And the Effie goes to...

The Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce's awards banquet is tomorrow night, so it's time again for my second annual Effie awards.

In case you missed last year's awards in this column, the Effies (for F as in Frank) are my best-of awards based on the spirit of celebrating those who serve - often behind the scenes - here in the Lower Valley.

With that said, the 2011 Effies go to:

  • Volunteer of the year: Rev. John H. Jacobs, former pastor at First Christian Church in Sunnyside, who retired from heading up the ministerial association's food bank at the end of last year.

Jacobs served as a volunteer director for the food bank for 35 years and during that time saw its impact grow in the Sunnyside community, from an annual budget of $300 for the food bank's outreach programs to nearly $50,000.

  • City employee of the year: It would be easy to focus on his recent - and untimely - retirement announcement this year, but City Manager Mark Gervasi earned this award in 2011.

If for no other reason, Gervasi deserves a pat on the back for personally going to bat for Sunnyside in the aftermath of the fire last May that destroyed the Safari and El Conquistador restaurants. Instead of watching the Safari's historic neon sign get demolished by a bulldozer, he literally ran up to the operator and stopped the proceedings so the sign could be preserved.

Also under his watch last year, city hall returned to a five-day work week and began accepting utility payments on-line. Nice touches that made city hall more customer-friendly.

  • School employee of the year: There's been a return to order at Mabton School Board meetings over the past two years and for that Mabton Schools Superintendent Minerva Morales gets this Effie for 2011.

Those with even a short memory know that in the recent past, Mabton School Board meetings were not exactly known for peace and harmony.

Last year was Morales' first full year at the school district's helm, and in 2011 Morales oversaw a calm transition with new board members and was named to the Yakima Valley Community Foundation board.

Most importantly, the Mabton School District saw its science and math test scores rise last year.

  • Business of the year: This isn't based on the bottom-line or how profitable the business is, but on its community spirit. For that, Kenyon Cold Storage in Grandview earns the Business of the Year Effie.

In 2011, Kenyon's began providing rental-free space for the new Extra Mile Student Center in downtown Grandview.

The space is in a prime real estate area, but Kenyon's is letting it be used at no charge for the after-school youth program, which has served hundreds of young people in that city.

  • Pioneer of the year: The 2011 Effie for pioneer of the year goes to Outlook native Dr. Bonnie Dunbar.

Yes, she was long ago a space pioneer in the U.S. shuttle program. But in 2011 she was a pioneer of another sort in becoming the first living person to be memorialized in one of Sunnyside's bronze statues.

Bronze table models of the statue should be available this year, and Dr. Dunbar has been hands on in working with Sunnyside's bronze committee, giving the time needed to make sure the statue is spot on.

It's gratifying to see her take this honor and - as a living recipient - responsibility in such a heartfelt way.

That's all for this year's Effie awards. As with the 2010 version, it's been encouraging to look back and review the contributions of so many in the community.

By the way, hope to see you at the real awards ceremony, the chamber awards banquet, tomorrow night.


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