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Eric Onnen, Miye Ota Honored as Goleta’s Finest Man and Woman of the Year

For 69th year, Goleta Chamber of Commerce brings business and community together to celebrate ‘heartbeat’ of Goleta

Miye Ota Click to view larger
The 100-year-old Miye Ota quipped her way though her acceptance speech as Goleta’s Finest Woman of the Year, but her accomplishments as an entrepreneur, business owner and visionary civic leader played a serious role in the community’s development. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The Goleta Chamber of Commerce on Friday continued a 69-year tradition of honoring remarkable individuals, businesses and organizations whose contributions have enhanced the community.

The packed annual gala at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara opened with a cocktail reception and buffet in the resort’s ballroom.

Some 400 well-dressed guests attended the celebration, and the honorees were invited on stage to make brief remarks.

“It’s always a special night — you can always feel the heartbeat of Goleta’s community spirit and feel the history,” said Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta chamber, who also recognized the organization’s board members, sponsors and elected officials in the audience.

“Our community awards celebration is one of the many ways that business and the community comes together.”

Hallie Avolio, the chamber’s board chairwoman and sales and marketing director at family-owned Latitude 34˚ Technologies, served as the evening’s emcee.

“The chamber is truly celebrating our fantastic community,” she told the audience. “We recognize that our community is not only made up of businesses but volunteers, nonprofits, educators, students, entrepreneurs and many people who go out of their way to give back to the great city of Goleta.”

The 2018 Goleta’s Finest winners were:

Man of the Year

Eric Onnen, co-founder of Santa Barbara Airbus and a former Goleta mayor and councilman, was recognized for his commitment as a civic leader, volunteer and business owner. He was described as a pillar in the Goleta Valley community for more than 35 years.

Onnen was born in the Midwest and attended UC Santa Barbara. He served one term on the City Council, including an appointed one-year term as mayor in 2009, and is a former city planning commissioner, former Goleta chamber board member and a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Goleta.

Eric Onnen Click to view larger
Eric Onnen, co-founder of family-owned Santa Barbara Airbus and honored as Goleta’s Finest Man of the Year, expressed appreciation for the communuty he has called home for most of his life. “I’ve been incredibly blessed to have a sense of place, a place that I believe is important,” he said. “The thing that makes Goleta so special is the people who are in it.” (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

In 1983, Onnen co-founded Santa Barbara Airbus. The locally owned and Old Town Goleta-based company serves Southern California and is know for its familiar buses running to and from Los Angeles International Airport. The company employs about 60 people and operates more than 20 vehicles.

Onnen received an enthusiastic standing ovation.

“I almost feel like I know all of you here this evening, and have had some direct contact with you in my life in Goleta,” he said.

Thanking his family, colleagues and friends, he said he appreciated “the support and the feeling of love.”

“I’ve been incredibly blessed to have a sense of place, a place that I believe is important,” Onnen said. “The thing that makes Goleta so special is the people who are in it.”

Woman of the Year

With an entrepreneurial spirit and deep family roots in Goleta, 100-year-old Miye Ota was honored as one of the founding members of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, and the only woman on its board.

Ota and her late husband, Ken, were both champion ballroom dance teachers, and spent decades teaching aikido class and cultural classes.

“We taught the kids to dance with feeling,” she said.

The Otas taught for more than 40 years in Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito and at UCSB.

Ota’s popular beauty parlor was a fixture in Old Town Goleta for decades.

She, too, received a standing ovation.

Ota broke out into an impromptu song during her acceptance speech.

“Thank you all, and I love you all,” she said.

Small Nonprofit of the Year

The Housing Trust Fund of Santa Barbara County, a nonprofit financing agency and community development financial institution, was honored for its mission of expanding affordable housing opportunities for low-to-middle income residents and workers in the county.

The organization helps maintain the local socio-economic fabric by addressing the fundamental building block of healthy communities — housing that is affordable to local workers and residents.

