From humble beginnings as a garbage collector to teaching kids to read to making their community safer, the local chamber of commerce applauded Steve and Debra Wakefield’s efforts Saturday to make Del Norte County a better place.

Kevin Hartwick and Richard Wier presented the Wakefields with the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award. Hartwick and Wier not only celebrated Steve Wakefield’s four decades as a firefighter and Debra Wakefield’s role as a “fire mom,” they noted the Wakefields have been successful business leaders for more than three decades.

“They’re truly a model of hard work, dedication and service to this community on so many levels,” Hartwick said. “(Their) businesses have operated successfully for 30 years-plus and have trained literally hundreds of employees and contributed to an unknown number of community causes and events.”

Steve and Debra Wakefield are products of Del Norte County, attended local schools, completing their education at Humboldt and Chico state universities before returning to the community. Steve Wakefield purchased the local garbage collection business from his father and uncle and could be seen operating the business in local neighborhoods every day, Hartwick said.

Debra Wakefield, a gifted elementary school teacher, trained hundreds of others across the nation to enhance reading instruction in the classroom, Hartwick said. She also taught local students how to read and continues to volunteer at Redwood School.

After selling the garbage collection business, the Wakefields founded Wakefields’ Restaurant in the Y shopping center and later purchased and opened Northwoods Inn restaurant, Hartwick said.

As the fire chief, a role he took on for 23 years, Wakefield was the driving force for the merger of the Crescent City Volunteer Fire Department and the Crescent Fire Protection District, Wier said.

“In the role of chief he led with pride and passion, leading from his heart and always being responsive to individuals,” Wier said, adding that Wakefield responded to thousands of emergencies over the years. “I sincerely doubt anyone will or can show the commitment shown by Steve Wakefield. I just don’t think anyone can carry that off as he did.”

Meanwhile, Debra Wakefield co-founded the Community Emergency Response Team about six years ago and was instrumental in establishing the local emergency operations center, Wier said. Debra Wakefield also went to Haiti to teach earthquake victims first aid.

“As spouse of the chief and a volunteer, she held many hands on emergency calls and has been a shoulder to cry on for many people in their time of need,” Wier said.

Steve Wakefield retired from the fire department after 23 years as chief after suffering two strokes in early 2018. This could have been the end of their story, Hartwick said, but Debra Wakefield “with the tenacity of a prize fighter up against the ropes” spent countless hours by her husband’s side, researching the brain and trying to find solutions to get Steve well again.

“She was a force to be reckoned with,” Hartwick said. “As an advocate for the chief, she was not alone. The Wakefield boys Mark, Ryan and Matt and their families fought hard for their father and chief and never wavered in their commitment. If that’s not enough when Steve was flown home the fire departments and emergency personnel greeted Steve at the airport and clearly showed that this great leader had the respect and admiration of the people he led.”

After receiving their award and a standing ovation, Steve and Debra Wakefield thanked the community for their support over the years.

“My heart was just swelling as I was hearing all this,” Debra Wakefield said referring to the new businesses and the progress Del Norte County has made over the past year. “Little communities; this is what it’s all about. Thank you for allowing us to be part of this amazing community.”

Others honored at the annual festivities:

Volunteer of the Year: Marj Neibauer

Ambassador of the Year: Linda Ging

Nonprofit of the Year: Del Norte Search and Rescue

New Business of the Year: Redwood Sightseeing Tours

Business Leader of the Year: Tom Latimer, Backcountry Bicycles

Del Norte Pride Award: Crescent City Downtown Divas

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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