ttuell@sierrastar.comJuly 16, 2013 

From left is John Burton, last year's honorary mayor, with new Honorary Mayor of Oakhurst Brian Gearhart. Both represented the Eastern Madera County SPCA. Gearhart and his crew of volunteers raised more than $115,000 for the EMC SPCA.


Three months of honorary mayor campaigning and fundraisers came to an end Wednesday, July 10 when the winner was revealed — Brian Gearhart is Oakhurst's 2013 Honorary Mayor. Gearhart, with help from volunteers, raised a record-breaking $115,900 for the Eastern Madera County SPCA.

"I'm so excited to represent the SPCA again and thank all of our volunteers for their countless hours they put in," Gearhart said. "They're amazing and make the reality of building a shelter a dream come true."

The money will benefit the EMC SPCA's Animal Care and Adoption Center project, which is to be built off Highway 49 in Ahwahnee. The SPCA is currently trying to raise $1.5 million for the project.

It is Gearhart's third time to be named Honorary Mayor of Oakhurst. He won the title for the first time in 2006 on behalf of the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst and then he won the title a second time in 2009 on behalf of the EMC SPCA. Last year's honorary mayor, John Burton, also represented the EMC SPCA.

There were five contestants this year, including Gearhart, who competed for the honorary mayor title — all of them representing a Mountain Area non-profit organization — and together they raised a record-breaking $161,655.

The other candidates were:

Dale Miller, representing the Oakhurst Community Center.

Theresa Wilson, representing the Mountain Area Ski School.

Steve Montalto, representing the Children's Museum of the Sierra.

Kurtis Foster, representing the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst.

"The chamber is very pleased that we were able to have a platform to promote five different charities this year," said Darin Soukup, Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce executive director. "It was a very competitive race, and I know that they all gave their own personal time and resources to promote their charities."

Miller raised $25,000 for the community center's general fund — $14,000 from the annual rib fest and $11,000 from additional honorary mayor campaign events.

"I was extremely happy with what I did," Miller said. "My original intent wasn't to win the mayor title, but to support the community center, and I was tickled with what I made. I think everybody did well. In this time economically it's hard, and this community is so giving — it's amazing to me how much they give."

Miller said some of the money will go towards overlaying the asphalt at the community center. Miller said the job, which is currently out to bid, should be complete by the end of summer.

Wilson raised $6,195.14 to benefit the Mountain Area Ski School (MASS) — a non-profit that gives Mountain Area school children the opportunity to ski every winter.

"The support from the community is always stellar, and I'm just amazed at how much our community raises for the different charities," Wilson said.

The money Wilson raised will go towards child sponsorships, which cost $25 a week, as well as volunteer background checks for adults, which cost $150 each.

Wilson said it was never her intent to win the mayoral race, but instead to raise funds and awareness for MASS. Wilson said she feels she was successful, because MASS has already begun to receive a lot of calls about volunteers and support.

"The awareness is beautiful — it worked," Wilson said.

Montalto said the museum's count is not yet final, but at press time Tuesday their number was about $8,700. That money will go towards supporting operational expenses at the museum.

Montalto said the support the museum received during the honorary mayor race was "enthusiastic."

"I'm very grateful for those who came out to support us either by volunteering at events, coming out to our events or buying raffle tickets," Montalto said.

Foster could not be reached at press time for comment.

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