In 2018, the Housing Trust Fund launched the $3.5 million Workforce Housing Homebuyer Program, providing down payment assistance loans to the workforce.

Large Nonprofit of the Year

St. Vincent’s was honored as the longest-running area nonprofit organization devoted to strengthening low-income families and seniors.

It was recognized for establishing Santa Barbara County’s first infirmary for children, providing low-income housing for families and seniors and for the Daughters of Charity that helped shape the community beginning in 1858.

St. Vincent’s is celebrating 160 years of operation this year.

Volunteer of the Year

Longtime business leader Tony Vallejo was honored for his passion for volunteering.

Vallejo has served Goleta residents and businesses for more than 20 years through his work advising local business owners as a certified public accountant.

He is well-known for serving on several nonprofit boards like the Knights of Columbus, Rotary Club of Goleta, United Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara County, the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, UCP Works, the Goleta Old Town Community Association, the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital Foundation, the Goleta Chamber of Commerce and the Go Red for Women steering committee.

Vallejo grew up in Carpinteria, attended UCSB and has lived in the Goleta Valley ever since.

“There’s nothing better than helping your community,” he said during his acceptance speech. “It’s a great way to spend your time. Find a cause you believe in.”

Student of the Year

Dos Pueblos High School senior Nolan Montgomery was recognized for spearheading efforts to raise money for Montecito disaster relief through a January benefit community concert at the school.

Montgomery quickly organized the musical tribute benefit concert, which brought together talented youth performers from across the South Coast and raised about $8,000 for the United Way Thomas Fire and Flood Fund.

In addition to his event planning skills, he also starred in Dos Pueblos’ production of Newsies; is an anchor of DPNews, the school’s media news department; is a Santa Barbara Teen Star winner; and also volunteers in the community.

Upon graduation in June, Montgomery plans to pursue a bachelor of fine arts degree in music theater and audition for Broadway.

Educator of the Year

Amanda Fox, a special education professional and psychologist at Kellogg School in the Goleta Union School District, was acknowledged for providing highly skilled counseling services and a loving kindness that envelops the students in her care.

Kellogg School received the honor of a California Distinguished School this year, and Principal Kimberly Bruzzese largely gave credit to Fox for leading the intervention program for which the school was ultimately recognized.

Entrepreneur of the Year

Beverly Doman, owner of Nothing Bundt Cakes, was recognized for thriving in a difficult market, her unwavering spirit and community involvement.

Doman’s business at 5784 Calle Real in the Calle Real Center provides support to many area nonprofit organizations by donating hand-decorated and fresh-baked signature bundt cakes, bundtinis and bundtlets.

Old Town Business of the Year

Santa Barbara Cider Co. was honored for adding new flavor to the brew scene in Old Town. Owner Ben Schroeder embraces the “funkier-zone” in Old Town Goleta with a thriving cider business.

Small Business of the Year

Family-owned Por La Mar Nursery was recognized for its thriving agriculture business along South Patterson Avenue.

Ron Caird, a horticulturalist, and his family have operated the business since 1972, and Por La Mar prides itself as being the first American grown certified potted plant producer in the United States since 2015.

The business stretches across 120 acres behind Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, and the family has employed many residents for generations.

Large Business of the Year

Internationally renowned KARL STORZ Imaging was honored as one of Goleta’s largest employers and a leader in advanced minimally invasive endoscopic technology.

The high-tech company put down roots in the city by purchasing its building along South Los Carneros Road in 2014.

The business employees nearly 400 people.

The family-owned company has grown into a global manufacturer and distributor of medical instruments, endoscopes and devices since its inception in 1945.

Special Recognition of the Year

Santa Barbara Support Network was honored for organizing essential and heartfelt outreach to victims of the deadly Jan. 9 flash flooding and debris flows in Montecito.

Hastily organized by a group of Washington School moms and led by local attorney Tara Ford, its mission is to support the immediate needs of families who have lost homes, family members and belongings. The group played a critical role linking residents with community resources such as housing and temporary work.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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