Friday, April 25, 2008

Chambers dole out pats on the back

Valley’s stars shine at annual Community Awards

Express Staff Writer

Citizen of the Year Susan Blair hugs her granddaughter Jolie Blair as "elusive" husband Arnold looks on.

When communities honor their own, the awards ceremonies can seem like one big family. On Wednesday night in the Limelight Room in Sun Valley, family was truly represented.

For the first time this year, the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau and the Hailey Chamber of Commerce joined forces to honor standouts in the Wood River Valley at the annual Community Awards Dinner.

Voted Citizen of the Year, Wood River Valley resident Susan Blair was fêted by her family, in town from both the West and East coasts, and by the two chambers of commerce.

Community Awards were also given to the Roosevelt Tavern & Grill as Business of the Year, Mountain Rides as Nonprofit Organization of the Year and the Wood River Arts Alliance as Arts Advocate of the Year. The City of Hailey Environmental Leadership Program won Environmental Advocate of the Year and Wood River High School sophomore Chauncy McGraw was named Youth Citizen of the Year. Ketchum resident Crisane Cook was named Service Individual of the Year. Marty Miller, who also shared emceeing duties with Matt Engel, was singled out as the Sun Valley-Ketchum Ambassador of the Year, and Susan Engelhart and Karen McNary were named Hailey Ambassadors of the Year.

Jim Spinelli, executive director of the Hailey chamber, and Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum chamber, both thanked their staffs, boards and volunteers. Waller gave plaques to two recently retired board members for their years of dedication: Pam Colesworthy, who served nine years, and John Gaeddert, who served 10 years.

McGraw, a member of the executive board of the Blaine County Youth Advisory Council, was given his etched-glass award to start out the ceremony. He drew laughs when he said his dad had called him while he was skiing with the news that he'd won.

"I was screaming and yelling," he said. "Thanks very much, Dad. Thanks to my mom who flew up from Arizona to be with me and thank you to Frances Nagashima (director of BCTAC/Youth Adult Konnections) who is helping me make positive choices in my life."

Big cheers erupted when Cook was named Service Volunteer, since most of the audience at one time or another has been helped by Cook either in a restaurant or at Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters in Ketchum.

In stating that her attitude was "welcome to Sun Valley," her thank-you speech was gracious and brief.

Introduced by Hailey Mayor Rick Davis, the City of Hailey Environmental Leadership Program spokesperson Becky Stokes explained the organization's mission to reduce the city's and its residents' carbon footprints.

"We think this work matters," she said.

The Wood River Arts Alliance's first executive director, Shannon Finnegan, was joined onstage by the organization's founders, Claudia McCain and Hilarie Neely. McCain pointed out that in reality it had been formed in 1991 by state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who was in attendance. At the time, none of the valley's arts organizations worked together.

"It's about partnerships," Neely said. "There are 23 members—individuals and organizations—now of the arts alliance. When we come together for the arts we also do so economically."

Roosevelt Tavern owner Tom Nickel accepted the award for Business of the Year on behalf of his staff. He said they really have no choice when he offers the restaurant space, food and support to nonprofits.

"The great people I work with always step up," he said. He then added, tongue-in-cheek, "If I don't say thank you enough it's because I am totally self absorbed.

"We're honored to be singled out. This has got to be one of the most altruistic and generous communities in the world. When you're aware of your own good luck and fortune, you have to give back. How couldn't you?"

Jason Miller, executive director of Mountain Rides transportation authority, brought his board of directors onstage with him.

"Mountain Rides is an evolution of years of work," he said. "It's a regional organization now that it incorporates three separate entities—Peak Bus, (Wood River) Rideshare and KART. I encourage you all to be users."

Marty Miller gave up his emcee duties to accept the award as the Sun Valley-Ketchum chamber's Ambassador of the Year. Among others, he thanked his wife, Jane, who "allows me to be out and about as much as I am."

Hailey Ambassadors of the Year, Englehart and McNary, were introduced together. Their volunteer work with the chamber is vital since Spinelli is the sole staff member. McNary acknowledged her fear of public speaking by donning a Spinelli mask.

Finally, the Citizen of the Year was introduced. Blair had three tables of family and was surrounded by dozens of friends. She was given the award for her tireless and spunky work with dozens of organizations in the valley.

Earlier, Blair's son Noel, in town from New York City, said, "We always knew she was worthy of this award."

Her husband, Arnold, agreed. "She's awesome. She's a natural."

Her acceptance speech was typically upbeat, lively and touching.

"Question. Can a little Jewish girl from Roslyn, N.Y., find happiness in a little mining town in the West? The answer is yes.

"I wouldn't be able to do all this without my husband, the elusive Arnold. He is the love of my life for 48 years, folks, till the end of time."

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