It was a night defined by humility and grace at the Pines Resort last week as the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated honorees and welcomed its new board of directors.
Perhaps no one was applauded more than Doug Dearing, the chamber’s 1994 Man of the Year, and a business leader known for his stalwart dedication to the Mountain Area, when presented the chamber’s highest honor - the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Our community is truly better today because he and his wife Leislie are here,” former chamber president David Nemeth said in Dearing’s introduction. “He puts people together and connects businesses ... he has donated his time and talent in this community, year after year after year.”
Dearing’s list of accomplishments, after a 44-year banking career with 22 years as vice president/branch manager of Oakhurst’s Yosemite Bank, helped bestow him the chamber’s highest honor.
He is a past president of both the Oakhurst Sierra Rotary Club and chamber, stays involved in the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst, and the Education Enhancement Foundation he helped establish. He has earned a reputation, even with rival businesses, as a man filled with kindness, and a giving heart. While at the bank, he used to clip stories from the Sierra Star and mail them to people with a personal note praising them for whatever accomplishment they made. He sent more than 2,000 of these cards over the years while at Yosemite Bank.
He told the crowd of around 200 at the Pines Resort, he didn’t think he’d win the Lifetime Achievement Award.
After Don Eaves, the chamber’s 2016 president, of the chamber called to tell him about the award Dearing said he remained skeptical.
“But then, Brian Wilkinson of the Sierra Star called me to ask me for my reaction,” Dearing said. “When Brian called me, I knew I wasn’t being pranked.”
During his speech, Dearing often referenced support from Leislie, his wife of 48 years, even during his humorous failures.
“We were at this fancy hotel in the Bay Area, I was in a tux, Leislie was decked out in a gorgeous gown, and Jay Leno was the entertainment,” Dearing said. “So I’m going around introducing people, and I go to introduce my wife, and I hesitated. I couldn’t remember her name.”
Leislie then tapped him and told him her name, Dearing said, to the laughter of the crowd as Leislie confirmed the story with the nod of her head.
Other award recipients were Steve Welch and Donna Smith for Man and Woman of the Year, Oakhurst Feed & Pet Supply, owned by Colette Goga, for Business of the Year, as well as Madera County Emergency Services, Cal Fire, and the Bass Lake Ranger District chosen for the Executive Director’s Award.
Welch, owner-broker of Bass Lake Realty, general manager of the Bass Lake Water Company, and one of the founders of the Oakhurst Sierra Rotary Club and Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau, was introduced by fellow Rotarian and close friend Robert Brosi.
Welch said he was humbled to join such a distinguished group of prior honorees.
“I have always admired their accomplishments and commitment to community service,” Welch said.
“I’ve always believed in doing the right thing and leaving things better than when you found them,” Welch said. “And that includes the community ... I am not alone or unique in having that feeling. I am continually amazed by the people in this room and the communities and organizations that are so generous with their time and talents, and that go above and beyond to benefit the entire mountain community. Generosity and charitable giving are incredible things.”
Smith, who has lived in Oakhurst since the 1980s and is an agent for Foster & Parker Insurance, was perhaps best summed up by her friend Melanie Barker, President of the Yosemite Gateway Association of Realtors.
“Many of you know Donna,” Barker smiled, “if for no other reason I’m sure she’s approached you and said ‘I need a raffle item.’ She’s giving. She’s selfless. She has an infectious smile. She’s a doer. She’s dynamite, and she’s a superwoman.”
Board president of the Boys & Girls Club of Oakhurst for eight years and one of the founders of the annual Christmas Tree Auction that raised more than $35,000 in December, Smith was overwhelmed by Barker’s words and her honor as Woman of the Year.
“We’re all here, we’re having a good time, we do these things because we spend our time together and make our community what it is today,” Smith said. “I’m just blown away by what we can do.”
Goga, introduced as “the girl from Detroit” by Bobby Kahn, Executive Director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission and trustee for the State Center Community College District, could barely keep her voice from shaking as she thanked the employees standing behind her.
“I am humbled, I am honored,” Goga said. “Without these folks, I am nothing. I am so, so thankful for each and every one of you.”
Board sworn in
Following the award presentations and numerous standing ovations, Dan Rule of Sierra Tel handed over the president gavel to Eaves, manager of Yosemite Bank, who will lead the chamber in 2016.
In his goals for the new year, Eaves said a key to the chamber’s success is in improved engagement between Mountain Area businesses, whether at lunch meetings or a cocktail party.
“We need to also make sure that businesses know there are other avenues for community involvement,” Eaves said. “We want to see what we can do to try and engage 80% of businesses to participate in one way or another.”
Eaves also praised the work of Executive Director Joelle Leder, who took over the position last Summer, for the chamber’s expanded social media presence as well as creating a fresh logo and other work.
The chamber’s 2016 board of directors was sworn in by Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler.
Chamber officers included Eaves, Sierra Star Publisher Betty Linn (president elect), Barker (secretary), Andrew Pence of W.J. Bradley Mortgage (treasurer), and Rule as past president.
Additional members installed were Mike DeVito (Pacific Pectin), Shelle Abbott (Central Valley Community Bank), Brian Negley (Oakhurst Sierra Rotary), Darin Soukup (Oakhurst Community College Center), Christian Mueller (The Redwoods in Yosemite), Anne Driscoll (Branches Books & Gifts), Shawna Petrushkin (Ameriprise Financial), and Stephanie Simonian (47th Place Carpet One).