Chamber event honors community leaders

[Photo by Greg Lee] Master of Ceremonies Shane May (left) and Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Shauna Neigh (right) welcome attendees to the 2022 Chamber of Commerce Installation and Awards Banquet.

The Chamber of Commerce held its 72nd annual Installation and Awards Banquet on Saturday night (May 21), honoring citizens, students and businesses in the community.

“It was a fun evening,” said Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Shauna Neigh. “I was happy to see people got to come together and celebrate Cottage Grove and celebrate each other.”

The event was not held last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Master of Ceremonies Shane May hosted the event as awards were distributed under a variety of categories.

Danny Solesbee, standing in for Past President Len Blackstone, began by passing the ceremonial presidential gavel to Board Chair Dale Smith, owner of Coast Fork Brewing and Feed.

“We are blessed to have Dale Smith as our board chair and to have a board that is engaged and committed to our community,” said Solesbee. “It’s nearly end of May and already Dale has made her imprint.”

Smith expressed her appreciation as she accepted the position.

“It’s been a long two years since we last gathered, and we’re back,” she said. “You really voted for an amazing board of directors who are blessed and excited to work for our business community. I also want to give a big shout out to everyone who supported local business over the last two years. Thank you very much.”

She also praised the chamber’s role in promoting local business and entrepreneurship through education and events.

“We want to be assured of continued growth opportunities for business in our community,” she said. “And we want to keep folks local. We want them to stay here for their goods and their services.”

Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Ruth Linoz presented two scholarships to students for their volunteerism, community service, academic excellence and extracurricular activities.

Linoz praised to the chamber’s scholarship committee as well as high school counselor Vicki Evans as being instrumental in getting the scholarships out to prospective students.

This year’s scholarship awards were done somewhat differently, focusing on recognizing students that interested in trade or entrepreneurship.

Along with the tradition Junior First Citizen Award, the chamber introduced a new Business and Entrepreneurship Award.

Applicants submitted essays regarding a community benefit question, their community service, extracurricular activities, work or internship, honors and achievements. Then during a panel interview, applicants were evaluated for their poise, personality and confidence.

Junior First Citizen Award this year went to Halle DeGarlais, who suggested creating a community meetings space for youth in her essay.

“We were also impressed with her personal growth recovering from a major sports injury to return the next season to captain her team and earn a personal second team all-league recognition. That really showed us her strong leadership and perseverance traits,” said Linoz.

The Business and Entrepreneurship Award went to Gabriel Cortes, who wrote an essay suggesting establishing a link between high school students, community leadership and businesses.

Cortes could not be present for the ceremony, but Linoz read from a letter he submitted thanking the chamber for the award.

“This will help me continue my academics in the future,” it read. “After getting my bachelor’s degree, I will earn my doctor of physical therapy. I’m inspired to become a physical therapist because I love helping others and seeing people make progress in their lives.”

Both scholarships were awarded at $1,000.

Next, South Lane School District staff announced both teacher and classified employee of the year awards.

Teacher of the year went to Patty Wilson, who was described as an “effective leader”, a “true advocate” for students and “one of a kind”.

Wilson, who will soon be retiring from Bohemia Elementary School, shared stories of her career and the district’s recent struggles through the turbulence of COVID restrictions, praising her colleagues for their hard work.

“Thank you for this award. I share it my Bohemia family,” she said.

Classified Employee of the Year went to Cottage Grove High School (CGHS) Campus Supervisor James Berry.

“He’s there first thing in the morning well before he’s supposed to be, he’s welcoming students and staff with a friendly hello and a wave every day, he coaches three sports,” said CGHS Principal Kevin Herington. “In fact, quite literally, he lives at the high school. … James Berry is the heartbeat of that staff.”

Berry saved praise for his colleagues as well.

“It’s a pleasure to work with them,” he said. “I enjoy this town. I grew up here. I enjoy the community and the history and I love being a part of it.”

Following up was the Nonprofit of the Year Award, which is given an organization that has shown leadership and dedication which improves the community and enhances the well-being of citizens.

This year’s winner was Cottage Theatre

Board member Celia Gowing accepted the award, thanking the community for donations which kept it afloat through COVID restrictions and have helped enable the theater to begin presenting shows again.

“We are so thankful and grateful and excited to get back on the stage doing live performances,” she said.

First Citizen Award was then presented to Cameron Reiten, owner and host of the KNND radio station.

“I didn’t put a lot of thought into preparing anything tonight, such was the high caliber of my fellow nominees and their incredible contributions that they’ve made to Cottage Grove,” he said. “And so to join the ranks of the local legends and the rock stars that have received this award in years past is quite frankly, a very humbling experience.”

Next, this year’s PACE (President’s Award for Community Excellence) went to Public Works and Development Director Faye Stewart.

“I was taught from a very young age how important it is to give back to your community and make it the best that you possibly can,” Stewart said, accepting the award. “We are blessed here with a wonderful city council have an incredible city manager that has supported me.”

In closing, the Business of the Year Award went to Grocery Outlet. Owners Ed and Kori Sowa accepted the award.

“This means a lot,” said Kori Sowa in an emotional acceptance speech. “We are so thankful for the community support and we are very thankful for our staff. We have an amazing staff. And because of them, we are where we are.”

Ed Sowa added his thanks to all who have given support and to the other nominees. “We’re really appreciative of that. Everyone here is worth and all play a part in what we do.”

More than $4,000 was brought in from the event’s “Dessert Dash”, which will be dedicated toward next year’s scholarships.

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