Chamber hands out annual volunteer, business, educator and citizen awards

The chamber of commerce at its annual awards dinner last weekend honored several members of the community for their service, including the fire department and emergency medical services crew, municipal electric line crew and borough employees for their response to the deadly Nov. 20 landslide that hit Wrangell.

“Nowhere was the ‘I can help’ spirit more evident than in November of last year when a tragic landslide befell our community. For weeks, volunteers and first responders showed just what an amazing place Wrangell is,” said Caroline Bangs, chamber secretary, as she asked the award winners to come forward and accept a plaque.

“It is with great pleasure and admiration that I introduce to you tonight’s guests of honor: Representatives from the Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department, the City and Borough of Wrangell, EMS and the linemen who worked so hard in our time of need.”

The chamber awards night was held Saturday, April 13, at the Stikine Inn.

The chamber also announced the theme for this year’s Fourth of July celebration: “Home Where We Belong.” Anyone with a flair for art who wants to design a logo for the celebration can drop off their donated submission at the chamber office in the Stikine Inn. The deadline is May 8.

The chamber at its dinner honored Joan Sargent as volunteer of the year.

“I just want you to know how easy it was to give this award to this individual because she is literally involved in everything, and how tough it was to make sure she didn’t know she was going to receive it,” Tommy Wells, the chamber’s executive director, said. “I have to thank her husband for scheming with me over the past few weeks to have her be here. It’s incredibly hard to keep a secret from someone who is involved in so many different things.”

Sargent serves on the Parks and Recreation advisory board, volunteers with the St. Francis Animal Shelter, BRAVE and Island of Faith Lutheran Church. She also has represented Wrangell on the board of directors of Ketchikan-based WISH (Women in Safe Homes), helping connect survivors of domestic violence with services.

The chamber’s educator of the year award went to Virginia Oliver.

“She is one of the most endearing and far-reaching teachers through her work as one of the only fluent Lingít speakers in Wrangell,” according to the nominating letter, which was read by Omid Rahmanian, chamber board member.

“She teaches language classes at the high school and elementary school, hosts a weekly drumming circle, leads the Wrangell Johnson O'Malley (JOM) group … and instills pride in many of Wrangell's youth and tribal citizens.”

In addition to her work with school students, she has taught adult Lingít language classes twice a week for the past two years. “In June 2023, she was recognized by the Sealaska Heritage Institute as one of seven distinguished educators throughout Southeast Alaska.”

The business of the year award went to BW Enterprises.

“There are some businesses that go far beyond their primary goal and become major contributors to the very fiber and fabric that holds a community together,” the nominating letter said.

Brent Woodbury’s BW Enterprises “dropped everything to assist with the landslide,” Amber Armstrong-Hillberry, chamber board member, said of the company’s response to help with search and rescue, cleanup and rebuilding of Zimovia Highway after the landslide.

“They regularly donate and give to the community and provide such a great service to Wrangell most people don't realize or understand,” the nominating letter said.

This year’s citizen of the year award went to Christina Florschutz, who survived the Nov. 20 landslide that killed her husband, Otto Florschutz.

Wells read from the nomination letter the chamber received: “Having gone through what she has, and to be so positive is amazing. She is an inspiration with her desire to live. … (She) deserves to be acknowledged for her awesome positive spirit.”


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