Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration Inc. won the Business of Year Award at the 83rd annual Baker County Chamber of Commerce Chamber Awards Banquet Saturday evening at the Baker Elks Lodge.
The Business of Year was won by the Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration, Inc. This last year the railroad had more than 10,000 passengers. The organization started in 1976 with its first steam engine and has grown to 400 volunteers with 60 active members who come from as far away as Alaska and California to work on the steam engines and trains. The rail line is considered a Heritage Railway due to the fact that it sits on the original historical site. From left to right are Cynthia and Steve Christy, Taylor Rush and Ryan Dela. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr)
Accepting the Business of the Year award for the restored narrow-gauge passenger railroad were Cynthia and Steve Christy, Taylor Rush and Ryan Dela.
“In 38 years of operations, SVRR Inc. has increased membership, expanded operations and acquired equipment to become a tourist railroad comparable to any in the country, with a reputation of being one of the friendliest,” according to the award nomination letter read by the 2008 winners from Lew Brothers Les Schwab tire store in Baker City.
In 2009, the Sumpter Valley Railroad carried more than 10,000 passengers.
The organization started in 1976 with its first steam engine and has grown to 400 volunteers with 60 active members who travel from as far away as Alaska and California to operate the steam engines and train.
It is considered a Heritage Railway because it sits on the original historical site where the railway was established in the 1890s to haul timber and gold from the Sumpter Valley and surrounding hills.• The Excellence in Agriculture Award went to the Bunch family from Durkee, a sixth-generation ranching family.
In 1884 Emil Foersterling homesteaded the Durkee ranch and the family has kept with the tradition of raising sheep and cattle. Accepting the award were Cheryl Buchanan, Rhea and Rod Bunch, Jean Bunch and Susan Bunch, and grandchildren Levi Bunch and Brett and Clint Buchanan.
“This family has been one of the main residents of the Durkee Valley for as long as anyone can remember. The Bunch family is as much a part of Durkee as the native grasses, and may have been there longer,” said Dan Forsea, whose family won the 2008 Excellence in Agriculture Award.
Forsea and Cal Ransom, who won the 2008 Ag Support Award on behalf of his business, Richland Feed and Seed, presented the award to the Bunch family.
Members of the Bunch family have been active volunteers with 4-H, FFA, Baker County fairs in Baker City and Halfway, Shriners, Durkee Steak Feed, Sumpter Valley Days, Durkee Grange, Burnt River Irrigation District and many other events and organizations.
The late Duane Bunch was honored for his many years of service, including president of the Baker County Livestock Association, chairman of the Baker Junior Showman, the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency County Committee. He was also a member of the Bureau of Land Management Advisory Board.
Jean Bunch served as president of the Baker County Cattlewomen, secretary of the Oregon State Cattlewomen and a committee member of the National Beef Cook-Off, FFA Advisory Board, and Durkee Grange.
• The Woman of the Year award went to Lynette Perry.
were presented during Saturday’s Chamber Awards Banquet.
Perry donned her rabbit ears briefly in accepting her award for Woman of the Year for her many years organizing the annual children’s Easter Egg Hunt, and other volunteer efforts in the community and with the Soroptimist Club, including serving as its president.
Perry also has volunteered with the Jaycettes, Business and Professional Women, American Cancer Society, Baker County Prevention Coalition, Band Shell, YMCA youth programs and Vacation Bible School, and she has served as a Sunday school teacher, Cub Scouts den mother, member of the Baker City National Night Out Steering Committee, event coordinator for the Taste of Home Show in Baker City, EMT Alert Project in Baker City and the MayDay and Carnegie Crossroads Art Center board.
“E’Jay was instrumental in starting the Cow Belles, later to become Cattlewomen, and along with the handful of like-minded women, did cooking shows, demonstrations, beef promotions and fundraisers to raise awareness of the real life conditions and issues of the rancher and his family,” according to a nominating letter read by Marian Brown, the 2008 Legacy Woman of the Year.
Weber taught ceramics and glass-related classes, both in Baker County and elsewhere, for 30 years, ran successfully several times for the Baker School Board and served as chairwoman during a time of considerable conflict involving merging of school districts.
E’Jay has also been an active mentor to the young, tutoring scholastic topics, as well as art, and she donates time, money and her art to the Crossroads Carnegie Art Center and has been active in development of the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway.
One was given to Maryalys Urey, and the other went to Lynette Perry.
Urey, who has lived in Baker County for 41 years, was honored for her many years of volunteer work with the First Presbyterian Church, Baker School District 5J Board of Directors, the Baker Library Foundation, Friends of the Library, and the Crossroads Carnegie Art Center.
“Maryalys is one of those cherished citizens who will step up to a project when asked and will be faithful to the end. She knows how to say yes and she knows not to say no, and she has never minded being asked,” City Councilor Aletha Bonebrake wrote in a nominating letter.
“How does one begin to tell the story of a man that has spent much of his adult life in the background, quietly watching as others receive recognition and awards,” said the 2008 Legacy Man of the Year winner, Gary Yeoumans, in presenting the award.
“This man has never done things to call attention to himself and yet without his support and work, many things would have been less successful,” Yeoumans said.
