Chamber names its man, woman of the year
One serves as an insurance salesman. The other remains active with her family's company. While their careers tend to pull them in different directions, the countless hours they invest outside of work brings them together to help make Mountain Home a better place to live.
On Saturday evening, representatives from the Chamber applauded Rich Sykes and Vickie Bermensolo by selecting them as Mountain Home's Man and Woman of the Year.
Honored during the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce's Installation Banquet, the pair joined the nearly 40 other individuals that have earned the distinction since 1993.
In addition, the chamber presented its lifetime achievement award to former county commissioner Arlie Shaw in recognition of his commitment to Mountain Home and surrounding communities.
During his comments at the banquet, chamber president Robby Robinson highlighted the community's progress over the past 12 months as it recovers from turbulent economic challenges in recent years. To keep the local economy strong, he urged those gathered that evening to take programs like the "shop local" initiative to heart.
Saturday's banquet came as the city sees new signs of optimism in terms of economic growth, according to Mayor Tom Rist.
"It's been a really good year for the city of Mountain Home," the mayor said. "There are a number of things that are 'on fire' with our economic development."
However, the economic news comes as the city braces for a major setback in terms of state-generated revenue. Currently under debate by the state legislature is a plan to eliminate the state's personal property tax.
If implemented in its entirety, it would lead to significant cuts in tax dollars the city receives each year from the state. According to the mayor, a number of Idaho legislators are pushing to repeal the tax in one push, versus a gradual decline that would give city and county governments and other taxing districts time to find alternatives to deal with the loss in revenue.
At the same time, nearby Mountain Home Air Force Base faces similar monetary challenges. With the military bracing for sweeping budget cuts under the national sequestration plan, it's expected to have a significant impact on those stationed here.
The mayor then paused to pay tribute to the men and women of the local Air Force base, "which we support wholeheartedly," he said.
Col. Chris Short, commander of the 366th Fighter Wing at the base, offered his personal thanks for the community's unwavering support of the nearly 5,000 military members stationed here. During his opening remarks, he emphasized that the installation and city share a special bond rarely seen in other communities across the United States.
"Mountain Home has a reputation nationwide for the support that it gives to the military," Short said. It's a special relationship that fosters a cohesive team between the base and city.
The city's support for those in uniform remained visually present throughout the evening as selected individuals highlighted a new effort starting to take root in Mountain Home. Wearing combat boots with their formal evening attire, they sought to raise awareness of the Boot Campaign -- a non-profit veterans relief organization.
The Boot Campaign started in Texas as a "visible and tangible was to draw attention to the need to support our amazing military in more than just a word," the organization said in a prepared statement. It seeks to provide various types of support to active duty military members and veterans, especially those wounded in service to their nation.
Following dinner, the evening's agenda changed direction to focus on recognizing the chamber's man and woman of the year. As in year's past, the names of each winner remained under wraps until the formal presentation.
Looking back at the list of people that previously earned the chamber's yearly honor, Sykes admits he was humbled to be included among these individuals.
"Those people were 'doers and makers' that made Mountain Home a great community," he said.
Selfless individuals with big hearts, these role models never complain about the amount of work needed to make a difference in the community, he added. They get involved to make great things happen.
"They put themselves out there to make this community the best it can be," Sykes said.
Over the years, he's remained heavily involved in the local Lions Club while helping to raise money through various fundraisers like bowling tournaments to benefit non-profit organizations here.
"When you see the rest of the community get involved in something, you can't help but get involved as well," he said. "It's like catching a cold, but it's something you don't want to get rid of."
In recent years, he's remained heavily involved in the Gunfighter Skies open house at the nearby Air Force base.
"I enjoy how the city and base have this cohesive relationship, and I love showing that to the rest of the state," he said.
Held once every two years, the military open house "gives our airmen -- our nation's fighting force -- much-deserved kudos," he said.
Bermensolo admits being caught off guard after she realized she was the one selected for the woman of the year title.
"It takes a while to filter through (your head) that they're not talking about someone similar to you, but that they're actually talking about you," she said. "I'm still a bit shell shocked."
Reluctant to stand in the spotlight herself, she prefers standing "in the background" to make this community a better place to live.
Reflecting on the award's significance, she considers it a way to acknowledge "very good people that give back to their community" without asking for anything in return, she said.
A former registered nurse that served in Boise and later in Mountain Home and Gooding, her desire to help in the community took root when she joined the Giving Tree program. Each year, the all-volunteer organization provides needed help to financially strapped families in the Mountain Home community during the holiday season. Last year, Bermensolo took over as the head of this relief organization.
At the same time, she continued to foster the relationship the city shares with those stationed at the local Air Force base.
"I totally enjoy working with these Air Force people," Bermensolo said. "They are wonderful, worldly, patriotic people that we're blessed to have in our lives, even if it's for a short time."
Bermensolo also applauded the efforts of the chamber's team of volunteers that serve on various committees aimed at fostering the community's future development.
"We've had some great people that stepped up when it was their turn and made a mark in our community," she said.
As he heard the citation for the lifetime achievement award being read, Shaw admits he was totally shocked when he realized he was the one being honored.
"When you earn an award like this and see who else had earned it (over the years), it makes you feel even more honored to be included with this group of men and women," he said. "It's quite a privilege."
Shaw, who stepped down as a county commissioner last month, said it's important for people to give something back to their community without asking for anything in return.
"We're so lucky to have such a special place" that fosters this type of volunteer spirit, he said.
During his time as a county commissioner, Shaw admits there were a number of initiatives this three-person team fostered over the years to make the city and county even stronger. Building the Elmore Ambulance Service into an efficient, cohesive team topped that list of achievements, he said.
"Beforehand, it was in such a disarray... and we got a lot of complaints from the public," Shaw said. The problem dealt with its organizational structure, which impeded the capabilities of its paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
It took the efforts of countless individuals to reach their goal -- refining the ambulance service into a top-notch team that provides exceptional service to this county, he said.
Prior to his service with the county, Shaw was actively involved in finding a permanent home for Rimrock High School.
"There was a lot of dissent between the people living in Bruneau and Grand View on where the school would be located," he said.
He was part of the committee that worked together to find a suitable site for the high school. "There was a lot of work to make that happen," he said. "It was quite a project."
As part of the evening's festivities, Magistrate Judge George Hicks swore in the chamber's incoming board of directors. Robinson started his second year as the chamber president while Tammy McCloud continued her duties as vice president. In addition, the chamber recognized the leaders of its committees, which oversee travel and tourism, community events and more.