Merkes, Nichols picked for award

Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Two women from the central Kenai Peninsula have been named winners of the First Lady's Volunteer Award 2005.

Eleven recipients were chosen from around the state for their outstanding volunteer service to the public. Grace Merkes of Sterling and Bonnie Nichols of Soldotna were among the winners.

"Alaskans are truly some of the most generous and energetic people I've ever seen, especially when it comes to helping out those in need in their own communities," said first lady Nancy Murkowski. "These awards recognize the most outstanding volunteers of the year, but I'm proud to see so many Alaskans all across the state who are so willing to extend themselves to help others."

The winners will be honored at a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. today in the Chart Room at the Hilton Anchorage hotel, during the Spring Regional Volunteerism Summit, sponsored by the Alaska State Community Service Commission. Each will receive a memento from the first lady to commemorate their exemplary contribution to Alaska.

The awards are presented to Alaskans who engage in unpaid volunteer activities within Alaska, demonstrate extraordinary personal commitment to long-time volunteer service, and make a significant impact on or bring important benefit to their community or the state.

Merkes, a mother of eight known affectionately as "Gramma Grace," helped establish and win grants to fund Sterling's Head Start program and is seeking funding to build a community center to house Head Start, as well as a local museum and library. Merkes also is a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

Nichols is the spokesperson of Central Peninsula General Hospital and a musician who has helped establish and volunteered for local public health organizations, written and performed songs to support community health issues and served with a number of health-care service organizations.

"I am delighted with the wide range of service evidenced by the nominees, and especially with the dedication to volunteerism exemplified by these winners," Murkowski said. "It is a pleasure to be able to honor their service with these awards."

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