The dimly lit Soldotna Elks Lodge was filled with excitement Friday as all awaited the start of the 42nd annual Greater Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet.
Guests filed into a large hall decorated with powder blue balloons, small trees adorned with clear lights and tables filled with snowflake decorations.
The evening began with Dan Mortenson presenting special awards to 2000 board members Diana Spann and Reuben Hanke. Norm Blakeley was named an honorary Soldotna chamber board member for life.
All three names sparked standing ovations.
Mortenson then presented the 2001 chamber board of directors, which includes president, Mike Frost with First National Bank of Anchorage; president-elect, Lisa Wimmer with National Bank of Alaska; past president, Dan Mortenson with 4D Carpet One; vice president, Sammie Cole with Southcentral Title Agency; and secretary-treasurer, Dena Cunningham with McDonald's.
Board members include Mike Sweeney with Sweeney's Cloth-ing; Tim Pope with Natron Air; Paul Gray with the "Exploring Alaska" television show; Kurt Olson with Peninsula Processing and Smokehouse; Jocelyn Coghill with the Peninsula Clarion; Barbara Elson with First American Title of Alaska; Betty Obendorf; and Terry Coval with K-Wave/ KPEN/KGTL radio.
Sammie Cole presented four area high school students with $1,000 scholarships. The students were Skyview High School's Jadra Dee Orr and Paul Alexander Shadura III; Soldotna High School student Kara Merrill and Cook Inlet Academy's Eric Minelga.
While men and women walked through the crowd serving dinner and refilling drinks, guests awaited the presentation of the city's outstanding individuals.
Pat Cowan introduced each presenter.
Dena Cunningham presented the Devoted Service to Young People and Youth Activities award. It is given to a person who constantly volunteers time and is active in any area of youth activities or concerns for youth. Jane Fellman was named the winner for her involvements in many children's programs, including Peninsula Safe Kids and the Kids Don't Float program.
"Every day she devotes her time to children in the central peninsula," Cunningham said.
Fellman was not present to accept the award because she was out of town.
Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker presented the Volunteer of the Year Award. The recipient of the award is one who consistently volunteers time and effort in support of the chamber and other community organizations.
Jim Fisher was given the award, and, according to Boedeker, it was well deserved.
"He rarely misses a chamber luncheon," Boedeker said. "He strives to make our community the best it can be."
Ed Oberts presented the Governmental and Civic Affairs award. The person receiving the award has various governmental appointments and involvements. The person also is concerned with the city's socioeconomic development.
Oberts' boss, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley, was named the winner.
While Oberts mentioned that Bagley "goes the extra mile" and has made government more friendly, Bagley accepted the award and kept his speech short and sweet.
"I don't know what else to say but thank you."
The Excellence in Profession award, presented by Jocelyn Coghill, was intended for an individual who attained and personified the highest level of professional excellence in business and their profession.
Coghill awarded John Lohrke, general manager with Seekins Ford, with the honor.
Because Lohrke was out of town, Seekins manager Bill Lawrence accepted for him.
"John Lohrke is an absolute pleasure to work for," Lawrence said, after delivering an acceptance speech written by Lohrke.
The next award, presented by Mike Sweeney, was the Pioneer Award. The award recognizes an individual that was instrumental in the development of the city of Soldotna.
Pat Cowan was honored for his many accomplishments in the city.
Cowan first moved to Soldotna in 1968. He said when he and his family approached the city for the first time, he told his wife "this is home; this is my town."
Though Cowan later moved throughout Alaska, he returned to the Soldotna area and became a partner in the Birch Ridge Golf Course. He also has owned an insurance company with his wife.
Cowan accepted the award with a bit of surprise.
"Service to humanity is the best work in life," he said.
Chamber President Mike Frost presented the Business Person of the Year to a chamber member who has stimulated economic development on the peninsula.
This year it went to Fred Hammond, owner of the Soldotna "Y" Chevron for more 15 years.
The last award honored the Person of the Year. The award goes to a person who has been a resident of Alaska for at least 10 years, active in any or all community affairs and willing to assist in organization programs.
Paul Gray presented the award to Norm Blakeley, a person who's participation in the community is widespread.
"It is hard to find a place he is not involved," Gray said. "He is a great friend."
Blakeley accepted the award, which summed up the awards presentation.
"It is a privilege to live in this community," he said.
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