There were plenty of congratulations to go around on Friday, April 2, as the Umatilla Chamber of Commerce handed out its Distinguished Citizen Awards for 2019 and 2020.

Salud Campos, executive director for the chamber, said after last year’s awards banquet was canceled at the last minute due to the initial COVID-19 lockdowns, the chamber wanted to make sure those who would have been recognized still got their award. She visited those awardees, as well as a new group honored this year, to hand them their plaque and offer congratulations.

“They were thrilled,” she said.

Some winners said they were honored, while others described themselves as humbled or surprised, she said. After a long year for everyone, Campos said it was nice to be able to recognize the good in Umatilla.

“I want to thank everyone who has kept our businesses going during the pandemic and shopping locally,” she said. “We’re a small community, but we support each other a lot.”

2020 award winners

Janet Nagy Leitch was honored as Umatilla Citizen of the Year for 2020.

Leitch, a 1966 graduate of Umatilla High School, is president of the Umatilla Alumni Association and secretary of the Umatilla Museum and corresponding historical foundation.

“She has been involved in Umatilla her whole life, and her years of service are appreciated by all and an example of community service for all to learn from,” the chamber’s nomination of her stated.

Acapulco Mexican Food was named Umatilla Business of the Year for 2020.

The food truck cooks “delicious, authentic Mexican dishes,” according to the chamber, and are known for their homemade tortillas, tortas, burritos and fish tacos.

“Owner Margarito Corcuera plans to get more involved in the community and hopes to encourage more Latino events in Umatilla,” the chamber stated.

2019 award winners

Marcelino Cruz was named Umatilla Citizen of the Year for 2019.

Cruz is the owner of Novedades Cruz in Umatilla, a local convenience store. According to the chamber, he was nominated for his support and involvement in the community over the past decade, particularly when it comes to school events and the area’s Latino residents.

“Novedadez Cruz has helped our community for many years,” the chamber stated.

Banner Bank was recognized as Umatilla Business of the Year for 2019.

According to the chamber, the bank was nominated for “outstanding customer service skills” and a friendly atmosphere.

“Customers enjoy Banking at the Umatilla Banner Bank and the staff are involved in supporting community events like Landing Days, Trick or Treat on 6th Street, and most charitable events,” the chamber stated.

Bridge Builder Award

Last week, Umatilla School District also recognized its Bridge Builder Award winners. The award honors staff who exemplify the school district’s motto, “Building bridges to successful futures.”

According to Superintendent Heidi Sipe, the winners not only perform their work well, but go above and beyond to contribute to the success of students.

April Dirksen, dean of students for Umatilla High School, was recognized for her “contributions to a positive school culture.” According to descriptions Sipe wrote up for each winner, Dirksen has helped the district promote health and engage in healthy competitions together all school year.

Chelsea Kik-Whitbeck, a specialist with the district, was recognized for her work with the Youth Transitions Program, helping students develop job-ready skills and secure employment after high school.

David Lougee, English Language Learner director, was recognized as a strong advocate for students, who has “consistently provided innovative leadership” and helped create new programs for students.

Jennifer Franks, who runs student data services for the district, was recognized for “springing into action” when COVID-19 hit to create new data systems for tracking instructional models, new reports and busing models during the pandemic.

Stacy Skerjanec, maintenance director, was recognized for helping his team through a tumultuous year that included flooding, windstorms and COVID-19 all in a period of three months. Despite the difficulties of juggling so many challenges and responsibilities, Sipe wrote, he is seldom seen without a smile on his face.

Tricia Lorence, a teacher at McNary Heights Elementary, was recognized for a deep impact on the school in a variety of ways, including her work to secure several grants to support students and the way she is always thinking of others and how she can make the school get better beyond just her own classroom.

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