Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce’s mission is to be a catalyst for business growth, a convener of leaders and a champion for a stronger Santa Maria Valley. During its gala Thursday, the chamber recognized the people and businesses that also work to grow, lead and love Santa Maria.

Community and business leaders, family and friends packed the Santa Maria Radisson Hotel ballroom to show their support for the community and this year’s award winners.

Ralph Martin retired from the Santa Maria Police Department after five years as the city’s top cop in June. During his time with the department, many referred to him and praised him as a catalyst of change in the department and the city.

On Thursday night, he was back in Santa Maria to accept this year’s Robert F. Grogan Public Service Award.

The Grogan Public Service Award is given to those who have provided noteworthy service to the community through professional or volunteer service in a public agency. The award is named for longtime, former City Manager Robert F. Grogan for his service to the city and many others on the Central Coast.

Martin said being chosen to receive this year’s public service award was humbling and an honor. He also said having the opportunity to serve the city of Santa Maria was a great honor.

Martin accepted the award on behalf of the men and women of the Santa Maria Police Department.

“Right now, there are 22-, 23-year-old police officers that are patrolling our streets,” Martin said. “These people come to work every single day and they do a superb job. They handle somewhere around 300 calls for service every single day in our city. They don’t complain, they love the work and they do a great job. I really want to accept this award on their behalf."

“I am honored that I had the opportunity to be just a little part of that,” Martin added.

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce also recognized Martin and Debi Testa’s Testa Catering as this year’s small business of the year.

Testa Catering started in 1983, specializing in Santa Maria style-barbecue, and has grown to successfully cater everything from small, intimate dining experiences to large events of 2,000 or more.

“Catering is a lot of work, but is it is also a lot of fun,” Debi Testa said. “Thank you to all of you that has made us a part of your celebrations."

The 2017 Large Business of the Year Award was given to Red Dog Management.

Greg and Donna France’s Red Dog Management started as a small private farm but now farms 900 acres of organically and conventionally grown strawberries and other crops, employing about 1,200 people through their various companies.

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The Frances are also active supporters of the community and are involved in the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Maria Valley, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and many agriculture committees and commissions.

The 2017 Citizen of the Year Award was presented to Bill Wurth.

The 92-year-old was greeted with a standing ovation as he made his way to the gala’s stage Thursday night.

The longtime Santa Marian has been a fixture at many events that help support the community.

“I do volunteer a lot and I enjoy it. A little while ago, I volunteered at the Elks Lodge to serve dinner at a wedding. I asked a guy, ‘Hey, how about you give us a hand?’ He said ‘I can’t, I am 70 years old.’ Someone should have told me that 22 years ago,” said Wurth, laughing.

Wurth compared being honored as the 2017 Robert P. Hatch citizen of the year to the day he received his combat aircrew wings for his service in the Navy during World War II and when he was named Elk of the year. He expressed his gratitude to those who nominated him and for the chance to continue serving the community.

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce on Thursday also honored Cary Gray for his service to the chamber and the community with the Ted Eckert Lifetime Community Achievement Award. Gray said the award was especially touching as he and Eckert shared a strong friendship.

The 2017 Chamber Ambassador of the Year Award was presented to Charlene Paz for her work to recruit new members and help the chamber fulfill its mission.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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