Wednesday, June 24th the Kenai Chamber of Commerce held its annual community awards luncheon before a capacity crowd at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center. This year’s KCC Board Chairman Jeff Warton presided over the celebration of the traditional category of awards after presenting Larry and Pat Porter a rare lifetime Chamber membership for their years of community and Chamber service. The Service to Youth Award this year went to Tim Sandahl, “For 25 years Tim has molded and mentored our youth as they passed through his classroom and played on his courts and fields. His students have admired his positive approach to life and his endless positive energy,” said Warton in presenting the award. This year’s winner of the KCC Community Service Award to went Robert Ruffner, “He has truly crafted the Kenai Watershed Forum into an organization where all stakeholders in the watershed can have a voice, and the emphasis is on solid science and recognizing the ties between ecological and economic health. Active on several other boards and committees, including the East Kenai Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and the Kenai Peninsula Fish Habitat Partnership, this award winner has been a tireless steward for the waterways of the Kenai Peninsula, and an active voice in the community for years, truly focusing on “the fish first”. Recently this individual put his name in the” frying pan” for a seat on the Board of Fisheries, and while unfortunately he was not confirmed by the legislature by a narrow vote, we did learn a lot more about him through the process. We learned how much he cares about the fish, learned about his history and vision and values, and perhaps most importantly, we learned he isn’t from Anchorage. The Kenai Chamber is proud of what Robert Ruffner has done for the Kenai Peninsula communities as the leader of the Kenai Watershed forum, and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for him,” said Warton.
The Volunteer of the Year Award went to Marcus Mueller, “As the President of the Soldotna Rotary Club a few years ago, Marcus had a vision for a project on the Central Kenai Peninsula after seeing the various mural projects completed in our neighboring community of Seward. Instead of just coming up with an idea he organized a plan, built a team, garnered community support, and has stuck with this project to the completion. Today, when you arrive or depart at the Kenai Municipal Airport, you will be able to see firsthand the fruits of this individual’s labor, as well as that of the volunteer team that he built and led. He did all this with a smile on his face, kindness in his heart, and is always the first one to give you a high five and hand you a cold beer once the work is done,” said Warton. The Small Business of the Year Award was presented to PRL Logistics, “They have worked tirelessly with many local contractors over the past several years to renovate a 100-year old cannery at Kenai Landing into a modern logistics facility including a helipad, dock, lodging, and more. While the development of the facility is an impressive feat in itself, PRL has also actively worked to be a strong community member by hosting legislative sessions, community forums, brunches and more at their facility. With millions of dollars and countless man hours invested into work at their Kenai facility, PRL has been very active the past few years in Kenai, and proactively worked to contribute to the wellness of our community.”
Being honored as the Outstanding Business/Organization this year was the Central Peninsula Garden Club formed by Marion Nelson, “The Central Peninsula Garden Club is a volunteer, nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate Kenai Peninsula residents on all aspects of gardening our local community. From soil and setup to harvest and winterization, the Central Peninsula Garden Club facilitates the exchange of reliable, climate specific information to Kenai Peninsula gardeners. Volunteers at the CPGC don’t just eat local, buy local. They donate their time and skill to teach you how to propagate your own food and flowers. How better to increase the wellness of our community than educating an entire population on how to produce homegrown, local food for your family,” said Warton. This year’s Pioneer Award Warton presented to Dr. Jim & Diana Zirul, “As a friend, the saying that comes to mind when I think of Jim and Diana is: ‘You Can Easily Judge the Character of an individual by how they treat those who can do nothing for them’. I have seen Jim and Diana give back to this community, and give back to friends and others for all the years I have known them. My life is richer by knowing them, and they (like so many other individuals) make living in Kenai the joy that it is. My congratulations to TEAM Zirul.” Warton presented his Presidents Award to Arni Thomson, “In today’s polarized and fractious world it’s rare to find an organization or individual that advocates for the common good. My award winner has a diverse and distinguished history of contributions in an industry that predates statehood and continues today as a predominate economic force. His hard work and tireless support has been vital to this resource development all across the state. He has been engaged as a fisherman and as a fisheries representative in Alaskan commercial salmon, halibut and Bering Sea Crab fisheries for over 40 years including 30 years of fisheries management at the Board of Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.” The highly coveted Log Cabin Award was presented at the 4th of July Parade to Scott Hamann who was not able to attend the regular luncheon. It is an unwritten law in Alaska that a cabin in the wilderness is a refuge to all weary travelers. A moral obligation requires those using a cabin to replenish the wood and supplies, thus leaving the cabin ready for the next traveler. Presented to person(s) who have traveled to and lived in Kenai for the past 10 years, provided something special to the community and, because of this, leave it a better place to live.