by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-
On Friday night, over 80 members of the Seward Community gathered at the Seward Resort to celebrate the achievements and contributions of community members. The 2018 Seward Chamber of Commerce Community Awards Dinner was hosted by the Chamber staff, including Executive Director Cindy Clock, Membership Agent Kris Harris and Communications Manager Jen Leahy, along with the Chamber Board of Directors. The atmosphere was festive, with many taking the opportunity to don fancy clothing and shoes despite the freezing temperatures outside. Those in attendance enjoyed a luscious meal catered by the Breeze Inn.
Cindy Clock commenced the formal portion of the meeting by thanking the Chamber Board of Directors for their “thoughtful governance,” and for being the “voice of business in Seward.” Clock has served as the Chamber Director since 2011, and says that she has the “best job in town.” The new Chamber President, Carole Tallman, was in attendance, as were most of the other board members, including Melissa Schutter, Von Terry, Shelly Shank and Ron Wille. The room was aglow with pride as Christy Terry rose to the podium to give out the first award.
Jason Bickling, of the YoungLife Organization, was awarded the “Outstanding Servant to Youth” recognition. Bickling recently accepted a promotion within the organization and now is the lead throughout Alaska. However, he continues to call Seward home. Bickling explained that when he was offered the position, his first question was whether it would allow him to continue living in Seward. “I really do love Seward and the people and being part of what’s going on here.” Terry introduced Bickling as someone who exemplifies the “power of presence” in the lives of Seward youth. While receiving the award, Bickling expressed gratitude and said that his motivation comes from the fact that “someone reached into my life at a troubling time.” Bickling previously worked as the principal at Seward Middle School, and has volunteered with the Sources of Strength peer mentorship program, which serves dozens of youth at Seward middle and high schools.
Jen Leahy rose to the podium to present the “Outstanding Community Service” award to Sue McClure. The nomination for the award was written by Seward citizen Carol Griswold, who wrote, “In the ten years since returning to her birthplace, she’s been a tireless volunteer.” Leahy enumerated many of the volunteer roles that Sue has filled, including Community Choir Director and pianist, tsunami ocean science bowl judge, and years as a public servant in the role of Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly representative and currently as a City Council member. McClure graciously accepted the award, saying, “When you volunteer, you don’t expect anything in return, so this has been really nice. Thank you very much.”
Business Site Improvement was given to the Seasalt Alaskan Grill and Bar, located at the far southern end of Fourth Avenue, across the street from the SeaLife Center. Owner Elliott Jackson refurbished the exterior of the property formerly operated as Christo’s Palace, with the addition of a large outdoor patio. Terry presented the award to the General Manager of the Marina Motel, Megan Coppock, in lieu of Jackson who was unable to attend. Terry explained the significance of the deck as “keeping our downtown thriving” and continuing Seward’s unique position as the “gateway to Alaska.” Megan thanked the community, saying, “Elliott is very appreciative of this award.”
Business of the Year was awarded to Tiffany and Mike Ritz of Alaska Marine Coatings. Lead nominator, Christy Terry, explained that their business had found and filled a niche in the marine service sector, and has invoiced over 200 projects since 2014. The company offers “year round living-wage jobs,” according to Terry. Mike Ritz explained that he “loved the resilience and can-do attitude of Alaskans.” He and his wife, Tiffany, accepted the award, with Mike saying that he never had any intention of [starting a business in Seward] but that in Seward, they had found “more support than we could have ever imagined.”
The Business Person of the Year award was given to a chamber member who stimulated economic development in Seward. Cliff Krug described Shelly Shank as a “dreamer,” and someone who “saw a gap and filled it,” with the second hand store, Ukanuzit. Krug pointed to the creation of the Mermaid Festival as proof of how “powerful dreamers can be.” Shank, who is also the Sales and Catering Manager of the Breeze Inn, gave thanks and announced that this year’s Mermaid Festival will take place May 18-20th. Krug credited Shank with “mermaids walking around Seward.”
This year’s “Person of the Year” award was presented by Lori Draper to her “dear friend” and Seward’s former mayor Jean Bardarson. Draper said that Bardarson had moved to Seward while in elementary school, and since that time has volunteered with a multitude of organizations, including Rotary and the Seward Community Health Clinic Board. For the past 12 years, Bardarson has served in local government, as Council member, Vice-Mayor and Mayor through October 2017. During Bardarson’s tenure, the City of Seward received over 67 million dollars in federal funding for various projects. Bardarson was grateful for the award, and stated that it was an “honor.”
Carole Tallman invited Susie Urbach to the podium to thank her for her many years serving on the Chamber Board. Cindy Clock was honored for her contributions, along with the Chamber staff members for their contributions to promoting Seward. “We all show up. Cindy makes that happen,” said Tallman.
The evening concluded with wine available and cake served, and many congratulations shared around the room. Those in attendance voiced a common sentiment of being impressed to live amongst such generous, kind hearted people.