Community award winners set example in Vale, Nyssa, Ontario

Members of the Keller family enjoy the festivities at the Vale Chamber banquet, where honorees including Janie Keller (right) were in the spotlight. (Malheur Enterprise/Les Zaitz)

No red carpet rolls out, and there are no gilded ropes for adoring fans to press against, but the community awards season is nonetheless a big deal around Malheur County. In recent weeks, volunteers have been taking their bows before appreciative friends and neighbors.

These are, in essence, our local Oscars for great performances. This time of year, our local chambers of commerce host evenings to spotlight the local talent. The honorees didn’t chase after the plaques and recognition. Grateful communities nominated them.

Let’s take a look at whose names went up in lights recently.

Via the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Cliff Bentz, lawyer and now state senator, was named man of the year. Julie Van Metre, tireless volunteer at the Next Chapter Food Pantry, was cited as woman of the year. Others honored included Steve Wyborney, math coach at the Ontario School District and the educator of the year, Paul Skeen, president of the Malheur County Onion Growers Association and agriculturist of the year, and Oregon Trail Hobbies & Gifts, business of the year.

Over in Vale, the Vale Chamber of Commerce named Janeille Bennett, a devoted foster parent and relentless volunteer, as citizen of the year. Debbie Mohammad was volunteer of the year, Tom Snook was high school educator of the year, Janie Keller was elementary educator of the year, Victor Noble was cited as lifetime educator, and Lynn Findley was cited for lifetime achievement. Les Schwab Tires was named honored business, Romana’ Precision Irrigation was agricultural business of the year, and the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team was named public servant of the year.

And then last weekend, Nyssa Chamber of Commerce lifted the curtains on its honors: Ernie Harder, retired businessman and citizen of the year; Faith Adams, Nyssa librarian and public servant of the year; Jolene Zagaris, Nyssa Elementary School teacher and educator of the year; Kay Riley, from Snake River Produce and agriculturist of the year; and Lisa Ortega’s U Design Embroidery, business of the business.

The common thread in all of this is a determination to make their communities better. They do so in their own way, through their professions and through their avocations. They aren’t trying to save the world. They aren’t trying to elbow their way to the front of the stage for attention. As individuals and as engaged businesses, they realize that nothing gets better if everyone sits on the sidelines. They see a need, roll up their sleeves and sometimes pull on their gloves, and go to work.

Often, you’ll hear about local organizations struggling to recruit volunteers. A common answer: I don’t have the time. Really, that’s a way of saying: I don’t want to make this a priority.

When you look over this list of winners, you see very busy people. You can bet their daily calendars have few blank spots. They find a way to say “yes.”

This sort of rich community involvement is what makes places like Ontario, Nyssa, and Vale special for everyone else. But they can’t do all the lifting. The next time you see a call for volunteers, think about these winners and consider that they said they could help. You would honor them not with applause but by following their example and making community service a valued priority in your life. – LZ