The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday night honored Goleta’s Finest, a 63-year tradition to celebrate people who contribute to the community.
The City of Goleta was recognized for its 10-year anniversary, and the chamber chose Margaret Connell and Jim Knight as its Woman and Man of the Year.
Connell, Goleta’s first-ever mayor and a two-term city councilwoman, pushed for incorporation and has been a permanent figure in civic leadership ever since.
“Margaret Connell can rest assured that she has made an indelible mark on the City of Goleta,” chamber president and CEO Kristen Miller said in her introduction.
She added that Connell has not only been a joiner — she’s an active volunteer — but a proactive leader, with 17 years as a school board member and a driving force behind the city’s incorporation in 2002.
“I’m awed to be in such company,” Connell said of past winners, movers and shakers within the Goleta Valley.
She received a standing ovation from the hundreds of people who gathered at Bacara Spa & Resort, and said she was humbled and proud of being recognized.
She said it’s with some relief and a great deal of sadness that she’s retiring from the City Council after next week’s meeting, and she thanked her many colleagues over the years on the dais and within city staff.
Knight, who helped found Amber Engineering and Indigo Systems Corp., said he had the most fun in business with small companies. He and co-founders built them from scratch and were able to make all the decisions themselves on the fly, with fewer restrictions than larger companies find, he said.
Both startups grew to more than 200 employees and were eventually sold — to Raytheon Co. and FLIR Systems, respectively — and Knight was very involved in the community in the meantime. He has served on the boards of the Santa Barbara and Goleta Valley chambers of commerce and sits on the director’s council for UCSB’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. Seeing that the cost of doing business in the Goleta Valley is increasing, he said he wants to focus on keeping the area attractive to new businesses.
He now works as executive vice president of the scientific nonprofit Novim, which addresses issues such as climate change.
Knight said his success in business comes from partnering well and choosing people who excel in areas where he was weak or with which he needed help. He thanked his wife, Janice, for her support as well.
“She’s the partner that allows a partnership to be 1 + 1 = 100,” he said.
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Daly, who is now semi-retired from his international event planning company, has always been fascinated with etiquette and was inspired to start the program while volunteering with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Santa Barbara County.
The classes for at-risk youths are offered through Teen Court and the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, and teach how to dress and behave in interviews and restaurants and to prepare job applications.
“This to us as business people is amazing, but this to us as humans is even more amazing,” Venoco Inc.’s Lisa Rivas said.
Daly has been an active volunteer for 15 years, but recently has been focusing on teenagers and young adults with his work. He loves working with teenagers and understands them very well, unlike many adults, he said.
“These past 3½ years have been, without a doubt, the most rewarding of my life,” Daly said while accepting his award.
San Marcos High School teacher Russell Granger was honored as Educator of the Year for his work in the automotive technologies program. His students learn to disassemble, inspect and repair engines, and transform gasoline-fueled vehicles into electric cars. Advanced students take on clients and handle the whole process, from diagnosing the vehicle to making repairs, so they learn social and business skills along with technical skills.
“It’s truly amazing what happens when one person makes it their mission to empower others and change lives,” said Sarah Clark of Cox Communications.
More than 200 students take Granger’s classes each year, many of them with career goals in the engineering, mechanical and medical fields.
Granger thanked the community for its support of local education with passing parcel taxes. Education in California has been hit hard, and “at times it feels like there’s no hope, but the election showed otherwise,” he said.
His program has partnerships with the automobile industry so students can get internships and scholarships, since the industry wants well-educated, well-trained future employees, Granger has said.
Dos Pueblos High School senior Haley Peterson was honored as Student of the Year for work on her campus and beyond. She is editor in chief of The Charger Account, Dos Pueblos’ online-only news organization, and won honorable mention for feature writing at this year’s National High School Journalism Convention in San Antonio. She’s an avid writer, penning news articles, feature stories and poetry that she’s entered in county competitions.
As a senior at Dos Pueblos, she is a captain on the cross-country team, a varsity softball player and president of Usherettes.
Peterson hopes to hear from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 2½ weeks about being accepted for next fall. She said she plans to major in nutrition.
She insisted that the real credit for her hard work and accolades goes to her parents, Nancy and Jim Peterson. They taught her how to balance school and extracurriculars, all while showing her how to be a normal teenager and be her true self.
They taught her to “seek adventure in the face of boredom” and “seek success when I was pushed to the brink of exhaustion,” said Peterson, who also thanked her brother, Carter.
This year’s Nonprofit of the Year is the Goleta Valley Historical Society, which runs Rancho La Patera & Stow House with scores of volunteers, and hosts big events such as Old Spanish Days’ Fiesta Ranchera.
Next Energy Technologies was selected as Entrepreneur of the Year for its work with solar energy. The company has been part of the Goleta Valley for 18 months, after being founded by UC Santa Barbara alumni Corey Hoven and Daniel Emmett.
“This is the future for us here, what companies are going to look like,” said Michael Witherell, UCSB’s vice chancellor for research.
InTouch Health’s medical devices are in 400 hospitals and serve medical needs all over the world, including military hospitals in Iraq and earthquake-striken Haiti, according to Steve Jordan, executive vice president of research and development.
Impulse, which has been part of the community for 15 years, works on communication services for businesses, President Dave Clark said. Recently, the company has turned its focus to helping smaller, local companies.
Senior Planning Services was honored as Community Business of the Year for its work with the elderly.
Spherion owner Trish Miller said the No. 1 reason the organization is being honored is because of its founder, Suzanne McNeely, and her quest to help the elderly and disabled live in comfort and with dignity.
McNeely started her business in 1989 and thanked the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce for recognizing her company’s work. It was the first geriatric care managed home-care agency in the area and now partners with many other organizations to provide services and resources to families. McNeely said Senior Planning Services helps seniors continue being part of society.