VIDEO, PHOTOS: Memorable moments as West Seattle Chamber of Commerce presents 2019 Westside Awards

April 30, 2019 5:47 pm
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(WSB photos by Patrick Sand. Above, a lot of love for Westsider of the Year Adah Cruzen)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Inspiration, joy, and sorrow all marked moments woven through the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce‘s annual Westside Awards breakfast this morning at Salty’s on Alki (WSB sponsor).

The inspiration: The honorees, as well as keynote speaker Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, who mused on the awareness that we all have so little time on this earth to make a difference.

The sorrow underscored that, as a moment of silence was held for a local leader who died a few days ago, way too soon.

And the joy was found in the celebratory gathering itself, with morning sunshine and the blue water of Elliott Bay just outside the windows of the Salty’s banquet room filled with West Seattle civic and business leaders.

It was the first Westside Awards breakfast for the Chamber’s new CEO, Julia Jordan. She said this year’s award recipients were chosen from among 53 nominees.

Prolific philanthropist Adah Rhodes Cruzen is Westsider of the Year, the one award given to an individual. She had a few things to say but mostly left the talking to Clay Eals, West Seattle historian, author, and journalist. Here’s our video:

Eals said she exemplifies “heartfelt devotion,” both to her husband, the late community advocate Earl Cruzen, and to a community. As Eals recalled, Adah quipped last year that Earl had left her “a few extra zeroes,” and she has set about making “major gifts … that will have a lasting impact … an astounding investment” in the community. Among them, money to help restore the murals that were a signature community project for Earl Cruzen. “He loved West Seattle,” Adah Cruzen said of Earl, before her voice caught on tears as she continued, “I hope he and Moe [mural project partner Beerman] are looking down and saying, ‘Good job’.” She also quoted one of his favorite one-liners, as an inspiration to all present: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

History also loomed large as Alki Lumber accepted the Business of the Year award. Presenter Kandie Jennings-Molloy, whose business Tom’s Automotive Service is a neighbor of the Triangle lumberyard, spoke about what Alki Lumber has done for the community in ways large and small. “You’re our local lumberyard – we need more businesses like you.” Lynn Sweeney spoke of her family-owned company’s five-generation legacy, and added that “The lumber business continues to thrive” as she mentioned her family’s announcement earlier this year that it’s exploring options for redevelopment. “Our goal and our hope is to bring some new and exciting things to the Triangle” – such as shopping and dining – while keeping Alki Lumber going. They’ll be celebrating their centennial soon, in “our little triangle within the triangle.”

Verity Credit Union (WSB sponsor) is Emerging Business of the Year; while the credit union itself has been in business more than eight decades, it just expanded to West Seattle last year. A longtime West Seattle activist/community advocate who works for Verity, Pete Spalding, got to present the introduction. Verity CEO John Zmolek sang the acceptance speech and joked, “Believe it or not, that’s how I give a speech to my staff.” He said that even before they opened, “I knew we had come to the right neighborhood.” Zmolek also spoke about Verity having joined the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, an industry-changing organization. “We look forward to the challenge.” Branch manager Jaime Gonzalez spoke too, saying he appreciates the chance to serve the community in which he’s raising his family.

ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery is Not-for-Profit of the Year. Introducing AW reps, Dawn Leverett noted that its value isn’t just artistic merit; she mentioned that a poll of production attendees showed 70 percent spend money elsewhere in The Junction when there to see a performance. It’s been hailed recently as “the most exciting theater in the city.” Longtime volunteer Sandy Adams added that ArtsWest also features a visual-art gallery. “Dear to my heart is the sense of community fostered by ArtsWest.” The playhouse also makes tickets available to other nonprofits “to help them with their fundraising efforts.” Recent signs of its success include a 31 percent increase in single tickets, a dramatic increase in subscriptions, 41 percent increase in contributed funds, 500 new artists in the past five years, said managing director Laura Lee. “We cannot have strong art unless we have a strong business.” Artistic director Mathew Wright also spoke, citing the AW mission statement, “most importantly, uses live theater as an agent of change.” He said AW also tries to “dismantle the notion” that theater is an elitist institution, and hailed the concept of “being in the same room, at the same time, breathing the same air as storytellers.” He hopes that theater will become a vital part of daily life. AW’s next production, Office Hour,” opens Thursday.

Before the awards, attendees heard from the police chief, this year’s keynote speaker.

(Chamber board member Amy Lee Derenthal, Chief Best, Chamber CEO Jordan)

Like the Chamber’s CEO, Chief Best is in her first year on the job. She said she feels a sense of urgency because, “We have a limited time to make a difference.” Our video of her full speech:

Among the key points, Chief Best said her officers have a “hard job” that “not everybody can do” but must be done under “intense scrutiny,” from the federal consent decree to body-worn video, in-car video, the Office of Professional Accountability, and more. No other department has that level of scrutiny – “the amount of paperwork and oversight.” She noted that “housing affordability and homelessness” have become a “daily” challenge for officers to deal with. When she started 27 years ago, “All I wanted to do was catch bad guys and put ’em in jail … but the job has changed and evolved immensely since then.” They must be counselors, system navigators, EMTs, and more. “Officers are doing 10 times more work than ever before.” 15,995 crisis calls across the city last year alone, the chief said. “That’s a lot of calls to respond to.” and a 26 percent increase over the previous year. She also talked about the Navigation Team‘s role – officially overseen by Human Services. “It is clear that we have entered a new era of policing,” which she said is known as “holistic policing.”

That means “constitutional policing for everybody … we have to understand …this is our community. … We’re a part of the community, the community is part of us. … Really, it is about service.” She said SPD’s proactive work is up 38 percent; last year they made 10,212 arrests, and “about a thousand referrals to other agencies.” She insisted, “Seattle is not dying … it’s thriving,” and concluded, “We’re here to serve you … we’re absolutely committed to making the city as safe as it can be.”

IN MEMORY: Toward the start of the program, former board member Hamilton Gardiner broke the news that led to gasps around the room, announcing that another former Chamber board member, Dr. Elizabeth Pluhta, died last week at just 39 years old. Dr. Pluhta was Vice President of Administrative Services at South Seattle College, where she had helped create the 13th Year Promise scholarship program, which is now expanding to the entire city and its college system. Led by Gardiner, breakfast attendees observed a moment of silence in Dr. Pluhta’s memory.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Chamber’s next event is its monthly luncheon May 9th.

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