Turlock's finest citizens were recognized Friday night, at the 44th annual Best of Turlock awards.
The awards, presented annually by the Turlock Chamber of Commerce, were capped with Shirley Pok receiving the Citizen of the Year award. Pok has led Emanuel Medical Center's fundraising efforts for the past 12 years, bringing in more than $22 million in revenues.
“I am truly humbled to have received this prestigious award,” said Pok, shortly after receiving the award.
Winners are selected through a complex process, by which deserving citizens are nominated in secret. A panel of past winners then reviews all applications, selecting the Best of Turlock.
Those winners are kept secret until the awards are given out at the awards banquet. Awardees are often unaware they have even been nominated until their name is called as a victor.
Nominators are responsible for obtaining biographical information, photographs, and getting the nominee to attend the award dinner under false pretenses. Even when Sharon Silva, Turlock Chamber of Commerce CEO, was named Citizen of the Year in 1995, the award came as a total surprise.
“It's just a terrific, feel-good evening,” said Master of Ceremonies Marty Jakosa.
The event featured a performance by the California State University, Stanislaus Jazz Band, and catering from Strings Italian Cafe, Toscana's Ristorante, Las Consuelas, and Latif's. Turlock City Councilmembers, Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, and Turlock Mayor John Lazar were on hand to help honor the winners.
“It's an opportunity to honor those who have done so much for our community,” Lazar said.
Sen. Diane Feinstein sent a letter congratulating the victors. And U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) was in attendance, making the trip back from Washington D.C. for a night all about the Best of Turlock.
“We certainly have a lot to be proud of in our hometown,” Denham said.
For more information on the winners, read on.
Best of Turlock Winners, 2013
Ambassador of the Year
Biddle was not present to receive her award.
Community Volunteer of the Year
Powell has spent the last decade working with the Salvation Army. He led the development and construction of the Turlock Salvation Army's current home, and today sits on the Salvation Army Advisory Board. Powell's team has earned the most money at the annual Kettle Clash Salvation Army fundraiser for six consecutive years.
Powell has also volunteered with the Leadership Turlock Executive Committee, taken an active role in Chamber of Commerce membership drives, and sits on the Development Collaborative Advisory Committee.
“It's usually everyone else who does the work. It's someone in charge who gets the recognition,” Powell said.
Virgo led the initiative to save the Turlock High School auditorium, now the Turlock Community Theater. She both brought forward the idea, and served on the first committee which worked to create the Theater.
“Sometimes we never know how something gets done and who was behind the move, because the individual just sees that it needs to be done, and they do it,” said award presenter Alan Marchant.
Virgo has also worked with the Soroptimist club, and on other community projects.
“Wow, I'm shocked,” Virgo said, tears flowing “What a surprise. Thank you very, very much.”
Small Business of the Year
Family owned and operated since 1950, Woods Furniture continues to bring quality home furnishings to the Turlock market.
But as times have changed, so too has the Woods Furniture business. From multiple locations, they now have one, located just off Highway 99.
And, in 2005, the third generation of family members took over, when David and Randy Woods purchased the store from their parents.
Woods Furniture was lauded for its vision and ability to adapt to changing economies, while still providing jobs and great products to Turlock.
“We're certainly appreciative of those who come out and shop with us,” Randy Woods.
Corporation of the Year
The Tower Health and Wellness Center, owned by the Romeo family
The Tower is a visionary development combining medical services with restaurants, event hosting, florists, a salon, and a pharmacy.
The idea to bring all of those disparate businesses together, while providing top quality care to patients, was described as “an inspiration” by presenters.
Tower owner Dr. Sam J.W. Romeo credited his wife, who he met in college and has now been married to for 52 years, for his success.
“While I always wanted to be a doc, I just couldn't make it until she became a part of my life,” Romeo said. “… It's all because of a wonderful lady, who made it all happen.”
Youth Involvement of the Year
A poultry and dairy leader for Chatom 4H, Sanders has helped countless children over the years. Even the dirty work of trucking animals to the fair was done with a smile and a great work ethic.
“This individual never expected anything in return, and that was one of the best parts about it,” said presenter Spencer Williams.
Sanders encouraged other attendees to give back as well, and to help children prosper.
“I hope that as we go through our lives, we know that our youth is our future and we must continue to encourage them and teach them,” Sanders said.
