Shelter builders, fire heroes, rose tenders among city-honored volunteers for 2023

This year, Salem volunteers tended roses, fought fires, taught history and made friends with neighbors in need.

A group of standout volunteers were honored in the city’s annual volunteer award ceremony on Monday, Oct. 16, for their efforts to improve the community.

This year, 5,401 people spent nearly 149,000 volunteer hours to city efforts in the community. That’s 689 fewer people than last year but nearly 37,000 more hours contributed, according to numbers from the city.

Recipients were selected through a community nomination process by the Salem City Council and city boards and commissions, in addition to several awards selected by the mayor.

Here’s a list of the winners:

The Al Loucks Business-Government Partnership Award

Russ Monk and Tom Ohnstad of Hi Impact Technologies were honored for building 30 micro shelters for the city.

“They demonstrate an unwavering conviction to creativity, addressing emergency preparedness and care for the homeless in our local community,” said councilor Deanna Gwyn while presenting the award.

The pair also spends time engaging with non-profits, the city and the community to discuss solutions to end homelessness, Gwyn said. 

Outstanding City Advisory Group Volunteer

Historic Lands Commission Chair Andrew Zimmerman received the award to honor work on a city board, commission or advisory group. Zimmerman has been on the commission since 2018, and developed its social media and community outreach program. He’s been the chair since January.

Zimmerman shares his love of local history outside the board, and his work included writing a column about Salem history for the Statesman Journal for several years, and serving on the Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program board from 2015 to 2020. 

Dorothy Patch Community and Educational Achievement Award 

The Dorothy Patch award goes to students, teachers or schools that have done a project benefiting the community. This year Dr. Tommy Van Cleave and the volunteers of the Office of Civic Engagement at Willamette University took home the award for their work making a local garden more accessible for seniors. 

Willamette students had been volunteering with the Center 50+ Friendship Brigade for several years, when Covid struck they had to find another way to interact, said Councilor Micki Varney who presented the award.

Students used their own money to replace the garden space at Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center at 820 Cottage St. N.E. with wheelchair accessible garden beds, and to move the main gardens next to the sidewalk where residents could better access them.

The group then planted the gardens based on resident preferences, with crops donated to the Marion Polk Food Share. Van Cleave, the assistant dean for civic engagement, maintained the garden over the summer and harvested it alongside student volunteers.

Salem Spirit Award

The Salem Spirit award recognizes people or groups that are constantly promoting Salem and working to improve the city. Willamette University Professor David Craig, a biologist, received the award for his work to advocate for the city’s urban forestry program.

Craig has collaborated with the city to inventory Salem’s trees, evaluate heritage trees, work on tree and wildlife habitat studies and help build the partnership between the city and the university, Varney said.

He’s also encouraged four of his students to become urban forestry interns, who help collect data about local trees. One of his former students has since been hired by the city.

“His boundless enthusiasm brings great energy to volunteer events,” Varney said, including organizing tree plantings along Southeast University Street and along Southeast Leslie Street and Southeast Liberty Street.

At Your Service Award

Chane Griggs received the At Your Service Award, which is nominated by a city department of division. Griggs is the current president of the Salem Planning Commission and in her second term, and ran for mayor against Mayor Chris Hoy in 2022.

Her tenure includes the adoption of the city’s housing needs analysis, economic opportunities analysis, neighborhood plans, refinement plans and code provisions and Our Salem, a long-term guide to future city growth.

Beyond the planning commission, Griggs also served on the Parks and Recreation advisory board, the Historic Landmarks Commission, the Citizen Budget Committee and the Public Art Commission. She’s also worked with the Rotary Club of Salem, the Salem Art Association, The Oregon State Capitol Foundation and the Deepwood Museum & Gardens board.

Mayor’s Youth Achievement Award 

The Mayor’s youth achievement award goes to young people making a difference in the community. Two groups and one college student received it on Monday.

The Salem Public Library Teen Advisory Board is made up of 21 middle and high school students who plan projects at the library to benefit the community. The group started the library’s “take what you need” program which allows residents to take toothbrushes, socks, pads and tampons, hats and sunscreen free of charge. They also designed a “medium-scary” haunted house for families.

Evyn Baker, a Willamette University sophomore, received the award for a wide range of community work, including as an assistant coach for the Marion County Special Olympics, a bell ringer for the Salvation Army and assisting with community events like Movies in the Park.

Baker is also part of the Civil Air Patrol, and was awarded cadet of the year for the region that includes Oregon and Northwest states. As a junior at West Salem High School, he organized the 2020 SnoBall Dance.

“Simply put, this young man has been active in the community since middle school and we’re so lucky to have him,” said Mayor Chris Hoy while presenting the award. 

South Salem High School National Honor Society students received the award for their work to plan a January tree planting at Riverfront Park. 

Members of the library’s Teen Advisory Board accept an award for organizing community programs during the city’s Oct. 16, 2023 volunteer award ceremony (Courtesy/ City of Salem)

Lisa Letney Award

The Lisa Letney Award was created last year to honor Salem’s “Potato Lady,” whose advocacy included community organization, donating much-needed supplies and handing out hot potatoes as a source of warmth and food.

