Free food, competition and sunshine proved a big draw as hundreds gathered on the Kenai softball greenstrip Saturday for Industry Appreciation Day.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, speaking before the start of the event’s award ceremony, called Industry Appreciation Day a celebration of four local industries and an opportunity to recognize “pioneers” driving the economy of the Kenai Peninsula. Those four industries are oil and gas, commercial fishing, tourism and health care.
Enticing smells wafted from multiple grills as Marathon staff grilled burgers and hot dogs, United Cook Inlet Drift Association members grilled salmon and Kenai Peninsula District 4-H members served pulled pork sliders. Soldotna Chamber of Commerce staff also sliced and served up watermelon. Across from all the food was a cart where Kenai Christian Church members were pouring cups of free soda.
Lines stretched across the grass in multiple directions as people waited to get their hands on lunch.
Down the strip, rows of other booths offered giveaways and featured several games. Under a big tent kids practiced the “net pull,” a game where contestants race to pull in a buoy.
At the end of the strip closest to the Kenai Spur Highway, rows of cars and motorcycles sat sparkling in the sunlight. They were part of a new addition to the annual celebration this year — the Freddie Pollard Sr. Car Show.
At the head of the space was a stage where a parade of dignitaries spoke and delivered awards across the four featured industries. Nominations had been collected online, before the Industry Appreciation Awards Committee deliberated and selected the 12 recipients.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski spoke about the value of recognizing industry.
“There’s so much good that’s happening on the Kenai Peninsula,” Murkowski said. “Thank you for recognizing the men and women who make it happen. To keep the jobs here, keep your economy strong, allow our kids to be raised in the most exceptional and amazing area with great opportunities.”
Oil and gas was first to be recognized. Micciche handed the first award, “Outstanding Business in Oil and Gas,” to Marathon Petroleum. He said they were recognized both for their work — “the only Alaska refinery producing in-state gasoline” and “the majority supplier of locally produced diesel and jet fuel to Southcentral” — but also for their “active part” in “creating a thriving community.”
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, next took the stage, naming Dustin Moore the “Outstanding Individual in Oil and Gas” for his “huge impact” in a “short time” as a supervisor for Marathon — credited with “the most successful turnaround to date.” Bjorkman also presented CCI Industrial Services the “Outstanding Support Business in Oil and Gas” award for quality maintenance services.
Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, gave awards for the health care industry. Dr. Allison Smith was named “Outstanding Individual in Health Care” for her “patient-centered care.” Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center was named “Outstanding Business in Health Care” for bringing modern radiation treatments to patients on the Kenai Peninsula. Abby Struffert’s Southcentral Consulting was awarded “Outstanding Support Business in Health Care” for her work connecting kids to health care systems.
Commercial fishing awards were presented by Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel. For decades of advocacy on behalf of the commercial fishing industry, Dyer VanDevere was awarded “Outstanding Individual Commercial Fishing Contribution.”
“Outstanding Commercial Fishing Support Business” went to Great Northern Hydraulics, for “41 years” of getting anglers “back on the water and up and running.”
The award for tourism was presented by Soldotna Mayor Paul Whitney. “Outstanding Business in Tourism” was awarded to Frames and Things, for bringing a variety of Alaska art to “tourists and locals alike.”
The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center was awarded “Outstanding Support Business in Tourism,” for connecting tourists to local businesses around the Kenai Peninsula.
Kelli Brewer was named “Outstanding Individual in Tourism” for 40 years in the industry.
“It’s been my pleasure to serve the greater Kenai Peninsula and bring tourists to this lovely area to enjoy everything we have to offer,” she said. “It’s the best place to live, the best place to be.”
Two special awards were also given, the “Innovation Award,” given to Sara Erickson for AlaSkins — who takes otherwise discarded fish skins and makes them into dog treats.
Erickson, who last month was also named Manufacturer of the Year by the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, showcases the potential of upcycling and reducing waste, Micciche said.
“People, internationally, all over, are calling AlaSkins. I’m doing webinars all over, Spain, Iceland, because everyone wants to know what AlaSkins is doing. They want our seafood,” Erickson said. “Alaska — we are way cooler than Iceland. We can do more with what we have. Our resources are endless and AlaSkins is a very small part of what we can do.”
Finally, the recipient of the “Don Gilman Outstanding Service to the Community Award” was Pollard Sr., for Pollard Wireline and for decades of support to the oil and gas industry and to the Kenai Peninsula, Micciche said.
For more information about Industry Appreciation Day, visit facebook.com/IndustryAppreciationDay.