Each year the Chamber receives nominations from members of the community for the Distinguished
Each year the Chamber receives nominations from members of the community for the Distinguished Citizens Awards… This year’s awards will be presented in the following categories….
- Youth of the Year
- Volunteer of the Year
- First Responer of the Year
- Educator of the Year
- Agricultural Achievement
- Woman of the Year
- Man of the Year
- Business of the Year
Our Community partner, Mid-Columbia Health Foundation will be presenting…
- Philanthropic Excellence Award
Here are the winners:
2021 Volunteer of the Year: Rachel Carter
Our volunteer of the year serves our community in many capacities as most of
our volunteers do. It seems that volunteers see a need and will continue to give
until the need is met. This year our recipient is dedicated to helping our
community to be its best!
They moved to our community just a short 3 years ago and with their CAN-DO
attitude they have quickly become a part of The Dalles and are proud to call it
home. This volunteer has even been described as someone who inspires others
that they meet to get involved. We are told they have an infectious passion to
improve their community by jumping in with both feet wherever they are
They belong to many organizations, but their main focus was on one of our FUN
and busy service organizations. This organization has benefited from many
dedicated hours and immense support from this individual. The Dalles and our
youth have truly benefited from this individual and her passion. This individual
soon became an essential part of this organization and loved being a part of
this team that gets things done.
They are always looking for opportunities to contribute with their energy, time,
promotion, smiles, hugs, ideas, and to be a part of the solution! So, when they
saw that we needed and wanted community cleanups to improve the public
face of our community and encourage pride throughout the town, they got
involved with a plan. Not only did they orchestrate monthly clean-ups across our
community, but they engaged businesses, individuals, and employees in our
area to join in and help make our home cleaner, brighter, and they had fun
while they were doing it.
They didn’t stop there as their passion to be a part of the outdoor activities and
recreation led this volunteer to run for a nonprofit board and put themselves out
there with the promise of communicating to the public and really listening to the
concerns and needs of the community. She now serves on this board and is
upholding her promise of communicating the needs, plans, and getting the
public input for our Northern Parks and Recreation Agency. She took her passion
to help even a step further and partnered with runners in the area to form a new
event for The Dalles. The Turkey Trot was a 5k Run/Walk event on Thanksgiving
Day. They had almost 200 participants and were able to raise $3620 for the
Sorosis Park Revitalization Fund.
We feel that we are fortunate to have someone with such energy that is
directed toward improving our community to be the best it can be, and we
want to take this moment to say THANK YOU and let her know that she is
2021 Educator of the Year: Kimberly Koch
Educator of the Year is a recognition of one of our educators in the area. It is not
determined by their accomplishments, being published, or being recognized at
the State level. It is a nomination of people who have changed your heart,
given you longing for education, changed our education system or way of
thinking to meet our student’s needs, and engaged them at their level. Even
assisting fellow educators so that the delivery of education can be done even
during a Pandemic … and this year’s recipient has accomplished just that and
This educator worked tirelessly with the Oregon Department of Education and
our local health department to ensure all kids were able to attend school daily
during the 2019-2020 school year, she adhered to and exceeded all policies
and practices that Covid brought on while continuing to take care of students,
staff and families concerns and daily operations of the school. They put the
student and their family’s needs and education first continually throughout these
past two years. She is always encouraging her students, families, and teachers to
be good stewards of our community by being involved in service projects for
The Dalles and various programs. Food Boxes, Meals on Wheels, clothing &
diaper drives for St. Vincent de Paul, and clean-up days are just a few examples.
They have even done hours of stuffing tourism brochures for our office when we
were short-handed during a heavy tourism season. The kids had lots of fun and
they learned a few things about The Dalles while they were working on the
This year has brought even more challenges than just adhering and keeping
everyone safe. It also brought on a shortage in labor at all levels and in all
industries including education. When a teacher left during the year and there
wasn’t anyone to fill the vacancy our nominee didn’t think twice and returned
to the classroom to teach 3rd graders while still fulfilling the duties of being
principal. She is still currently co-teaching 3rd grade until the permanent hire is
This principal doesn’t just perform the administrative duties but is very active and
involved in all the activities of their school and their number one priority is to
make sure that St Marys’ academy thrives, and that each student and teacher
has what they need to be successful.
She continues to strive every day to make the world a better place by treating
her school team and students like her own family.
