is incomparable,” wrote another.

“You will always hold a special part in my whole family’s heart, from me to all three of my children, my nieces and other families and youth you have stood behind and supported,” wrote another.

“He was my inspiration to become a teacher. He makes learning fun and is engaged with each and every student. He is a terrific man and he deserves to much. He is loved by so many,” wrote yet another.

Agriculture Achievement Award

The Outstanding Ag Achievement award was given to the wheat and cattle farms under the family operation of John and Pat Clausen, Carlton and Pam Clausen and Gary and Susan Brown.

“This family-run operation has combined six family operations to be independent of each other and yet working together. This operation has always been an early adapter of new methods, and has worked well with the county extension agent in trying  new things,” said Farquharson. “They have taken a lot of risks along the way.

“You do what you need to do to survive and you do it just because it is the right thing to do,” she told the recipients. “You have the passion to carry on the vision of your granparents and parents while instilling their values in the children so that they can continue.”

Woman of the Year

Barbara Pizzola, owner of A’s Sewing Shop in The Dalles, was named Outstanding Woman of the Year.

Pizzola’s family started a business in The Dalles over 40 years ago, and provided an essential service to the people of the region.  

“Running a small business takes dedication, hard work, endless hours, and the ability to please your customers with good service,” said Farquharson. “She never turned down an opportunity to help.”

Pizzola also worked as a volunteer for many events and organizations, and as a CASA volunteer helping foster children in the court system. Her work with the Fort Dalles Rodeo’s Tough Enough to Wear Pink helped provide funding for two digital Mammography Machines at the local hospital.

This year, Pizzola closed her shop but will remain active in the community. “You will find her working in town, being an awesome granma, and a loving and supportive mom—all the while still rolling up her sleeves and getting things done for the community,” Farquharson said.

Man of the Year

Named Outstanding Man of the Year was Jim Wilcox, a local Realtor. “He always puts his clients first and makes sure they are taken care of no matter what,” said Farquharson. “He has been recognzied by both is region and the state for his work, leadership and service to others. He has a vision for what our community could become.”

Wilcox has traveled to Salem and Washington DC to advocate for local concerns, issues and ideas, and has worked with the Columbia Gorge Regional Airport for over 27 years. He is active in the Sister City program, coached baseball for 24 years and was a referee in wrestling for 30.

“He has done it all, from making doughnuts to singing in a barbershop quartet, all in the name of The Dalles,” she said.

Business of the Year

Spooky’s Pizza was named the 2020 Outstanding Business of the Year.

Spooky’s Pizza was established at the west end of The Dalles in 1966, and is currently owned and operated by the Stanek Family.

“After 50 years, the original recipes continue to satisfy customers with their unique flavors. This family’s passion is to ensure that the restaurant, and its recipes, grow with its community and customers,” said Farquharson. “As a family they thrive on their ability to provide the community and beyond with high quality ingredients, superior customer service and consistency,” she said.

Title sponsor was The Stratton Agency. Nineteen tables were sponsored; Catering was by Cherry City Catering; and 27 businesses contributed to the auction.

There is a lot to look forward to from the Chamber in the coming year, said Farquharson, who invited Chamber staff to share their vision for the upcoming year:

Katie McClintock joined the Chamber staff as events coordinator in November. The banquet was her first big event. “In 2020 my goal is to build up our events even more, from our small events such as Coffee Connections and Business After Hours to big ones like the Cherry Festival, and  work more with our community partners in the process,” she said.  

Jim Mejias, who works with tourism and media relations fo the chamber, said he is proudest of the commercial shoot with Sam Pyke of Hill Shadow Pictures this past year. “It was an amazing opportunity over 48 hours to connect with tons of local partners, push The Dalles into a new light, and help everyone experience the city in a brand new way,” he said. He plans to “K.I.T.” (Keep Improving Tourism) in the coming year, streamline processes, build networks, and help take The Dalles to the next level, he said.

Lisa Rundell, office and visitor services manager for the chamber, said her work, which includes meeting a lot of great visitors to the area, “is a job I truly enjoy.” She said she hopes to “continue making the chamber a great place for visitors and local business to find direction and any help we can provide.”

Jessie Lamp, who will be working as communications coordinator with the chamber, will be joining the team at the end of the month.

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