As the audience at the March 14 Community Awards of Excellence ceremony focused its attention on the stage where two firefighters, Luis Chairez and Adam Rich, were being honored, an emergency call came over the men's pagers. Without hesitation, both men left the platform to respond, prompting onlookers to burst into spontaneous applause. Fortunately, the two men were relieved by another crew, and they returned to the stage to receive their award for Firefighters of the Year.
This moment illustrates the heart of the awards — a willingness to put someone who is in need first, and act on their behalf.
At the awards ceremony, hosted by the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce and the Argus-Courier, about 200 people came together at the Sheraton Petaluma to pay tribute to this year's honorees.
Sometimes it's the kind, little daily interactions that add up, making one look forward to otherwise mundane tasks. Such is the case with Carole Quan, who was honored as Service Person of the Year for her unflagging enthusiasm and friendliness as a checker at Lucky Market, where she helped make the store feel "like your neighborhood grocery."
An 18-year breast cancer survivor, Quan accepted with obvious emotion: "I'm overwhelmed," she said, holding her plaque close. "I will cherish this all my life."
Cliff Eveland, Petaluma High School's band instructor, saw a need and filled it — with music. Realizing the impact of cuts on school programs, Eveland came up with an idea for a school music fundraiser. It evolved into the enormously popular Petaluma Music Festival, which last year raised $30,000 for school music programs. Eveland was passionate in his acceptance of the Award for Excellence in Education.
"Why give an award to someone so lucky?" he asked. "I get to wake up, teach music, and have the privilege of working on a music festival that does so much good!"
Another honoree who expressed gratitude to the community was the Citizen of the Year, Gary Imm. Imm credits what is now called The Boys & Girls Club for "turning me from a very shy 12-year-old into a kid that walked out three years later with leadership skills and self confidence."
Imm thanked his wife of nearly 50 years, Lynn, for being his "biggest fan, his inspiration and his best friend."
Imm also credited the strong heritage that is part of Petaluma's culture: "What is important is to understand and practice the ethic of those that came before you."
In spite of the varied achievements of the recipients, a thread ran through the values and beliefs they expressed: that of being part of a group or a team.
Perhaps that attitude goes back to Petaluma's pioneer roots, which still run deep here, where generation after generation has worked the farms and ranches and learned to rely upon and support their neighbors.
The Excellence in Agriculture award went to the North Bay Dairy Women, a group founded in 1965. As demanding as their lifestyle is, the North Bay Dairy Women carve out time to conduct numerous educational and philanthropic events.
The needy, the shelterless and the disenfranchised include people from all walks of life. For Marie Fletcher and Ed Lampe, these people deserved to be treated with dignity, and to have access to resources that could put them back on track.