Emerson Smoker Sr. of Rite Way Electric won the Distinguished Service Award from the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, but he had to ignore a plea from his wife to claim the prize.
“I can remember my wife saying, ‘Honey, please don’t say yes to one more thing,’” Smoker told the more than 400 people who attended the chamber’s 68th annual Distinguished Service Awards banquet.
But Smoker hasn’t said no to a lot of community activities over the years, including having served as chair of the chamber board. He is currently active on the chamber’s government affairs and education committees. His community involvement includes work with Albany Helping Hands, Rotary, YMCA and the Mennonite Village Foundation.
More seriously, Smoker had thanks for his wife, family and business for helping him deepen his involvement in the community since 2000, when he was a member of the chamber’s Leadership Albany class.
“Once I took that nine-month class, it kind of opened my eyes” to the needs in the community, he said.
But the community is worth the work, he said.
“What a community! It’s great to be part of a community like this!”
Janel Bennett, the co-owner of Sybaris restaurant in Albany, was named the winner of the Jim Linhart First Citizen Award.
“We are a city that is small enough where any one person can make a difference,” she said.
She reflected on how Sybaris and the other restaurants she runs with her husband, Matt, always have been involved in the community: “The community has supported us. We wanted to give back. And we really like to do it.”
Bennett volunteers with St. Mary’s Fish, ABC House, the American Legion, Boys & Girls Club of Albany and the carousel project.
Bre Kerkvliet, the general manager of the Corvallis Knights baseball club, won the Junior First Citizen award.
“It’s a little more overwhelming than I had thought,” she said of winning the award. “The chamber of commerce here is the best in the mid-valley.”
She serves on several boards throughout the mid-valley and is co-founder of Women in Networking as well as an active member of the chamber’s Young Professionals.
Peak Internet was named Large Business of the Year. Rick Petersen CEO of Peak the company’s head added to the praise for Albany.
“The trust, respect, collaboration and camaraderie that exists here makes us great,” he said.
TnT Builders, owned by Trent and Trish Irwin, was named Small Business of the Year.
“This has been an amazing ride,” said Trish Irwin, and she thanked the chamber, the community, the company’s workers and her husband, Trent, calling him “My business partner, my life partner, my rhinestone cowboy,” a reference to the evening’s western theme.
Katie Daugherty from West Albany High School was named Distinguished Student.
State Sen. Frank Morse, who resigned his legislative seat last year, was honored for his service. Dr. Pat Hagerty read letters of appreciation for Morse from business and political leaders.
Morse called the tribute “overwhelming” and said his reaction could be summed up simply: “Blessings. Innumerable blessings to be able to live and work in this community.”
The event was held at the Boys & Girls Club of Albany.