Chamber installs officers, recognizes community contributors

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Chamber installs officers, recognizes community contributorsIndividuals who have dedicated their time and efforts into investing in the community were acknowledged and celebrated during the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce’s annual installation and awards ceremony on Tuesday afternoon.

Six local graduates received $500 scholarships from the chamber — Azma, Emily Aralar, Area Giraud, Laneyha Gleason, Nitya Lorber and Jaden Schorr.

Steven Morgan received the Community Service Award. In addition to serving three years on the Ridgecrest Planning Commission and 17 years as a city councilman, he has been a longtime member of the Ridgecrest Lions Club — playing pivotal roles in raising money to keep the annual fireworks celebration going and in helping raise funds to reopen Pinney Pool.

Denny Kline was given the Senior Award. He enlisted in the military at age 17. After his service in the Navy, he had a long career in civil service as a public relations and communications specialist. Up until this year, he served as a field representative for Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason. Kline told the audience that his third retirement would also be his final one.

Eric Bruen of Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union was named Businessperson of the Year. Mayor Peggy Breeden presented the award, citing Bruen for his innovative approach to the service and operations of the credit union. He also serves as chair of the board of directors for REALMS (formerly the Ridgecrest Charter School). “Ridgecrest Charter School is still here because of him and his staff. Eric saved the school. His team saved the school.”

Ernie Bell, who retires at Sierra Sands Unified School District superintendent at the end of this month, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award. Born and raised in Ridgecrest, Bell went off to college after graduating from Burroughs High School in 1977, then brought back his degrees and decided to teach in his home community. He spent 35 years in SSUSD, working his way from teacher and coach to the top position in the district. “Mr. Bell is always smiling, always pleasant, always appreciative, always kind, always approachable,” said outgoing chamber boardmember Solomon Rajaratnam. “He has always been a leader, role model and coach to his students.”

Jim Suver, chief executive officer of the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, was give the Beautifica-tion Award for the expansions and improvements the hospital has made to the buildings and grounds of the growing campus. Patients of the hospital and the community alike appreciate the healing atmosphere of the hospital, which is both comfortable and welcoming, said a chamber spokesperson.

The annual Youth Award was presented to Devon Sherouse. “Deven truly has a heart for the youth of our community,” said a spokesperson. A 2018 graduate of Burroughs High School, Devon has continued to be involved in the Ridgecrest Police Department’s Explorer Program and was named Explorer of the Year this year. He is now running the Teen Court program, which offers juveniles a second chance to make amends for their infractions. “Devon is hardworking, focused and determined to succeed.”

The Chairman’s Award, presented by outgoing chair Daryl Silberberg, was given to Jan Bennett. She had retired as the chamber’s executive director in 2009. But she came back to help fill in until the board could find a new director and has since been helping train recently hired Tim Smith. Silberberg marveled at Bennett’s dedication and energy — committing her efforts not just to the chamber but also to a multitude of agencies that serve and improve our community.

Ridgecrest Chamber Ambassa-dors recognized Little Deer Durvin as their Ambassador of the Year.

Debbie Benson, past chair of the chamber board, thanked Silberberg for his years leading the board. “You always let us know how you felt, you were open to our input and you were always willing to change your original position when new information came forward. That’s the sign of a real leader. And throughout the positives and negatives of this last year, our board remained a team.”

Silberberg acknowledged that the year was not without its challenges, “But we are ending on a good note with our new director, Tim Smith.”

Silberberg also thanked the members of the board for their support in bettering the chamber. “I called on them a lot and never got a complaint from them.

“And with Bernie Mondragon, the title is being passed to a very capable person.”

A surprise award was given to Tina Warren of Rusty Warren Automotive, honored for outstanding dedication.

Warren, also a past chair of the board, installed the new officers and board members, which also includes Treasurer Timothy Neipp, Benson, Sarah Bradford, Jennifer Cotterell, Natalie Dorrell, David Ericksen, Chris Hill, Chip Holloway, Michelle Lemke, Tamera Roulund, Silberberg and Beverly Wagner.

“Thank you for choosing me,” said Mondragon. He thanked Smith for joining the chamber team, and Bennett for “stepping up to the plate when we most needed her.”

He said that as a small business owner, he has seen the doors that the chamber has helped open up for him, and the network that has facilitated new and strengthened relationships within the community.

“We need to keep building up our businesses in order to keep our community thriving,” he said. “My job is to help businesses see the value in becoming a member. I look forward to a great year!”

Pictured: Incoming Chair Bernie Mondragon (left) with the rest of the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce board — Photos by Rebecca Neipp

Story First Published: 2019-06-14