The Goleta Chamber of Commerce is excited to announce the 2019 Goleta’s Finest Award Winners. Goleta’s Finest is a 70-year old tradition honoring remarkable individuals whose contributions have enhanced the Goleta community. 

“The Goleta community has an amazing history of volunteerism, philanthropy and local pride. Our elders began the tradition of Goleta’s Finest in 1949,” said Kristen Miller, president & CEO of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce. “We are honored to continue the tradition this year and give our first Lifetime Achievement Award.”

The 2019 award recipients will be honored with a formal celebration on Nov. 23 from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at the beautiful Ritz-Carlton Bacara. The evening will include dinner followed by the awards ceremony.

The 2019 Goleta’s Finest winners are:

Man of the Year: Peter Brown

Few have contributed more than Peter to the early years of cityhood, shaping the general plan, bridging communication between business and government and adding his profoundly insightful analysis and experience to the complicated and sensitive work that was being done to create a brand-new city.

Peter was instrumental in the city’s work to create its first laws and procedures, while also serving on the chamber board for 12 years. In addition to being a high powered attorney and land-use expert, Peter is a singer and volunteer, and you can spot him at many of Goleta’s local events. 

Woman of the Year: Kathy Odell

A serial entrepreneur with more than 25 years of leadership experience, Kathy is actively involved in entrepreneurial activities in the Santa Barbara area as a mentor and advisor to start-ups and small business leaders.

Currently, she is turning her sights from the corporate community to leading a profound local non-profit that focused on young women entrepreneurs.

Educator of the Year: Carolyn Ross 

As music director at Goleta Valley Junior High School, Carolyn’s dedication to her students’ talents, social development, and academics is unmatched. For 11 years, she has worked with students of all skill levels not only during the school year, but with her summer camp, on weekends and during holidays.

Tireless and unflappable, she consistently goes above and beyond for each student.

Non-Profit of the Year: Girsh Park

Now celebrating its 20th year, Girsh Park has established itself as a place for all of Goleta to come together. It is home to the Lemon Festival, the 4th of July Fireworks Festival, soccer/baseball/basketball games and countless family gatherings.

Opened in 1999, this nonprofit organization is unique as a private park with city support. They have proven to be a successful model, as the more than 500,000 annual visitors will attest.

Volunteer of the Year: Dacia Harwood

Dacia’s dedication to Goleta goes beyond her years of work at the Goleta Valley Historical Society. Her passion for the community includes everything from conceiving and producing the popular Goleta Dam Dinner to encouraging others to support the important work in the community.

Student of the Year: Kathy Ramirez-Gijon

With 382.5 community service hours and a passion (and talent) for golf, Kathy is an all-around amazing person and student. She has been consistently enrolled in Honors, Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment courses, while being heavily involved in her church.

As a Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy D’Penguineer, she is a first-generation college-bound student, poised to pursue a career in mechanical engineering.

Small Business of the Year: Anna’s Bakery

Serving Goleta since 1990, Anna’s Bakery co-owners Deborah Weber and Lisa Boetler have become an local institution, synonymous with the Goleta community culture. Located in Camino Real Marketplace, the bakery is one of the oldest in Goleta.

Along with fresh cookies, brownies, custom cakes and cupcakes, their lemon pies are the “must have” item of the annual Goleta Lemon Festival, bringing people from all over the central coast back to the festival year after year.

Large Business of the Year: Community West Bank

Celebrating 30 years, Community West Bank opened its doors in 1989 to serve the local Goleta business community, and have proven themselves to be huge supporters of the community ever since. The bank provides financing to businesses, families and nonprofit organizations throughout the central and south coast, supporting job creation and vibrant local communities.

Innovation Award: AlloSphere Research Facility, UCSB

Director Dr. JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, chief designer of the three-story facility on the UC Santa Barbara campus, says the intersection of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics has facilitated exciting new avenues for scientific discovery.

But it is their strong desire to welcome research partners and collaborations of all kinds, that leads AlloSphere to make a real difference in the local community.

Entrepreneur of the Year: Michael Craig, Goleta Red Distillery

Open now just over a year, Michael Craig and his unique distillery have burst into the community by being continually present and by sharing his spirits everywhere. Michael named his distillery Goleta Red and his award-winning gin “GOODLAND,” to bring attention to his beloved city. All Goleta Red spirits are created locally at this up-and-coming Goodland jewel.

Public Servant of the Year: Riley the Rescue Dog

After eight years of service at Santa Barbara County Fire, Riley is heading to a well-earned retirement. This 11-year-old hardworking yellow Labrador mix has faced his share of disasters and has proven his mettle time and again, including in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and in Japan after the Fukushima earthquake.

Closer to home, Riley and his human partner Captain Eric Gray were first on the scene at the Montecito debris flow in 2018. 

Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael T. Bennett

Michael is known for his service in the community. He retired from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department as a Fire Battalion Chief after 36 years of service. He served on the Goleta City Council for 12 years and was mayor twice.

He is known for his help with cityhood efforts, his work on the Goleta Old Town Area Committee, and an advocate for the new fire station.

Apart from the City Council, Bennett serves on the board of directors of the Housing Trust Fund of Santa Barbara County. He has been a member of the Rotary Club of Goleta Noontime since 1990.

He has been honored with the Paul Harris Fellow award for his service to the community, and has been a member of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce since 1990. Michael was honored as Goleta’s Man of the Year in 2006.

“The tapestry of the Goleta community is woven with especially vibrant businesses, individuals and organizations,” said Kristen Miller, President & CEO of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce. “These honorees help make Goleta such a special place!”

Please join us on this memorable evening. Tickets to attend Goleta’s Finest is $175 per person. A sponsored table for a group of eight is $1,750. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Please contact the Goleta Chamber of Commerce at or 805.967.2500 ext. 5 in advance to secure your seats! 

The 2019 Goleta’s Finest awards ceremony is presented by the Goleta Chamber of Commerce.

Thank you to our Platinum Presenting Sponsors: American Riviera Bank, Buynak Fauver Archbald Spray, Community West Bank, Cox, Exxon Mobil, Montecito Bank & Trust, Pacific Premier Bank, Spherion, The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, and The Towbes Group.

We would also like to thank our Gold Sponsors: Courtyard Marriott Goleta, KARL STORZ Imaging, Marriott Residence Inn, Noozhawk, Santa Barbara Airport, and Signature Flight Support.

Silver Sponsors include: Atlantic Aviation, Brown & Brown Insurance, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Deckers Brands, FLIR System, Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, Hollister Village, Latitude 34 Technologies, Marborg Industries, Mechanics Bank, Plains All-American, Sansum Clinic, Santa Barbara Independent, Southern California Edison, UC Santa Barbara, and Union Bank.

For more information, please contact the chamber at 805.967.2500 ext. 5, or