WALLA WALLA -- A treasure chest ice sculpture, pirate coins and citizens with hearts of gold congregated at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center on Wednesday night to celebrate "Treasures of the Valley."
The Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce's 128th annual banquet dedicated an evening to honor six community members for their years of service.
Emcee Gwyn Gilmore and auctioneer Doug Macon returned for another year to lead the festivities. The silent auction and live auction raised approximately $10,400 for the Chamber, with prizes that ranged from a weeklong stay in Las Vegas to a treasure chest full of gift certificates for local businesses.
The newly appointed president/CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, David Woolson, greeted the crowd on what he called "Day 12 of the job."
The first award of the night, the Spirit of Excellence Award, went to Tara Crain to honor her volunteer work for the Chamber. Crain, the mother of eight children and nine foster children, has served as Chamber ambassador for the past three years.
The most prestigious awards of the evening came next. The Awards of Merit, presented annually to one male and one female, recognizes the honorees' continued commitment to community service for at least 15 years.
Linda Hardy, who received the award in 2009, introduced this year's male recipient with a quote from his nominator, "Everyone who knows him will say, it's about time."
The now-retired Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Robert Zagelow was awarded the 2010 Award of Merit for his "wise counsel, energy and passion, (and) willingness to be engaged," said Hardy.
After more than 25 years representing farmers and ranchers, small business owners and the agricultural industry in court, Zagelow was elected to the Superior Court in 1996, where he presided as judge for 12 years. Zagelow has served on the Walla Walla Community College Foundation Board of Governors and on the local boards of United Way, Chamber of Commerce, American Diabetes Association and Children's Home Society of Washington. In 2008, the Washington State Bar Association awarded Zagelow with the Local Hero Award, presented to lawyers who demonstrate dedicated service to their community. He is an active member of Rotary and the Community Council, where he seeks to improve education for children.
"It's stunning, really," said Zagelow. "I know a lot of people who have received these awards (in the past). I'm incredibly humbled more than anything."
Tim Larkin, of Tumac Machinery, introduced the female recipient, Ellen Wolf, a woman who has the "ability to listen sympathetically and act with compassion."
Hired in 1990, Wolf served as Walla Walla Public Schools superintendent until 2000. She was a longtime board member for the YMCA, serving five years as the first female YMCA board president. In late 2009, she stepped in once more as interim executive director. She has served as a trustee and board president for Blue Mountain Community Foundation, and as a board member for the Chamber of Commerce. Wolf is vice president of programs for the Walla Walla-Columbia School Retirees Association.
"When I came here, one of my focuses was to educate children for their future not for our past. It's a continuing challenge," Wolf said.
"It's a great honor and I'm so humbled," she said after the banquet.
Each of the three colleges presented awards to a member of the staff or faculty to honor his or her dedication to the Walla Walla community.
Steve VanAusdle, president of Walla Walla Community College, presented its community service award to Steve Harvey, an instructor in the WWCC Commercial Driving Program.
"Churchill said, 'We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.' Harvey exemplifies the giving,'" said VanAusdle. "He's the difference between employment and unemployment for many, many individuals."
VanAusdle announced that this year the community college would offer a full scholarship in Harvey's name to a student in need.
Harvey accepted the award with a short and sweet message, "Volunteering is the right thing to do."
President of Walla Walla University John McVay selected Susan Smith for the community service award. Smith, the director for the bachelor of social work program, has taught at the university since 1997.
"Smith aligns her talent with organizations that serve the marginalized in the Walla Walla community," said McVay. "She is an indefatigable heroine."
Whitman College president George Bridges presented the final award of the evening, the Pete and Hedda Reid Award, to Melissa Clearfield, a professor of psychology. Clearfield, who moved to Walla Walla nine years ago, has already made significant contributions as a volunteer in the community, Bridges said. Clearfield has volunteered her time and skills in community programs that prevent child abuse and neglect, provide for low-income families, and foster childhood development. The award, previously known as the Town and Gown Award, was renamed in 2009 to recognize the service of Pete and Hedda Reid, who attended Wednesday's banquet.
The evening wrapped up with awards for table decorations. Columbia Rural Electric Association won first prize, Community Bank, second prize, and Banner Bank, third prize. All three winners selected the Blue Mountain Humane Society to receive their cash prize.
"It was a great effort from the community, and a great night for the chamber," said Woolson, the Chamber president.
"The volunteers were extraordinary this year. We couldn't have done it without them," said Susan Hall, vice president of operations for the Chamber.
Katrina Barlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.