“John Leonard and his wife and four children first came to Baker City back in 1959. They purchased two businesses that were going bankrupt and with long hours and lots of work, they eventually owned one of Baker City’s most successful businesses,” Yeoumans said.
Over the years in Baker City, Leonard has been involved in the Lions Club, from being the biggest calendar salesman to cleaning up the stretch of Highway 30 adopted by the Lions Club, to serving in every office, including 10 years as treasurer.
Other volunteer activities included six years on the Baker County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and two terms as president of the Baker County Quarter Horse Association. Leonard also served on the Oregon State Quarter Horse Association, including president of the racing division.
He volunteered many years with the Baker Aircraft Fly-in, Miners Jubilee, Christmas Light Parade, Leo Adler Parkway, helping build the Lions picnic shelter and the horseshoe pit in Geiser-Pollman Park, ringing bells for The Salvation Army Christmas collections and other volunteer efforts.
• Dennis Wright, a co-owner of Gentry Ford and Powder River Motors of Baker City, won the Man of the Year award.
Through his involvement in the YMCA as a board member, vice president and president, “his hope is to provide healthy outlets and positive role models for the youth in our communities,” according to a nominating letter read by Chamber Director Debi Bainter.
Wright provides vehicles to transport students to their activities and a truck to MayDay each month to enable them to get food from La Grande for the food bank. He has been involved in fundraising with the local Red Cross Chapter, and he coached youth football for the past three years, stressing how to play fairly regardless of the outcome of the game.
Wright has donated to the Accelerated Reader Program at South Baker, and supports many other organizations including the Mackenzie Roping program, Baker High School Quarterback Club, Baker County fairs in Baker City and Halfway, Bull and Bronc Riding, Equestrian Team, Little League teams, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, FFA, Baker and Powder Valley wrestling, Baker softball and track, Ski Anthony Lakes, Crossroads Carnegie Art Center, Hells Canyon Junior Rodeo, Haines PTO, 4-H programs, Haines Lions Rodeo, March of Dimes, National Wild Turkey Federation, 1A basketball, Baker Air Show, Festival of Trees, St. Elizabeth Golf Tournament, Special Olympics programs, American Legion, Ducks Unlimited, Relay for Life and other organizations.
Wright was not able to attend Saturday’s awards banquet, but Bainter said when she presented the award to him earlier he said he thinks there were many people in the community more deserving of the award than he.
“I don’t believe Dennis ever thinks about himself as Man of the Year,” Bainter said.
In presenting the award, Lisa Dawson, executive director of the Northeast Oregon Economic Development District, said she started working with Stevenson in 1997 when she began preparing her first business plan.
Over the years, she said, Stevenson worked as a teacher, waitress, bartender and manager while dreaming of owning a business of her own and working toward making that dream a reality.
Dawson applauded Stevenson for her work ethic, her drive and her abilities that brought life to the previously boarded up Pythian Castle at the corner of First and Washington.
She said Stevenson represents the entrepreneurial spirit that is the lifeblood of the business community and the free enterprise system. It’s that entrepreneurial spirit that endowed Stevenson to take a chance on opening the Earth & Vine on Nov. 28, 2008, even as the nation was heading toward the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Dawson said many of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies were founded by entrepreneurs like Stevenson during a recession.
In her 14 months in business, Stevenson’s Earth & Vine has become one of the most popular gathering spots in town and a regional tourist attraction, Dawson said, being mentioned in both Gerry Frank’s column in The Oregonian newspaper and in Portland Magazine.
Frank touted Earth & Vine and called Baker City “One of Eastern Oregon’s most progressive communities.”
“You’ll be impressed with talented local artists showings and the selection of fine wines at reasonable prices,” Frank wrote in his “Frankly Speaking” column that appeared in the Sunday Oregonian on Sept. 20, 2009.
The Portland Monthly magazine article said, “Owner Mary Ellen Stevenson is a Baker City native who’s happy to tell you not only what gives the Gilstrap Brothers Rio Grande Ronde its light, fruity taste ... but also where to replace those blue jeans you just tore a hole in (hint, try the feed store on the way out of town).”
Stevenson’s business has grown far beyond her first year business plan, and while the Portland media’s plugs have helped, at Saturday’s awards banquet she said she owes her success to her customers and her family.
“I just want to say thanks to my customers for patronizing my business, and to my family. They made it possible,” Stevenson said.
Between award presentations, people with several of the volunteer organizations recognized as essential to the social and economic success of Baker City and other areas of Baker County, presented entertaining skits, including Probably George Malvern, played by Dave Jason.
Malvern portrayed a trapper of beavers who wandered the Rocky Mountains and later the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon before the Oregon Trail brought wagon trains and people by the thousands to Oregon Territories.
He is a member of the Trail Tenders volunteer group that puts on skits and historical re-enactments for the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center on a hill overlooking ruts of the actual Oregon Trail just east of Baker City.
Following another skit featuring demonstrations of good and bad restaurant customer service, Perry surprised some of the skit participants by presenting them with the Exceptional Service Person of the Year award, which went to Mary Whitlow of the Sumpter Junction, and the chamber’s ESP Business of the Year award, which also went to Sumpter Junction.