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Steve Fedde, left, vice president of Sares-Regis Group, presented the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Entrepreneur of the Year award to Noozhawk founder Bill Macfadyen. (Ellen Guhring photo)

Noozhawk founder and publisher William M. Macfadyen took home the Entrepreneur of the Year award Thursday night from an annual ceremony honoring Goleta’s Finest.

Macfadyen, past chairman of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, was among a dozen recipients of as many awards at the black-tie affair, complete with gourmet food, wine and jazz music in the high-ceilinged ballroom of Bacara Resort & Spa.

As is custom, the 60th annual event culminated with the presentation of the city’s two crown jewel awards: man and woman of the year.

This year, Man of the Year honors went to former teacher and current Realtor Merlyn Cummings, current president of Goleta Valley Beautiful, and a volunteer for such entities as the Fourth of July Parade, graffiti removal crew, a cleanup and fix-up group through his church, and an organization of counselors who help victims of prostate cancer.

After teaching social studies at Goleta Valley Junior High for 23 years, Cummings — who has been in the real estate business for 25 years — stayed on at the school for two years as a volunteer mentor.

Woman of the Year honors went to Colette Hadley, executive director of the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, which for 45 years has helped local students pay for their higher education. This year the nationally recognized foundation plans to give out $8.6 million in student aid — a record for the nonprofit organization.

“I have the best job in the world, to run the best nonprofit in the world,” Hadley said, speaking to the roughly 250 people in the audience. “It’s simple: We raise money, we give it away.”

For his part, Macfadyen said Noozhawk’s readership and advertising have risen steadily over the course of its seven-month existence. During his speech, Macfadyen made clear one of Noozhawk’s primary missions: to get the community to help cover itself, in the form of citizen submissions.

“Whether we have two reporters or 10 reporters or 100 reporters, we will always be outnumbered,” he said. “We’re hoping Noozhawk will offer that position and that forum for the community.”

Macfadyen added that, to date, more than 1,000 individuals have published articles on the site.

“We are pleased to have this opportunity,” he said. “You have our word we will continue to cover this community with the respect and the enthusiasm that it deserves.”

Before launching Noozhawk in October, Macfadyen in 2002 co-founded the South Coast Beacon, a weekly community newspaper that garnered the California Newspapers Publishers Association‘s General Excellence Award, an unprecedented honor for a startup. But he closed the paper in 2005 after three years in existence for lack of advertising. Before that, he was a senior editor at the Santa Barbara News-Press for 15 years.

The Goleta’s Finest award was the second for Noozhawk this year. In January, Macfadyen and Noozhawk received the County of Santa Barbara Business & Industrial Association‘s Entrepreneur of the Year award.

The night witnessed a bit of levity with the introduction, by ATK Space Systems engineer Mike Eskenazi, of the high school Educator of the Year, Amir Abo-Shaeer, who heads up the successful Dos Pueblos High’s Engineering Academy.

“He has the most difficult job in the world,” Eskenazi said, pacing the stage like a comedian. “His job is to make teenagers think that it’s cool to be an engineer.”

With that, Eskenazi flogged his own profession with a few self-deprecating jokes, such as: “What’s the world’s shortest book? The Engineer’s Guide to Fashion.”

On a more serious note, he said Abo-Shaeer has succeeded in not only getting more students to take interest in the field of engineering, but also in getting more girls involved in what traditionally has been a male-dominated profession. What’s more, he noted that Abo-Shaeer has secured a $3 million matching grant from the state for an expanded campus for the academy, although to receive the money Abo-Shaeer and the school must raise the same amount from the community.

With this in mind, Abo-Shaeer made a plea to the crowd.

“I need your help to make this dream happen,” he said.

The complete list of 2008 Goleta’s Finest honorees are:

• Small Business of the Year: Anderson Systems, presented by Scott Gordon, president of Haagen Printing

• Large Business of the Year: Citrix Online, presented by Joanne Funari, president of Business First National Bank

• Entrepreneur of the Year: William M. Macfadyen/, presented by Steve Fedde, vice president of Cabrillo Business Park

• Special Recognition: Don Oparah/UCSB Venture Acceleration Initiative, presented by John Davies, CEO of Davies Public Affairs

• Human Services Professional of the Year: Joyce McCullough, presented by Randy Weiss, community relations vice president, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust

• Public Servant of the Year: Greg Nordyke, presented by Bob Grisson, general manager of Cox Media

• Student of the Year: Stacie Rayburn Raichelle of Bishop Diego High, presented by Craig Zimmerman,  president of The Towbes Group Inc.

• Elementary School Educator of the Year: Edward Armstrong of Foothill School, presented by Rob Skinner, chief operating officer of Montecito Bank & Trust

• High School Educator of the Year: Amir Abo-Shaeer, director of Dos Pueblos High’s Engineering Academy, presented by Mike Eskenazi of ATK Space Systems

• Volunteer of the Year: Christine LeBon, presented by Jim Knight, chairman of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce

• Man of the Year: Merlyn Cummings, presented by Steve Greig of Venoco Inc.

• Woman of the Year: Colette Hadley, presented by Annie Montalvo, executive director of Bacara Resort & Spa

In addition, several thousand dollars were raised through a silent auction to benefit the Goleta Education Foundation.

Rob Kuznia, Noozhawk Staff Writer

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at