Soldotna Chamber honors community champions

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Several community members and Peninsula business people in a single word, "elegant!" summed up the 2004 Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Annual Awards Gala.

The event held at the Soldotna Sports Center evidenced the creativity and hard work exemplified by the Chamber Staff throughout the year of 2003. "I've been to numerous events at this facility, but this by far is the nicest I've ever seen this room," noted Dan Mortenson, Soldotna Chamber Board member.

Past President Barbara Elson introduced a musical tribute to the year in review, produced by Paul Gray, and then called on Sammy Cole to announce the scholarship recipients for the coming year. "The Soldotna Chamber is proud that for the first time this year, all of our scholarships are renewable for a second year. Normally, scholarships are available and applied to the students first year, making the second even more of a financial challenge. This year our scholarships are for $1,000 per year per student for a total of $12,000 in scholarships," announced Cole.

Receiving this years scholarships were Kaitlin Vadla, a SoHi senior who went on the following evening to win the Alaska Junior Miss title, Sara Garrant, a Skyview senior pursuing a career as a Pastry Chef and Food Management, Emily Berezin, a Skyview senior ranked number one in her class, Matthew Schuetzler, another Skyview senior pursuing a vo-tech career and plans to join the U.S. Air Force, Katina Lagoutaris a national honor society student from Skyview, and David Thornton of Skyview who plans to pursue an education in music. Receiving the Vera Horwath Memorial Scholarships were Johnny Mills of SoHi, and Thomas Strapko from Cook Inlet Academy.


Spence DeVito receives Pioneer Award from Soldotna Chamber President Tim Pope.

The Chamber also recognized the passing and loss of several pillars to the community during the past year, George Dennison, who was the first Soldotna Chamber President, Ron Swanson, who started Ron's Rent All 37 years ago, John Kersten, Soldotna businessman and contractor for over 30 years, and the man with the smile bigger than the world record King Salmon he caught, Les Anderson. The family of Mr. Anderson was honored with a plaque of appreciation for the donation of Les's world record fish trophy to the Soldotna Visitors Center where it can be enjoyed by the thousands of visitors who stop by the Center every year. "It's just so like Les to share what made him happy with the community, and that'll be remembered by everyone who sees his fish," said Barbara Elson.

When it came time to recognize outstanding achievements within the community, the Stenga Brothers, Jim and Steve were chosen to receive the Business of the Year award for accomplishments in real estate sales and development. The Alaska Young Marines were selected for the honor of Volunteers of the Year and living up to their motto, "Ask us and we'll be there." Gary and Sharon Hale were singled out for their Devoted Service to Young People & Youth Activities through the Central Emergency Service and Redoubt Elementary School. The Excellence in Profession award is given to someone in the community each year that has maintained the highest standards in their profession, in presenting the award, Jim Stogsdill said, "This year's recipient, through his work here for nearly 3 decades, is the definition of this award. A gentle, kind and soft spoken man, Tom Hodel of Soldotna Professional Pharmacy." Spence Divito, retired educator and the first guide on the Kenai River, was chosen for the Pioneer Award, a distinction that goes to someone that has been instrumental in development of local community, culture, and business.


2003 Soldotna Chamber President Barbara Elson passes the Chamber gavel to Tim Pope 2004 Chamber President at last weeks Awards Gala.

The Chamber chose Steve and Jeanie Booth as Honorary Lifetime Members for their many contributions to the community. The final award of the evening, the 2003 Person of the Year Award went to a surprised Dena Cunningham of McDonalds. Dena had presented the Devoted Service to Youth Award, "I was in complete surprise and disbelief that I was chosen for Person of the Year. It's humbling but very exciting, my sister is visiting here and I'm in shock, but so grateful to live and own a business in this community. I do what I do because I love where I live and the people around me," said Cunningham.

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