Before a record crowd of 215 the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce (SCC) honored local individuals and businesses last week at their 56th Awards Celebration. “The combination of a free lunch and not competing with other weekend activities has made for capacity turnouts,” explained SCC executive director Michelle Glaves. Glaves, former advertising director for the Peninsula Clarion announced that she would be leaving her post at the Chamber and starting a new business with her husband in the near future. Topping this year’s award recipients for Business of the Year was Tesoro Alaska, a business and refinery that started in Nikiski and has tripled in recent years with facilities in Washington, California, North Dakota and Utah. In an interview Cameron Hunt, new Nikiski plant manager said, “On behalf of the 220 hardworking, very intelligent employees in Nikiski it’s a pleasure to receive this award. I inherited this wonderful team from James Tangaro, who inherited it from Steve Hanson and Rod Cason, Mark Necessary and Glen Jackson. The plant has had only six managers since its beginning and I’m aware that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants and I’m very proud to be part of the community now. This is a very special place to work, I’ve been in and out of 20 some refineries in my career in the lower 48 and there is no place like this. I get the honor of receiving the award, but they are ones that have earned it,” said Hunt. Tesoro had a zero recordable injury or day away from work in the year 2014.
Small Business of the Year Award went High Mark Distillery in Sterling after just barely two years since their start up. “It was a huge surprise and I couldn’t be prouder to hold that title this year because there are so many small businesses here that are so deserving and that makes it very humbling for me,” said owner Felicia Keith-Jones. “The truth is that I could have gone anywhere in the world to start my distillery, because people enjoy a fine beverage all over the world. However, I choose the Soldotna/Kenai area because of the community. The truth is this is a wonderful, fantastic place to raise a family, which is what I do and it’s also an exciting place to start a business because we are continually growing here and there is no limit to the high achievement we can accomplish here,” she said.
This year’s Person of the Year is Scott Walden, director of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management. When Walden first came to Alaska he worked in construction and law enforcement after having a background in fire and emergency medical services in the lower 48. After working in law enforcement in Kenai and Seward he returned to Kenai where he worked in the fire department until he retired in 2005. Later that year he was asked to come to the Borough to work in emergency management, “And I’ve been there ever since,” he told the Dispatch. Regarding the handling of last year’s Funny River Horse Trail fire he said, “The work that has been done over the last decade in that area really made a difference in the end for getting that fire under control. State Forestry did an excellent job running the battle and I think we can attribute the fact that we didn’t lose any residential structures or any serious injuries in a fire of that magnitude was due to the skill, training and planning of the firefighters that were out there. The decade of work showed its worth,” he said.
Other award recipients included: Commitment to Customer Service – Eric Dahlman of Sportsman’s Warehouse, Excellence in Profession – Rhonda Johnson with Alaska USA Mortgage, Pioneer Award – Ron and Kathy Sexton with Trinity Greenhouse, Government and Civic Affairs – Speaker of the House Mike Chenault and Volunteer of the Year – Steve Horn Professor at KPC.