Lindsay Bigelow, a long time collaborator with Letney, won the inaugural award this year. Bigelow co-founded Kindness Closet of Salem.

Bigelow spends her weekends cooking meals to bring to ARCHES Day Center, and collects donations in her garage, Councilor Vanessa Nordyke said while presenting the award.

“She takes the time to see the human being and to get to know them. She knows the stories of people experiencing homelessness in the community, and she does everything in her power to relieve some of the suffering,” Nordyke said.

Letney died in November 2022. Nordyke introduced a motion at Salem City Council soon after to add the award for service to unsheltered people in her honor, with permission from Letney’s family.

“It does bring some joy to us as we’re grieving. Just to know that her name will be heard, people will know who she is,” her sister Michelle Bryant said of the award when it was added in December. “She would be honored.”

Outstanding Neighbor Award

The outstanding neighbor award honors work put in to improve a Salem neighborhood.

The Highland Neighborhood Association was recognized for its expansions and updates this year. The group hosted community events, like a yard sale and cleanups, and used social media to encourage new membership.

Jenny Hiatt, a newer member of the Morningside Neighborhood Association, received the award for her work to promote participation in the association. Hiatt manages the group’s Facebook and Instagram pages, and launched a newsletter. 

At Your Service Award

Center 50+ respite volunteers celebrate special moments and share meals with senior participants, including people with dementia and their care partners. The volunteers group received the award in recognition of the hours they put in to make friends with the participants.

Mayor’s Merit Award 

Several people and local groups received the Mayor’s Merit Award, which honors special projects or activities undertaken for the good of the community. 

Leslye Garcia was nominated for her work to organize mothers in the Hallman Neighborhood Family Council to become more engaged in the city. Her work to empower neighbors brought Fun Fridays to Northgate Park, and permanent bathrooms soon to be installed, Councilor Jose Gonzalez said when presenting the award.

Mayor Chris Hoy got emotional when recounting the day in August when Emery and Sons Construction saw a fire burning on Jory Hill while working on a site. The crew dropped everything and used their heavy equipment and began cutting fire lines in nearby dirt to stop it from spreading.

The city and fire department credited them with slowing the blaze and saving homes, and the crew received a standing ovation at the award ceremony.

Black Joy Oregon received the award for their work to support the Black community locally and statewide through financial support, community gardens, education, and events. Their work focuses on women and youth empowerment; and diversity, equity and inclusion training.

Pam Garland was awarded for “Salem Seekers,” a months-long project that hid glass birds throughout Salem Parks to encourage Salemites to enjoy community greenspaces. 

Melinda Rossow and Rhonda Murray were awarded for over a decade of work to rescue around 300 stray, injured or abandoned cats every year. The cats are spayed or neutered before being re-released or re-homed.

“It’s impossible to overstate the amount of pain that these women have relieved, and how many of our four-legged friends they have saved,” Hoy said.

Members of the Salem Police Department Advisory Council to the Chief were awarded Monday night. The 16-member group was founded in 2021, and shares community perspectives with the police to build trust, Hoy said.

“They have all contributed greatly to the department’s efforts to examine the human dimensions of police policies, which directly impact community,” he said.

Kirk Seyfert of The Northwest Hub nonprofit were awarded for their work to provide affordable access to bikes, equipment and gear. The group gives income-based discounts, and recycled and reused over 44,000 pounds of steel and aluminum last year.

“They take what’s broken and fix it, and then they give it away or sell it for very cheap. That’s amazing, and they’re amazing,” Hoy said.

Willard Marshall Award

The Willard Marshall is given to a person who has contributed the most to the city during the year. Ross Sutherland took it home on Monday after spending hundreds of hours to inventory uncatalogued historical documents, maps and objects at the library and Civic Center.

Sutherland is the director of the Bush House Museum, and a curator at the Salem Art Association.

He started working in Salem in 1996 for the Oregon State Archives, and was later executive director at Deepwood Museum & Gardens and the Marion County Historical Society. 

Sutherland works to educate the community about history, arts and culture. He’s also served on the boards for Travel Salem and the Lord & Schryver Conservancy, and he’s led the city’s cultural and heritage forum for a decade.

Vern Miller Award

The Vern Miller Award goes toward someone who has done outstanding, long-term service to the city. Bill Metlzer received it to honor his work to care for Bush’s Pasture Park. 

Metlzer, 83, started volunteering with the Tuesday Gardeners group 23 years ago, but his love of roses led him to soon take over care for the park’s rose garden. He puts in an average of six hours of work a week to the garden, and has trained a team of volunteers to join him in pruning and pest control.

He also labels each rose, and takes cuttings home to care for them before returning them to the garden.

“His co-volunteers are consistently amazed and impressed by his knowledge of roses and his stamina and commitment,” said Councilor Virginia Stapleton during the ceremony. 

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.