Educator of the Year
Blackley embodies the criteria and the spirit of the best of Turlock, according to Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.
Blackley has taught students ranging from gifted sixth graders to severely at-risk students at nontraditional schools. Regardless, Blackley has helped all to reach their full potential.
He was also instrumental in developing the TUSD charter school, the eCademy. It was because of Blackley that many students who would not otherwise graduate were able to make up units and matriculate, Da Marto said.
Blackley said that the area is rife with great educators, any one of whom could have won the award.
“I guess after 38 years I'm finally beginning to hone down my craft,” Blackley said.
Educator of the Year – Higher Education
Fox heads the California State University, Stanislaus Office of Service Learning, which helps students get real-world experience while giving back to the community.
Last year nearly more than 2,000 students worked more than 48,000 hours through service learning programs, generating more than $1 million in economic impact.
Fox emotionally thanked her coworkers and staff for making the service learning program such a great success. And Fox noted that the program helps students learn important life skills, while earning a valuable education.
“I hope that education can change their lives as much as it changed my life,” Fox said
Humanitarian of the Year
Cox spearheaded Turlock's Off-Center Thrift and Gift, an all-volunteer thrift shop which donates proceeds to the community.
Off-Center has donated more than $400,000 to the community since its opening.
Agricultural Leader of the Year
A true statewide leader in agriculture, Macedo has served on the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau board, the California Farm Bureau board, and now serves on the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors.
Macedo grows almonds, corn, and, recently, pumpkins. His R.A.M. Farms pumpkin patch and corn maze, located near the corner of Daubenberger Road and East Canal Drive brings many visitors to Turlock, helping the local economy.
“I'm really surprised and humbled to be here,” Macedo said. “I don't think that I belong here, but I'm very happy to be here.”
Business Leader of the Year
Dr. Antone Varani and Anokeen Varani, owners of Turlock Dental Spa
The Varanis' dual dental business and day spa offers relaxing massage chairs, hand wax, and aromatherapy during dental work, with a coffee bar, and refreshments for afterward. The business also offers a full range of spa treatments from massage therapy to facials and waxing.
The Varanis give back too, having donated numerous toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste to needy children in the past year. The dental spa also collected bags of candy from children after Halloween, which they then donated to soldiers overseas.
Antoine Varani credited his wife's vision in making the Dental Spa a reality.
“If there's anything more that my office can do for this community, it is really open for everyone, especially for the needy children,” Antoine Varani said.
Youth Citizen of the Year
Pitman High – Kelsee Derr
Derr has shown outstanding academic success and top-notch character traits at Pitman High School.
But she's also involved in myriad activities, from volleyball to track, where she is a state-level hurdler. Additionally, Derr has spent 13 days tiling bathrooms at an orphanage in Mexico, raised $2,000 for Relay for Life, works with the homeless, and serves as Pitman's student body president.
“She exhibits all the things you wish your kid would exhibit,” said Pitman High Principal Rod Hollers. “When I saw Kelsee's list of community activities, I didn't believe it”
Derr thanked her grandparents, parents, and the staff at Pitman High.
Turlock High – Katelyn McGinnis
In addition to her academic successes, McGinnis is a member of the Turlock High Speech and Debate Team, the Key Club, and the Drama Club. Recently, McGinnis was selected to be part of the prestigious Gallo Leadership program.
“It sounds like a lot when you say it aloud, but as time goes by it makes it so much fun that it's definitely worth it,” McGinnis said.
McGinnis has also raised $7,000 for chemotherapy patients, and teaches vacation bible school. She hopes to become an elementary school teacher.
Citizen of the Year
In 2000, Pok came to Emanual Medical Center to lead the hospital's fundraising program.
“Our philanthropic community has never been the same since,” said Emanuel CEO John Sigsbury.
Through such innovative programs as the Legacy Circle fundraising effort, Pok has raised more than $22 million since her arrival.
Pok spends much of her free time teaching other nonprofits how to fundraise, and has worked with the Turlock Gospel Mission, Turlock Community Auditorium, where she served on the board of directors, and Monte Vista Chapel. She also is a member of the Turlock Sunrise Rotary, and has helped to organize the Turlock Mayor's Prayer Breakfast
This year, Pok was named Fundraising Professional of the year by her chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
“It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made, going into the field of fundraising,” Pok said.