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The Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 100th anniversary Saturday night by honoring some of the community's top achievers of 2012.

Hector and Eileen Brown, who built the Ocean View Inn and Suites in Crescent City while demolishing the old ice plant, received the 10th annual Del Norte Pride Award, which recognizes efforts to improve the aesthetics of the community.

Walmart manager Nick Gonnella, who oversaw a massive expansion of his store that now employs nearly 250 people, was named business leader of the year.

Harold Nemetz, a regular at the Visitors Center, was named the Chamber's volunteer of the year.

And outgoing Chamber Executive Director Gina Zottola received special recognition for her five-year tenure leading the organization.

More than 100 people attended the annual dinner at the Crescent City Cultural Center, which also featured the introduction of new Chamber President John Menaugh and the 2013 Board of Directors.

The board includes outgoing President Lisa McKeown of State Farm Insurance, Devon Morgante of Vita Cucina, Karen Lyon of North Valley Bank, Debi White of the Redwood Parks Association, Amber Wier of the North Coast Small Business Development Corp., Matt Westbrook of Palmer Westbrook Inc., Jodi Hoone of Harrington House, Linda Ging, Cindy Vosburg of the Del Norte Triplicate, Paul Rice of Shop Smart, Harbor Commissioner James Ramsey and City Councilwoman Kelly Schellong.

Looking back, looking ahead

Menaugh, the former CEO of Sutter Coast Hospital, said he was inspired by the Chamber's centennial to scour its archives, where he found Board of Directors meeting minutes dating to the 1930s.

"One of the first things that struck me was the names of the prominent directors of the Chamber over the years andhellip; names like Meedom, McNamara, Stump, Lehman, Fraser, Gargetas, Griffin, Endert, Stephens, Yarbrough, Flynn, Stover, Yamor, Cochran. And several Westbrooks through the years," Menaugh said.

"My archives research also showed me that the Chamber has consistently been well entrenched in the important current community issues of the day," Menaugh said, including promotion of tourism, highway development, health care, land use, community celebrations and economic development.

"Many of the issues from long ago are the same or similar to our current issues," Menaugh said. "And we all have a vested interest in seeing that history of involvement continue."

Outgoing Chamber Board member Chris Howard then presented a tribute to Zottola, noting that "her tenure with the Chamber began in 2008 after a period of dramatic changes and four straight years of rocky starts with revolving executive directors. Little did we know our well-placed bets with a local girl would thrust the Chamber into an unprecedented period of growth while the world financial crisis closed in on our tiny little community."

Zottola brought the same energy and initiative to the Chamber that she displayed during her volleyball-playing days in high school, college and on the pro beach circuit, Howard said.

He noted City Councilwoman Kathryn Murray's assessment of Zottola in a recent letter to the Triplicate in which Murray wrote that "Gina is a shining example of a "Local Girl Makes Good" for youth in our community leaving the nest to pursue their dreams and ultimately coming home to their roots."

Zottola recently accepted the position of program officer with the Wild Rivers Community Foundation.

Menaugh said the Chamber is in discussions with the city, county and harbor district about the possibility of combining the executive director position with the community's economic development efforts. In the meantime, an interim appointment is possible, he said.

The annual awards

The Del Norte Pride Award, a joint effort of the Chamber and the Triplicate, "often recognizes both the construction of something new and the demolition of something old," said Triplicate Editor Richard Wiens.

"This year is no exception," Wiens said. "In fact, the couple being honored tonight have repeatedly removed eyesores and replaced them with sparkling landmarks."

While Hector and Eileen Brown were specifically honored for last year's efforts to build the Ocean View Inn and Suitesand tear out the decrepit ice plant next door, Wiens credited them with "a string of accomplishments that transformed the south side of Crescent City."

He noted their involvement with building Ocean World, the Apple Peddler restaurant, the Bayview Inn, the Lighthouse Inn and Infinity Salon.

To make way for those projects, Wiens said, they demolished the Sea Wonders Alive aquarium, the High Water Cafandeacute; and Bar, the Breakers Motel and the Harbor Motel.

The Browns have constructed, expanded and remodeled numerous other buildings in Crescent City, Wiens said in praising their "boundless energy, rock-solid work ethic and can-do attitudes."

In presenting the Business Leader of the Year award, McKeown lauded the Chamber for honoring a relative newcomer to the area who nevertheless has just overseen the dramatic expansion of the "biggest retail store in Del Norte County."

The Crescent City Walmart opened in 1992, but it was after the arrival of Nick Gonnella in 2011 that "the community started to see a difference," McKeown said. "It was obvious that someone new was at the helm and that that person cared about and wanted to be part of his community."

"He would have to keep this retail business running during a major remodel," McKeown said, noting that Walmart's grand opening as a super-center employing nearly 250 people occurred last November.

Even as expansion occurred, she said, Gonnella involved himself in community endeavors such as making contributions to the Del Norte Senior Center, Rural Human Services, the Del Norte Family Resource Center and St. Joseph Catholic Church, as well as coordinating the Christmastime "Shop With a Hero" program.

McKeown also noted the Walmart expansion included a new outlet for a longtime local business, Java Hut.

"I personally spoke with Adrienne (Anthony) of Java Hut and she said Nick was extremely instrumental in her opening her location in the super-store," McKeown said.

Gonnella, McKeown said, "welcomes every idea as a true business leader should."

A final award was presented by Zottola to Harold Nemetz for Chamber Volunteer of the year.

The retired dentist "enjoys keeping busy, meeting new people, and telling visitors everything Del Norte County has to offer and has become a favorite among his peers," Zottola said.