Everyone, please help me congratulate Kim Koch as our 2021 Outstanding
Educator of the Year.
2021 Philanthropic Excellence Award: Vesta Smith
Hello, my name is Amanda Evans, Executive Director of the Mid-Columbia
Health Foundation. Over the years the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation has
celebrated the amazing businesses, people, and organizations doing good
throughout the gorge. In doing so they have honored many worthy examples of
Past honorees include Columbia Bank for their sponsorship of the annual Festival
of Trees. They have also honored The Dalles Lion’s Club for their service to the
community through their sight screenings and other volunteer endeavors. They
have honored the likes of Dennis Morgan who has dedicated a lifetime to
supporting this community through volunteerism and charitable donations. And
tonight, I have the distinct pleasure of adding another name to the list of those
whose passion for helping the community deserves honor.
The winner of the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation’s Excellence in Philanthropy
award never fails to surprise me with her generosity. She has been a donor to
the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation for more than 17 years. In that time her
donations have helped pay for nursing scholarships, new equipment for MCMC,
assistance for patients in need, and much much more. She has been a constant
source of encouragement, positive energy, and knowledge. For these reasons,
and because of the additional countless charities and projects she supports, I
am honored to present the Mid-Columbia Health Foundation, Excellence in
Philanthropy Award to the one and only Vesta Smith.
2021 First Responder of the Year: Columbia Gorge Wildland & Fire Information Page
Darlisa Black & Mack Lamb
Tonight, our award winner is not your typical First Responder! This year’s winner
reflects thinking outside the box and is an indication of our digital world. They
represent the difference each of us can make every day for our community
members and our men and women fighting for us!
Being a small town surrounded by oak forests on the west side and expansive
wheat fields on the east side puts The Dalles in a scenic location… and right on
the wildland fire interface. This is a common situation for most communities all
along the shores of the beautiful Columbia Gorge.
As fire seasons have recently become more intense and deadly, the need for
accurate, timely information on fast-moving fires has become critical for
residents. That’s when the idea for a centralized site for fire information was born.
Previously, fire agencies had been creating separate Facebook pages for each
fire, and often, residents didn’t know what to look for online to find the most
As a result, in 2015, a regional resource was created on Facebook that has since
bloomed to nearly 23,000 followers and now offers a 1-stop-shop for rapid
updates to information about fire locations, resources, size, weather, threatened
structures, and evacuation notices across the entire region.
This site has now become THE trusted go-to resource on fire information. Aided
by a cadre of around 12 volunteers listening to scanners, reviewing fire agency
and first responder Twitter and Facebook feeds, weather forecasts, lightning
warnings, wind reports, and GPS locations. This page has become a critical
resource informing not just citizens but even firefighters out in the field, by
providing nearly instantaneous updates as each new piece of information
The initial founder of the group, Mack Lamb, a former fire boss, is a humble man,
and always put his team in the spotlight, refusing to take credit for himself.
Similarly, Darlisa Black is always working late into the night gathering as much
information for critical post updates. Combined, the two have created an
amazing resource that has earned the trust of the community and first
Tonight, we are proud to honor and celebrate the many hours, tireless passion,
and drive of Mack Lamb and Darlisa Black, who are the co-founders of our 2021
Outstanding First Responder of the Year, Columbia Gorge Wildland & Fire
2021 Youth of the Year: Maddie Dollarhide
When we think outstanding Youth, we think motivated, hardworking, creative, innovative,
energetic, and passionate. I will be the first to admit that these past two years have given
our youth more hurdles and roadblocks than we can imagine and yet we have seen these
students rise above and lead with success. They haven’t let the circumstances steer the
outcome, instead, they took control of the wheel and forged a new path into a territory that
had not been navigated.
Today’s youth have shown resilience, imagination, inventiveness, and a spirit of
determination while still trying to just be kids during this strange time. Our recipient tonight
has been an example of these traits to their family, school, youth organizations, church, and
community. They are never content with the status quo, and they are always pushing to
improve a situation, to better an organization or a community. Their focus is on how they
can make something better for everyone, not simply for themselves. When you ask them to
talk about their dreams and their future, it’s always about what they can do to impact as
many people as possible, not how it benefits her personally.
