DSAs celebrate service

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Caring and dedication took center stage Friday night, Feb. 24, during the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Service Awards Gala at the Boulder Falls Inn Event Center.
Chris Breshears and Shyla Malloy were named Lebanon’s man and woman of the year. Both were among a class of other local champions honored for their dedication and selfless work in 2022.
Gamael Nassar, who won man of the year honors last year, said Breshears loves what he does and seems to be in the middle of everything.

MAN OF THE YEAR Chris Breshears, center in left photo,accepts the award from last year’s honoree Gamael Nassar.

“He cares about Lebanon,” Nassar said. “He rarely says no to a request and has helped Lebanon to grow to be a wonderful place to be and to live and to visit.”
Kris Latimer, last year’s recipient of the woman’s award, said Malloy received dozens of supporting nominations describing her as always offering a helping hand, with involvement in every event.
“She has a truly dedicated servant’s heart,” Latimer said, reading from the comments. “She is the definition of Woman of the Year. She is an outstanding person and is a true example of what a community member should be. She is always out and about giving her time to help people.”
Sheree Speaks was named Junior First Citizen not only for her work with the community’s most vulnerable population — the disabled and low-income children — but also for her commitment to the Toastmasters Club, Arts Commission and Strawberry Festival.
“It’s hard to find something good in Lebanon that she’s not involved with,” presenter Tyler Grove said.
The Senior First Citizen Award went to Thad Nelson, who has supported a wide range of community services, including Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam, Lebanon Skate Park and Build Lebanon Trails.
The DSAs began in 1950 with a single award: Junior First Citizen (for any man aged 20-34). It began through the Lebanon Junior Chamber of Commerce (the “Jaycees”), a leadership and civic organization for men aged 18 to 40.
Attorney Bill Thomas was named Lebanon’s first Junior First Citizen for his many leadership roles in the community.
Two years later saw the introduction of the Senior First Citizen Award (age 35 or older), which was given to banker J.C. Mayer.
Nominees for both awards were chosen for being “outstanding in leadership and service,” those who “made the greatest contributions to the community” in service, civic activities and personal and professional progress, according to news articles at the time.
In 1954, the Jaycees gave its first Key Man Award to Ray Childs, an honor that would be presented to an “outstanding” Jaycee member.
The first Man of the Year Award was given to Lebanon Express General Manager Floyd Geymann in 1967 for his varied community activities.
And finally, the first Woman of the Year Award was officially recognized in the newspaper in 1968. Mrs. Stanley Johnson was honored for her music education in five country schools, composition of several pieces of music, blood donations, church service and the Business Professional and Woman’s Club, and “caring for her five youngsters.”
The BPWC sponsored the award at the chamber banquet that year, although it had already been naming a “Leading Lady” at its own private annual event since the late 1940s.
The chamber awards banquet evolved further over the years, with the introduction of more awards. The Frankie Gray “Answering the Call” award came in 2011 and was presented to its namesake, Frankie Gray, who was said to have kept the phrase “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me” posted to her cupboard.

RONDA VINSON poses for a photo as the Frankie Gray Answering the Call 2022 recipient.

