Hermiston’s Distinguished Citizens Honored at DSA Banquet

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Longtime community volunteer Alberta Wilkerson accepts the Woman of the Year award as her family looks on. (Photos by Michael Kane)

Hermiston had a celebratory night on Wednesday as the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce honored those who’ve made their mark on the community.

After a year’s absence, the annual Distinguished Service Awards banquet returned on Wednesday and the crowd was ready to celebrate not only the winners but the apparent end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s exciting to see people’s faces,” said Mayor Dave Drotzmann, noting that the vast majority of those attending were mask-less. “For the last two years we’ve been missing it.”

Wednesday’s honored citizens were Man of the Year Steve Williams and Woman of the Year Alberta Wilkerson. The Bob Severson Business of the Year went to Midway Bar & Grill, the Award of Merit honor went to the Hermiston Police Department’s Christmas Express, and the Altrusa Outstanding Young Citizen Award went to Elizabeth Doherty. The Hermiston School District also honored its Educators of the Year and Administrator of the Year.

Woman of the Year

This year’s honoree “is a woman who never wanted recognition,” according to past Woman of the Year Shirley Parsons. Wilkerson has been an active member of the community for the past 47 years, including more than 20 years as a 4-H leader as well as judge for numerous classes during fair week. She’s been an active member of the Bloomer Girls Garden Club and made decorations for the White House Christmas Tree while George W. Bush was in office.

A tireless volunteer, Wilkerson has helped landscape the Harkenrider Senior Activity Center, worked on the Funland Playground construction and re-builds, volunteered for Special Olympics, CityFest as well as the S.M.A.R.T. program – Start Making a Reader Today. She’s also been involved in Relay for Life, the I Love My City campaign, as well as the Hermiston Warming Station. She also put on floral arrangement classes at assisted living facilities.

“I feel honored to be here with people who have been honored before me,” she said.

Man of the Year

Steve Williams

Presenter Josh Burns highlighted Williams’ “passion for serving others, our town as well as the whole world.”

Williams spent years in the banking industry before starting his own consulting business. He fills his spare time volunteering and serving a wide variety of committees. Burns said Williams has long had a positive impact on youth, volunteering as a coach in AAU basketball, Little League and the swim team. He’s served as a chamber ambassador, on the Hermiston Development Corporation, the Port of Umatilla and Blue Mountain Community College finance committees, the Umatilla Electric Cooperative’s Business Resource Center, as well as both Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, the latter of which he will serve as District 51 Governor for Rotary International in July.

Williams has also been a supporter of the youth exchange programs and has hosted six foreign exchange students in his home over the years.

“This man is different,” said Burns. “Every opportunity he has to serve, he puts 100 percent of himself into it.” Burns said he’s often witnessed Williams tireless energy.

“There’ve been times when we’d be part of a project and I just wouldn’t feel like getting out there on a particular day,” said Burns. “But then I’d think, ‘Steve’s going to be out there, so there’s no reason for me not to be out there.’”

Williams said it was easy to give back because of the “people who live here, work here and raise families here. Each of us make contributions in our own ways and that’s what I try to do.”

Bob Severson Business of the Year

Stuart Rice

Stuart Rice, owner of the Midway Bar & Grill “inspires energy and drive among his employees,” said Hermiston Rotary Club President Glenn Silaski. He can often be seen waiting tables or washing dishes and has a knack for seeing things in people that others don’ see, said Silaski.

His support for various causes was described as “legendary” and his concern for his staff during the pandemic stood out as he “worked hard to keep his employees safe and working.”

Rice said he was “humbled” by the award.

“The things we do in the community are done to see our kids grow and have a bright future,” he said. He also thanked his parents and staff.

“My mom and dad are gone, but they’re the ones who started it all,” he said. “And I couldn’t do it without my staff.”

Award of Merit

Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston accepts the Merit of Honor award for the Christmas Express program.

Drotzmann called the annual Christmas Express program “Hermiston’s finest hour.” The program began in 1969 with a small group of volunteers led by former Hermiston Police Chief Bob Shannon and has grown into a massive community-wide event.

“The amount of people this group has touched is incredible,” said Drotzmann.

Entirely volunteer-based and self-funded, the Christmas Express program collects food and gifts for people who are less fortunate. The police department recruits organizations throughout the community to help out, including service clubs, the school district, Agape House and more. Each family receives 100 pounds of food and gifts for the children.

Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston said the program succeeds because of the selflessness of the entire community.

“There isn’t a farmer I can’t call and get donations,” said Edmiston, who singled out Walchli Farms for its support over the years.

“This isn’t a police department event,” said Edmiston. “It’s a Hermiston event with countless people involved.”

Elizabeth Doherty

Altrusa Outstanding Young Person of the Year

“Our honoree volunteers to help others and has made our community a better place to live,” said presenter Jackie Linton. A top student, Doherty tutors younger students who need help, volunteers with FFA and is a member of the National Honor Society. She’s also a musician who has played with local orchestras.

Educators and Administrator of the Year

Hermiston School Superintendent Tricia Mooney honored the district’s teachers on Wednesday.

Each school’s Educator of the Year was brought up stage as well as Administrator of the Year Katie Saul.

The Educators of the Year were:

Briana Gilman, Hermiston High School

Ethan McDonald, Hermiston High School

Kirby Warner, Armand Larive Middle School

Megan Reeve, Sandstone Middle School

Tanya Kennedy, Desert View Elementary School

Angie Cooke, Highland Hills Elementary School

Ibbet Radant, Rocky Heights Elementary School

Susan Frink, Sunset Elementary School

Brenda Caldwell, West Park Elementary School

Tricia Desjarlais, District Level

1 COMMENT

  1. Congratulations to Alberta Wilkerson, chosen for Woman of the Year, her personal attributes such as her pure at heart humanitarian approach toward all people, humble but resounding strength for truth and justice in her community, wrapped in a selfless and adventurous spirit of volunterism. Alberta Wilkerson is a ‘gift’ that ALL communities would be ‘blessed’ by if she resided there.

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