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Chamber honors community pillars

/ Source: Santa Maria Times

The Santa Maria Valley's most giving resident, its top business and its most outstanding public servant were recognized Wednesday night during the 90th annual installation and awards dinner of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Mark Smith of Foxenwood Builders and Realty received the Citizen of the Year Award; Straw Hat Pizza was named Business of the Year; and Alex Posada accepted the Robert F. Grogan Award for Public Service at a packed Santa Maria Elks Lodge.

Smith was honored for a long history of community involvement.

"I'm thrilled by it," Smith said before the dinner. "I think it's a fantastic award."

The award wouldn't have been possible without the work of his staff, Smith said. In particular, he credited his wife of more than 60 years, Dorothy, both a licensed Realtor and building contractor.

"She's my hero," he said.

Serving for three years in the U.S. Army with the 99th Infantry Division in World War II, Smith saw action in France, Belgium and Germany. He received three Battle Stars for participation in major battles, and his unit received a special decoration from Belgium for liberation of that country.

Returning home in 1946, Smith enrolled at the University of Southern California to pursue a civil engineering degree and married childhood sweetheart Dorothy. They have two sons, Craig A. Smith, a family attorney, and Cameron L. Smith, a managing partner and builder.

The couple founded their own construction company, building subdivisions and custom homes, in 1965. Dorothy took on the role of sales and began Foxenwoods Realty.

In 1978, he was president of the Santa Maria Valley Developers, which later became known as the Santa Maria Economic Development Commission. Along with Dorothy, Mark continues to fund many scholarships at Hancock College, where he served on the original Foundation Board.

He is a member of the Elks and the Santa Maria Country Club, and has been a major contributor to Marian Hospital, Allan Hancock College, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Council, the Santa Maria Police Council, the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA.

Business of the Year winners Randy and Mary Wise of Straw Hat Pizza have been a part of the Santa Maria Valley community for a quarter century.

They came to Santa Maria in 1984 when Straw Hat offered a franchise opportunity. He has been a part of the company since 1973, when he began working at a Bakersfield store.

The couple, married for 27 years, met at a Visalia store. They have two children: Chris, 25, and Lisa, 22.

Randy said the award is unexpected and he is taken aback at the honor.

"You could knock me over with a feather," he said.

Randy is an active member of the Santa Maria Breakfast Rotary Club and Mary is a member of the Women's Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County.

The couple have been involved with fundraising for local groups for many years. Among them are Little League Baseball, the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club. They've also been active with St. Joseph High School, their children's alma mater.

Their former Montgomery Ward shopping center location closed in 2001. The current location at 1822 N. Broadway opened in 1996.

The business has thrived, and they take delight in being a part of the community, Randy added.

Posada said he was stunned to get the news from Bob Hatch, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, that he had been selected to receive the public service award named after the late Robert F. Grogan, a former longtime Santa Maria city manager.

Having worked under the award's namesake, Posada said, the honor is more meaningful.

"I was surprised. It's a big honor," Posada said. "I had a chance to know him (Grogan) and work with him. It's more special knowing his commitment to public service."

Posada joined the Recreation and Parks Department in 1977. In that span, Posada has held a number of titles, including recreation specialist, recreation supervisor, and interim recreation superintendent. He has been the Recreation and Parks director since 1996.

In his time with the department, the number of city parks has grown by about 60 percent, Posada said. Similarly, the number of recreation facilities has grown to keep pace with Santa Maria's growth.

He is president of People for Leisure and Youth (P.L.A.Y), a nonprofit group that supports the Recreation and Parks Department; a Santa Barbara Foundation trustee; past board member and volunteer for the American Red Cross; and serves as area director of the local Special Olympics Program.

He holds degrees in social work and public administration.

The chamber also recognized Heidi Gruetzemacher of Photoworks Frame Gallery as Ambassador of the Year.

During the dinner, the chamber introduced Cindy McKellar as board chairwoman, and thanked outgoing chairman Rob Buchanan for his service.

Other officers are Jason Diani as chairman elect /treasurer, Jim Bray as vice chairman, and Trent Benedetti as vice president.

Also on the board for 2009-10 are Donna Cross, Brian Kearns, Jose Ortiz, Tim Ritchie, John Tunnell, Brooks Wise, Mark Fugate, George Majoue, Dan Pankratz, Tim Rooney, Debi Testa, Peggy Greer, Erika Milton, Donna Randolph, Kathy Simas, Leah West and Randy Wise.

Committee chairs for 2009-10 are Erika Milton, ambassadors; Benedetti and Michael Sorenson, business; Tony Gonzales, Hispanic business; David Beas, transportation; Yvonne Biely, Santa Maria Visitor and Convention Bureau; Stan Sandle, Leadership Santa Maria Valley.

August 13, 2009