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Award Winners Shine 

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It was a star-studded night at the Gallo Center for the Arts,honoring the best and brightest of Modesto.

For the 101st time – and in front of the largest crowd ever – the Modesto Chamber of Commerce celebrated its Annual Gala on January 31.

The evening was rife with socializing, delicious food from local eateries, and performances by local music legends like Kent Whitt & The Downbeats. But the highlight, as always, was the Member’s Choice Awards.

It’s those fine men, women, and businesses that are “Thinking About Tomorrow,” as the Gala’s theme declared, driving Modesto forward into the new age.

“It’s not just a night about awards,” said Chris Murphy, who served as master of ceremonies. “It’s about what this means to the future of our Modesto.”

Ten awards were handed out, honoring those who are making a difference. And almost universally, the recipients acted almost embarrassed to be noticed for their hard work.

Take Mike Nash of Mo-Cal Office Solutions, winner of the Vero Girolami Ambassador of the Year award. He was credited for chairing the Modesto Chamber of Commerce’s Oktoberfest event, and for serving as an Ambassador Team member in 2013 and 2014.

“I’m a volunteer,” Nash said. “I like to be behind the scenes.”

Or look at Johnny Garcia, of Garcia/Farmers Insurance, winner of the Ted Shields Welcome Team Member of the Year award. He attended more ribbon cuttings and grand openings than any other welcome team member, while bringing a potted plant to each new business.

Garcia thanked God for allowing him to open a business and be successful, before immediately turning his attention to the Chamber and its member businesses.

“It’s because of you guys our economy is getting better,” Garcia said.

In the Non-Profit of the Year award category, any of the 12 nominated agencies were worthy of recognition. But it was City Ministry Network, a nonprofit that brings together people, churches, and nonprofits to improve local neighborhoods, which took home the award; for more information on City Ministry Network, see page 19.

“Our community is a better place because of the work that is accomplished by our nominees,” said Maggie Mejia, who presented the award.

Even the award-winning businesses are working toward a better future. American Recycling Company, LLC, the Small Business of the Year, recycled 75,000 tons of material last year. The business works in the community and in schools to raise awareness about recycling, and drives the Chamber’s Stanislaus Green Team.

“Being green does not require radical change,” said David Gingerich, who presented the award. “It actually reduces the cost of doing business.”

American Recycling Company opened 30 days after the economy crashed, and has seen its business double every year since. Owner Brian Terrell, like so many others, redirected all credit to others.

“We learn from our customers,” Terrell said. “Because of our customers, we exist.”

Leadership Modesto Graduate of the Year Tera Chumley earned her award for spearheading the 2014 class project: raising awareness and funding for the Modesto Art Walk. She took initiative, drove the project, and continues to work on it to this day.

“I am both honored and humbled by this recognition,” Chumley said. “… It is such an honor to be recognized by such a stellar group of future leaders. The class of 13-14 truly is the best group ever.”

The Distinguished Service Award went to Varni Brothers Corporation/Seven-Up Bottling Company, a Modesto staple since 1933. The family-owned company has earned a reputation for generosity, quietly donating whenever it can.

Toni Varni, a third-generation member of the Varni family, recognized his dad, John Varni, for instilling his appreciation for Stanislaus County. He was just happy to be able to give back, he said.

“Thank you so much for this honor,” Tony Varni said.

This year’s Chamber Member of the Year was a business that has had an immense impact on the community – and will for decades to come. Doctor’s Medical Center is a place of exceptional healthcare, pioneering local advanced neonatal care, neurosurgery, and robotics, saving the lives of thousands of people.

“There is great healthcare that occurs here in Modesto,” said Warren Kirk, CEO of Doctor’s Medical Center.

The impact of Doctor’s Medical Center stretches far beyond the hospital’s walls, with thousands of employees taking home more than $250 million in payroll every year. The hospital drives the local economy, contributing $3.7 million in annual taxes alone.

Kirk said he accepted the award on behalf of his employees, the men and women who make Doctor’s Medical Center great.

“We’re very proud of all the men and women who work here,” Kirk said. “A hospital is the ultimate team sport.”


A new, special award made its debut at this 101st annual Modesto Chamber of Commerce gala. The Champion of Free Enterprise award was given to Dick Monteith, a Stanislaus County Supervisor and former state legislator, for his ceaseless devotion to free enterprise.

“We believe there is no more deserving individual than our first recipient, Dick Monteith,” said award presenter Steve Madison. “He consistently fought the battle for free enterprise against any opposition.”

Monteith thanked the audience for supporting him throughout the years, allowing him to continue fighting for free enterprise – and for showing how free enterprise can help business and government alike. Before leaving the stage, he asked a “frivolous” request of the assembled crowd.

“I’m asking everyone of you to go out and become a dirty capitalist,” Monteith said. “God bless you.”

Before the night was done, there was one more award to be handed out: the Robert J. Cardoza Citizen of the Year award.

Carl Boyett, owner of Boyett Petroleum, earned the honor for his strong sense of civic responsibility and his ceaseless efforts to give back to the community.

In addition to owning/operating over 40 retail gas stations, including his flagship “Cruisers” brand, Boyett has served on the boards for the Gallo Center for the Arts, CSU Stanislaus Foundation, Modesto Symphony Orchestra, Stanislaus President’s Club, Modesto Sunrise Rotary, and Modesto Jaycees. Alongside his wife, Carole, Boyett founded the Make Dreams Real Endowment Fund to send children to camp.

“Carole and I have tried to make Modesto a better place to live,” Boyett said.

It will take the efforts of these people, businesses, and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce to bring about a better tomorrow. They will work together to build relationships, market businesses, find solutions, and improve the community’s economic future.

“We will not stop thinking about tomorrow,” said Dave Gianelli, Chairman of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. “We will not stop working for a better future for our community, Modesto.”

It’s that word, “community,” that resonates with Modesto Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Cecil Russell.

“We are so much more than a city,” Russell said.

“We are a community.”

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