Mary Garner, last year’s Frankie Gray “Answering the Call” Award recipient, gave the 2023 distinction to Ronda Vinson for her “tireless hours” raising funds for abuse victims and volunteering her time to make favorite local events successful.
Vinson, owner of Hangry Solution, conducts at least three fundraising events a year through her business for Dala’s Blue Angels, a nonprofit organization providing funds for child abuse awareness, prevention and assistance.
“She has been pivotal in the success of Holidays in the Park,” Garner said. “She spent countless hours out there in the worst weather. Even if she hasn’t recovered from Holidays in the Park, she heads face-first in the Strawberry Festival, serving as a co-chair of security.”
Vinson said she was raised by her grandparents, but sexually abused throughout her childhood by non-family members.
“The reason I do what I do is if I can stop one child from going through what I did, it’s worth all the time in the world,” she said. “It’s the same with Holidays in the Park. If we see one smiling child, it makes us feel great after eight weeks of freezing to death out there.”
Dala Johnson, founder of Dala’s Blue Angels, encouraged Vinson to join her team of “angel” volunteers a couple of years after the group formed. After that, she became certified for unarmed security, which she now provides for the Strawberry Festival.
Johnson also nudged Vinson to work with her for Holidays in the Park. The Christmas event fit well with Vinson’s interest in decorating. In fact, she used to host a music and light display at her own home.
But every money-making opportunity – including the festival security services – is funneled back through the organization.
“Everything we do throughout the year goes to Blue Angels,” she said.
Many of the group’s volunteer and fundraising work include flamingo flocking, Santiam Excursion Train rides, 50/50 raffle ticket sales at the Willamette Speedway, trash pickup at the Strawberry Festival, bell ringing at Human Bean and traffic control at a marathon.
“We look for every opportunity we can to try to raise those funds,” Vinson said. “Every cent has to go toward a child.”
The Angels raised about $112,000 in its first 10 years. Its money is dispersed for child advocacy needs through ABC House, Court-Appointed Special Advocates of Linn County, Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence and Family Tree Relief Nursery, and also provides other support for child-victim needs.
Vinson credits Johnson for helping her help others.

VINSON HUGS Dala Johnson prior to going on stage to receive her award.

“It took for me to be a Blue Angel to admit what had happened,” she said. “I’d say Dala’s the one who’s probably brought me out of my shell and allowed me to become the person I am today.”
Before handing the award to Vinson, Garner attested to her friend’s commitment.
“I personally know she will step up and answer the call, and never expects anything in return,” she said. “Ronda will be the first one to help anyone, anytime. She’s selfless and I’m proud to call her my friend.”
The night was broken up with light-hearted humor from emcee Randy Dobson and Lebanon Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rebecca Grizzle, who gave the chamber awards to supportive businesses and people.

CONVERSION BREWING owners Matt and Rachelle Cowart realize they won the Small Business of the Year award.

Other awards and honorees:
♦ Large Business of the Year: Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, for its continued community diligence and commitment to providing “the best medical care.”
♦ Small Business of the Year: Conversion Brewing, for its work with the Gambler 500 off-road challenge, providing Summer Bands & Brews downtown and bringing the popular Oktobeerfest event to the city “when we had a little bit of an entertainment void.”
♦ Business Leader of the Year: Rich Franklin, who launched the Rich Franklin Corporation, a construction firm specializing in heavy equipment operation, with a single employee in 1974. According to Grizzle, he has since continuously volunteered, donated and contributed leadership in service to youth, veterans and the community.
♦ Nonprofit of the Year: Lebanon Area Habitat for Humanity, which received a $500 check from Umpqua Bank in recognition for its efforts to provide housing support for low-income families and its home repair program.
♦ Sponsors of the Year: Primasing Motors, recognized by the Strawberry Festival Board; and Rhodes-Warden Insurance, recognized by Willamette Manor.
♦ Board Member of the Year: Jenny Sheldon, recognized by the Strawberry Festival Board.
♦ “Making a Difference” Award: Edward “Jess” Jacobs, recognized by Willamette Manor.
♦ Volunteers Andy Belcher and Connie Mausen, honored by Lebanon Soup Kitchen.
♦ Blue Angel of the Year: Dale Hale and Marcie Lindley, presented by Dala’s Blue Angels.
♦ Volunteer of the Year: Cindy Kerby, recognized by Holidays in the Park.
♦ Ambassador of the Year: Paula Newman, named by the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors.
♦ “Champion of Children” Supporter of the Year: Garry and Kitty Jones, awarded by the Boys & Girls Club.
♦ Unsung Hero Award: Heather McDaniel, recognized by the Lebanon Optimist Club.
♦ Optimist of the Year: Neil Head, recognized by the Lebanon Optimist Club.
♦ “Chamber Board Rock Star”: Jolene Watson, recognized by the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce.