Chamber names citizens and volunteer of the year

SUN columnist

The votes were all in on Saturday, Jan. 25, and three new members were elected and have accepted a three-year term to serve on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. The winners were Nicki Alley, owner of Higher Grounds; Jessica Bilazzo with Growing Spaces; and Jeannie Sinkey, general manager of Mountain Landing Guest Suites and RV Park.

Mike Beckel with Wilson, Rea, Beckel and Associates, CPAs also has accepted a one-year term to replace Stacy Boone who resigned from her board position in 2013.

Thank you to the membership for voting and we look forward to welcoming these new members to the board. We will keep them busy. Community awards

Saturday, Jan. 25, was also an evening celebrating just a fraction of people in this community who do so much yet are so humble, quiet and dedicated to their passion and being involved in community service.

A myriad of community awards were doled out at the Chamber’s annual meeting and celebration.

A full house networked, obtained great gifts from Pagosa businesses at the silent auction, listened to the melodic sounds of Bob Hemenger and feasted on a delicious meal prepared this year by Nello’s Bistro.

The highlight of the evening is typically the awards and this year was no exception. The Chamber resurrected the Pagosa Pride award given to those businesses that have made an investment and improved the exterior of their building. The honorable mentions were Making Things New, Riff Raff Brewery and JJ’s Chillin’ & Grillin’. The second-place winner was the San Juan Trading Post owned by Tom, Ellen and Ryan Beavers. The winner was the show-stopping Handcrafted Interiors building which, as a whole, is simply a work of art.

The Small Business of the Year had three finalists: Alley House Grille received third place, the landmark business of Goodman’s Department Store received second place, and Pagosa Baking Company took top honors.

Photo courtesy Griz Cervantes Mary Jo Coulehan, left, presents Kirsten Skeehan and Kathy Keyes of Pagosa Baking Company with the Chamber’s Small Business of the Year award.

Photo courtesy Griz Cervantes
Mary Jo Coulehan, left, presents Kirsten Skeehan and Kathy Keyes of Pagosa Baking Company with the Chamber’s Small Business of the Year award.

Pagosa Baking was cited for their growth in the community from a business that started in the garage of Kathy Keyes and Kirsten Skeehan with these owners being the only employees. Thirteen years later, Pagosa Baking employs 11-16 full-time people year-round and pride themself on trying to promote from within. They have gone through several expansion projects including the most recent addition of a patio, creating a gathering place in Pagosa. As every nonprofit also knows, no fundraiser or event goes by without a donation from the bakery. Along with working and growing their business, even during difficult financial times, the owners of Pagosa Baking find time to engage in community works including Rotary, the Chamber board, the Geothermal Greenhouse Project, the Big Box Task Force and other interests.

In the nonprofit category, Archuleta Seniors, Inc. and the Pagosa Center for the Arts were well-deserving nominees. The second place winner was Loaves and Fishes, who produces meals for free every Thursday at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish Hall on Lewis St. They served over 13,000 meals and utilized over 2,500 volunteer hours and collaborated with at least 12 organizations in 2013.

The winner of the Non-Profit Organization of the Year was Seeds of Learning. Seeds of Learning was awarded the honor based on their business practices, including moving into their new facility debt-free prior opening their doors. Seeds of Learning employs 17 full-time people year-round and utilizes thousands of volunteer hours from their special events to on-site projects. They have also achieved the prestigious National Association of Education for Young Children (NAEYC) certification after a two-year application process — the only early child care facility in southwest Colorado, as well as being part of only 8 percent of centers throughout the nation to have achieved this certification. They collaborate with other nonprofit agencies and businesses in town including Habitat for Humanity, Rotary, Growing Spaces and other early childcare facilities such as Our Savior Lutheran School, just to name a few. They service 64 children from infants to toddlers, of which 78 percent are low income or “at risk,” which encompasses a wide range of needs including speech, hearing, sight and developmental delays and consistantly have a waiting list of 50 children. Seeds of Learning has been a nonprofit for 15 years.

The Volunteer of the Year nominees included Roy Melius, an avid supporter of our veterans; Christine Funk one of the founders of the Friends of Reservoir Hill; and Roy Vega with a variety of his organizations such as the American Legion, Knights of Columbus and Pagosa Pregnancy Support Center.

The volunteer finalists were Pauline Benetti with her accomplishments being one of the founders of the Fiber Festival, Southwest Organization for Sustainability and the Geothermal Greenhouse Project, as well as a volunteer for the Humane Society.

Jo Bridges was also a finalist and some of her contributions include being a visitor center and Chimney Rock volunteer, United Way and Loaves and Fishes volunteer, and Rotarian extraordinaire.

Photo courtesy Griz Cervantes Muriel Cronkhite, left, is awarded the Volunteer of the Year award by Chamber director Mary Jo Coulehan at last Saturday night’s celebration.

Photo courtesy Griz Cervantes
Muriel Cronkhite, left, is awarded the Volunteer of the Year award by Chamber director Mary Jo Coulehan at last Saturday night’s celebration.

The Volunteer of the Year winner was Muriel Cronkhite with her boundless energy and community involvement, all epitomizing the “quiet strength” quality. She arranges or transports people to Durango for appointments and treatments or takes care of their needs here in the community. She participates on a very active level with St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church. She was one of the founders of the Loaves and Fishes program and continues to work at the weekly meals almost every week, as well as cooking for hundreds for the holiday special meals. Cronkhite is a former docent at the Fred Harman Museum and a current volunteer weekly at the visitor center. She was also recognized in 2012 as one of the Girl Scouts 100 Distinguished Alumnae. Putting those of us younger than she is to shame, Cronkhite is an avid volunteer at 87 years young!

Our Citizen of the Year nominees included Mark Weiler and Dr. Jim Pruitt, who, although very different individuals, have contributed to the growth and building of Pagosa Springs in a variety of ways.

The winners this year; however, were quiet philanthropists Jack and Claudia Rosenbaum. Their commitments include starting the expansion for the Pagosa Mountain Hospital and their generous support of numerous organizations including the Humane Society, the Americana Project, 4-H, Red Ryder Rodeo and Festival of Trees, just to name a few. They have sat on several boards including Western Heritage and FolkWest. One of their passions is youth and their preference is anonymity. Their “known” support is only the tip of the generous donation iceberg.

We congratulate all nominees. Just because you don’t walk home with a plaque, know that someone thought enough of your efforts to nominate you and say “thank you” publicly. We hope that our residents will pay particular attention to those around you and nominate a friend, coworker or organization next year.

Business news

Don’t forget to sign up for the WinterFest Chilly Bowl contest to be held on Valentine’s Day, Friday, Feb. 14, at the Ross Aragon Community Center. If you’re not entering your chili, come out for a great time and enjoy all the chili tasting you can handle, then stick around for a Valentine’s Day Dance with Tim Sullivan and Narrow Gauge. Tickets are only $20 for the whole enchilada (tasting and dance), or you may want to play cribbage that night. Sign up for the tournament in advance as there a limited number of slots available. You can purchase tickets at the Chamber or online at or pick up a chili entry form in person or online. For more information, contact the Chamber at 264-2360.

We have one new member to welcome as a Chamber member this week. Dr. Nick Kurz and his staff are the Cornerstone Family Medicine Clinic located in Aspen Village.

Our renewals this week include the Humane Society and their Humane Society Thrift Store. On the east end of town, we have the Malt Shoppe and the First Inn of Pagosa. Crossroad Christian Fellowship located on Park Avenue also renews this week and, from out of the area, we welcome back Bayfield Gardens with Kathy Mathers.

I would like to thank everyone for a wonderful Chamber annual meeting. Local musician Brooks Lindner, supplied with lots of valuable information, created a good-bye song for me to the Elton John tune of “Goodbye Norma Jean.” He had the audience in hysterics and it could have been the highlight of the evening. I was roasted appropriately!

This story was posted on January 30, 2014.