Chamber honors top community workers

— By Zachary Van Brunt /Special to The Chronicle

A who’s who of the city’s business and civic group leaders turned out last week to celebrate the local Chamber of Commerce’s pick for 2013 Citizen of the Year.

Educator and high school Future Farmers of America adviser Matt Deebach received the honor during a banquet Thursday, to a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 75.

“Thank you,” a stoic Deebach said. “I couldn’t think of a better place to live in the whole country. Just, thank you so much.”

Deebach is the vocational and agriculture teacher at Tonasket High School. Twice, now, his FFA parliamentary procedure team has placed first at state competition and second at the national level.

The banquet’s theme was “Through a Child’s Eyes,” so chamber organizer Julie Alley said it was a natural fit that someone working so closely with the city’s youth receives the honor.

“The program that he’s developed with the school and with the kids going to state and nationals … that’s amazing for our small town,” Alley said.

School Superintendent Paul Turner called Deebach’s award a fantastic thing.

“When students go through his program, they come out as well-rounded kids,” Turner said. “They get a leadership component through working with him.”

That youth theme was also in mind when the chamber named Matt and Kari Alexander as grand marshals for the 2014 Founder’s Day Parade.

“I was in shock. I had no idea,” Kari Alexander said. “We’ve only lived here for eight years, so it’s a huge honor to be recognized in such a short time.”

There’s a small hitch: She’s organized the parade for the past few years and is slated to do so for 2014.

“How am I supposed to be grand marshal and put on a parade at the same time?” she asked.

“Sucks to be you,” was Mayor Patrick Plumb’s tongue-in-cheek response as he presented the award.

“Kari does a ton of stuff, especially for the kids in town,” Alley said.

The Alexanders are behind several local youth-focused organizations: Camp Fire Boys and Girls, the Parent-Teacher Organization and fundraising to bring the Missoula Children’s Theater to town each year, among other endeavors.

The Kuhler Bar and Grill, 302 S. Whitcomb Ave., was named business of the year.

Josh Kuhlmann, along with his brother Zach, opened the business in 2011 after moving back to their hometown.

The elder brother – Josh – was on hand to accept the award. Zach lives in Deer Park where he owns and operates a fiber-optic company.

“I was very surprised and overwhelmed,” Josh Kuhlmann said after the announcement. “I didn’t think that, with all the businesses in town, that we would be the one chosen.”

Alley said some chamber members were a little nervous to name a bar as business of the year, given the youth-oriented theme.

But considering the men’s ages – 33 and 27 – and that Kuhlmann chose to move back to Tonasket to enhance the community, she said it was a perfect fit.

Plumb called Kuhlman, a 1999 Tonasket High School graduate, “a local boy done good.”

Rounding out the evening’s awards was the Okanogan and Ferry County chapter of the Washington Pilots Association.

Lee Orr accepted the Organization of the Year award, saying he was really surprised at the honor.

Plumb touted the group for its tireless promoting of the Tonasket area. The local chapter is involved with both Tonasket’s Father’s Day Fly-In and Wings Over Republic, another air event in Ferry County.

The chapter will go to Puyallup next month for the annual Northwest Aviation Conference and Trade Show. For the past eight years, they have promoted the two counties at the show in hopes of boosting tourism and recreation in the area.

Banquet-goers also donated more than $300 to help build a new pool in the city. Live and silent auctions were held to fill the chamber’s coffers. Final results were not available by press time.

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