As an example, she had a goal for her local FFA chapter to go to the FFA National
Convention before she graduated. She knew in her heart that attending something of this
size would be life-changing for not only her but the officer team that attended. She knew
how that experience would be shared with others in the Dufur FFA chapter for years to
come. With a short timeline in front of her, she applied her enthusiasm and drive along with
teamwork, and they raised the money needed within two months. The kids are still talking
about all they learned, and we know that they will be applying all the leadership skills
learned to not only their chapter but to their entire community.
Leadership is where this young lady shines. She truly found her stride as an FFA officer and
has moved from different positions to now serve as Chapter President along with the District
Officer for the Central Oregon Region. She is determined to serve in this organization and
will be running for an FFA State Officer position in February. We at the Chamber wish her the
best and we look forward to hearing about our community being represented by individual
who approaches tasks and opportunities with a sunny attitude, bright smile, great wit, and
determination! She truly has an energy about her that draws everyone in, making them
want to be a part of whatever it is she’s involved in. In the words of Alicia Keys,
This girl is on FIRE!’
We are proud of you and are honored to introduce you as our 2021 Outstanding Youth of
the year … Maddie Dollarhide
2021 Agriculture Achievement: Ken Bailey
Tonight, as we share the story of our Agricultural Achievement Award Recipient,
we hear about their exemplary representation, how they have been a strong
advocate for agriculture, and how they are continuing to bring Agriculture
awareness to all. Our winner helps others to understand and appreciate what
agriculture means for our area.
Our recipient is a third-generation producer in their family operation. They have
grown up in our community and are a part of this family we call community.
They began many years ago advocating for the protection and conservation of
the agriculture industry. They put their efforts where they knew they were
needed, agriculture needed a voice for our producers and our recipient filled
that need by serving on many boards, agencies, and task forces.
They were a part of the Columbia Gorge Fruits Growers but set their sights on
being a voice to a much bigger audience. They knew they needed to serve at
the state level in Oregon to make sure our area was represented in matters of
labor, water, best harvest practices, land use and more. He served on the
Oregon State Farm Bureau and even served on the National Council of
Agricultural Employers which gave a voice to our Ag Employers and their
concerns and questions.
His impact while serving on the Oregon State Board of Agriculture was helping
to revive the ODA Ag Water Quality Program’s PAC. This helped give producers
all over our state a clear and collective voice regarding the quality of water for
their operations and to let our state know what they needed to produce their
To say that our recipient is passionate about his industry is an understatement
and we can’t thank him enough for continuing to work with agencies from local
to national to help protect and preserve our ag industry.
There are so many organizations that our recipient is still currently active with,
and we could continue to mention all the things he has done for the Sweet
Cherry Industry, but we like a quote from a family member best: “We are
thankful for your commitment to farming, conservation, and stewardship. You
have made a valuable impact on many and you are worthy of this recognition.
All of us, three generations worth, are very proud of you. We also want you to
know it took us 2 days to gather this information together and you are simply the
We are thankful for the many years that he has dedicated to being an
advocate for many and for being such a part of our community. We know that
he isn’t done as he is still serving our community and the agriculture industry.
Please help me congratulate our 2021 Outstanding Agricultural Achievement
award, Ken Bailey.
2021 Woman of the Year: Dr. Miriam McDonell
Operating within COVID-19 has had profound impacts on our community. Heck,
look at this year’s Distinguished Citizens Awards ceremony- who would have
thought we would be doing this virtually again?
As they say, it takes a village, and businesses, leaders, and citizens alike have
been pulling together during this pandemic.
But one person has shone throughout all the chaos and uncertainty.
Without wavering one bit, this person has been at the forefront of the COVID-19
vaccine coordination within Wasco County over the past year.
They have been working across multiple agencies and rolled out the $50 gift
cards for vaccine recipients as an incentive for county residents to roll up their
sleeves to do their part to try and halt the spread of the disease.
As a direct result of this person’s efforts in tandem with the North County Public
Health Department, vaccination rates in Wasco County are at 73.2%.
But this statistic is simple, whereas this person’s work was complex. She has been
in virtually every corner of the fight against this virus here locally. She oversaw
the distribution of backpacks provided to youth who received their vaccine
doses and has been a core part of the county’s community outreach.
Additionally, she helped coordinate the distribution of vaccines through
extended hours at The Dalles Readiness Center, this ensured more vaccinations
in the local Latinx population.
