By Jenny Neyman
Though the point of the 2014 Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Award presentations was to enumerate all that the winners do in the community, the recipients instead praised Soldotna for what it’s given them — a great place to call home.
“Thank you all very much, this is home and we give back to our home, so, thank you,” said Steve Horn, a professor at Kenai Peninsula College, who was recognized as the Volunteer of the Year at the banquet held Jan. 13 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Horn supports many local organizations and events, said chamber president Ryan Kapp, often showing his heart for local causes through people’s stomachs by manning the grill at community functions.
“His wife told us that community is like family to him, and that, quote, ‘He’s just a good guy.’ We couldn’t agree more,” Kapp said.
The recipient of the Commitment to Customer Service Award spent more a decade planning to move to the state. Since Eric Dahlman, manager of Sportsman’s Warehouse in Soldotna, had an opportunity to move up in 2011, he has made the most of it, getting out and enjoying the outdoors as much as he can, and taking every opportunity to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with his staff and customers.
The Pioneers of the Year found their opportunity to come to Soldotna in 1974, moving up from California with extended family and a general contracting- and camper-building business in tow. Ron and Kathy Sexton, owners of Trinity Greenhouse, have a long history of seizing opportunities, as well as cultivating their own. Alongside building custom homes and commercial buildings, Ron invented a quick-measure shortening dispenser. While in Seattle getting parts made for the device, he saw an ad for Sunglo greenhouses, and he and his brother became distributors in Alaska.
“They always had an interest in horticulture so it was a natural fit,” Kapp said. “They grew plants to show off the greenhouses and quickly realized the need for quality plants. One year later in the spring of ’77 they were open for business with a commercial-size greenhouse. It almost sounds like he had business ADD, doesn’t it?”
Sexton cheerfully conceded Kapp’s joke.
“Forty years has flown by,” Sexton said. “Our family is more than happy to have Soldotna and the Kenai Peninsula as our home. It’s been a real pleasure, a great joy, a great adventure. … Nothing ventured, nothing gained is in a lot of my sayings I use, and it’s always onward and upward.”
The Government and Civic Affairs Award recipient noted that time has flown for him, as well. Though Rep. Mike Cheanult, R-Nikiski, feels like an institution in the Alaska Legislature these days, his original goal upon his election in 2000 was just to do some good for Alaskans, he said.
“When I started as a legislator this is the farthest thing from my mind that I thought I’d be here that long. But the intent was always to not only help the communities that I represent, but also to help other communities around the state, and especially those on the peninsula,” he said.
The Excellence in Profession winner touches about as many lives as a legislator through her work at Alaska USA Mortgage. Kapp noted that Rhonda Johnson even closed his first home loan.
“Paperwork aside, she goes above and beyond what anyone would expect of her, even crawling over the side of a boat in heels and a skirt,” Kapp said.
Scott Walden, the Person of the Year, is well known in the community as the director of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management, and it’s partially his work in this role for which the award was given. But it’s also his efforts behind the scenes, Kapp said.
“You might also not even notice this person helping those in need as it’s often done in private with no recognition or fanfare,” he said.
The Business of Year, by contrast, is about as high profile as they come. Tosoro provides more than 200 full-time jobs, is a founding sponsor of Alaska Business Week and the major donor of the Caring for the Kenai program.
“Though they have grown tremendously, this company has been committed to the highest ethical standards in the conduct of their business. Their commitment is defined in their guiding principles, specifically with their core values of safety and environment, respect and integrity,” Kapp said.
Appreciation flowed as freely as the Kenai River under spring rains, but two recipients seemed particularly touched by the recognition. Michelle Glaves, who is stepping down this year as director of the Soldotna chamber, was moved to tears in receiving the President’s Award for her service to the organization and, by extension, the community. And Small Business of the Year recipient Felicia Keith-Jones of High Mark Distillery was similarly honored by her award.
“This has been quite a challenge, it’s been the ultimate challenge,” Keith-Jones said. “And it’s been worth every day that we’ve put in. Every bit of the spirits that you guys get to enjoy have been handmade, hand-delivered, hand-sold, hand-distributed.”
But the business isn’t staying small for long. Keith-Jones announced that High Mark will open a second location on the Sterling Highway, in the building that housed Ace Automotive, by the middle of February or early March.
“Thank you to absolutely every familiar and new face here,” she said. “And drinks are on me. Woo-hoo!”