Because of her leadership skills and deep-rooted commitment to the health of
our community, we want to “thank you” for making a positive difference in our
community. I am so proud and excited to introduce to you, our 2021 Woman of
the Year… Dr. Mimi McDonell!!!
2021 Man of the Year: Hew Hillis
This year’s man of the year is the true definition of why we host this event and
honor people in our community. Many people give, work, and orchestrate
many tasks, events, helping individuals in need, lifting a hand for our non-profits,
or even giving from their own pocket while most of us aren’t even aware that
they are here in our town.
When you read the community resume of our nominee you will soon see that
they don’t hesitate to fill a need brought to them. He has been described as the
following: He is not a leader from the front, but he is a leader by action and
example. Well, we think that is one of the best methods of leading especially
when it comes to our youth. He has taught many generations hunter safety
courses which is really teaching them how to handle firearms, proper methods
of shooting, and most of all the responsibilities of owning and using firearms
When talking to one of his previous employees (he is supposed to be retired
now) they say when they first met him, they admitted that perhaps he was a bit
louder than most people and he had a story for everything, but they soon
learned that this man was generous with support, respect, and trust to his
employees. They are grateful and after 12 years of working for him, they were
able to see just how much this man gives to our community without telling
anyone and never asking for a thank you.
We can’t thank him enough for his volunteer spirit in the many organizations he
is a part. He continues to give time and support to many. You may see him
working with our Lions club, The Dalles Sister cities, The Order of the Masons, the
Shriners Club, his church, and many projects at our Senior Center. He never
hesitates to lift a hammer, loan a horse, or teach someone to ride or how to
care for a horse properly.
There are so many stories, and I can’t list all the ones submitted (we would be
here all week) but each one has a similar theme … He makes our community
better and a great place to live in because of what he does when no one is
watching. Well, we want our nominee to know that many were watching and
are grateful and we want to honor and recognize all your efforts, time, energy,
financial support, your elbow grease, and your stories. So, everyone please help
me recognize our 2021 Man of the Year and thank him for all he does for our
community … Hew Hillis!
2021 Business of the Year: Columbia Bank
Community partnership takes on a whole NEW level with our Business of the year
for 2021. This business has been and continues to be about meeting their
community where they are needed. Their heart and passion for this community
are so evident by the care and exemplary customer service they provide. They
extend this service and care beyond their customers and truly serve this
Community. They encourage their entire staff to volunteer their time by helping
non-profits with support, leadership, and many of their team sit on boards for
nonprofits and education organizations in our community. They sponsor so many
of our events in The Dalles but not with just a financial donation, but you will also
see this team volunteering to help set up, during the event, and takedown as
they are not afraid to roll up their sleeve and get things done!
The team enjoys what they do, and it shows. We have heard so many times how
much this business cares about their clients and their community that they seem
more like family to their customers instead of a business.
They have been a strong supporter of the Backpack program for our
disadvantaged youth by collecting items but also showing up and helping to fill
those backpacks that go home which helps provide food for the home. They
have been seen during the colder months standing with partners and collecting
items with Helping Hands. This company really works for the people in our area.
These past two years have been so different, and this business didn’t hesitate to
step up to the plate for our businesses all over our region. They put their team in
motion at the drop of a phone call to come over to the warehouse where the
PPE supplies were housed. They helped us box up PPE for each of our businesses
and even helped deliver some of those orders. They even loaned equipment
and tools to make the tasks have less strain on us. We can’t say thank you
enough to this team and business.
They helped with training to understand just what our businesses needed to do
to obtain PPP, they had sessions to help businesses apply for the EIDL, and they
even went one step further by supporting the nonprofits in a fashion that none of
us thought possible. They had budgeted to sponsor many events during these
two years, and they didn’t pull their sponsorship when the events couldn’t be
held due to shutdowns, instead, they sent the check to the organizations and
said spend it where you NEED IT!
A program that is near and dear to this business is the Warm Heart Winter Drive.
This drive is to collect dollars and warm winter items to help keep our houseless
warm during the cold months. The passion of this organization is to be there for
everyone whether you are a customer or not.
They are active in so many efforts and we just don’t have that much time this
evening, but I do know that the Chamber is very proud to have them in our
community and excited to honor them. It is businesses like this one that help
make our community an amazing place to live and we are proud to have
Columbia Bank as the 2021 Business of the Year!!