By Reggie Ellis
EXETER-The Exeter Chamber of Commerce's 82nd Annual Awards Banquet announced True Value Hardware as its Business of the Year.
The award was a fitting end to 35 years of community service for owners Roy and Lou Ann Hand as they officially announced that the sale of the business was in escrow.
"We aren't leaving Exeter we are just going to enjoy life in a different way," Lou Ann said about the couple's retirement. "We will still be around, but maybe a little less to do some traveling," Roy said.
Before moving to Exeter in 1970, the Hands owned a hardware store in Hayward, Calif. for five years. They were looking to move to a small town to open a hardware store. Their first choice was Lindsay, but the deal fell through, leading them north along Highway 65 to Exeter were they opened Coast to Coast, and later True Value, at 221 E. Pine St.
"They have always operated as a service to the community," Chamber President Carlos Aleman said.
Lou Ann said the new owners are Andrew and Cindy Dorais, a young couple from Vancouver, Wash., who are building a home in Exeter. The Hands will officially introduce the Doraises to the Exeter community at a grand opening, tentatively scheduled for May 12.
The other award announced at the Exeter Memorial Building Saturday night was the Beautification Award, given to the business that has done the most to improve its look and enhance the city of Exeter. This year's recipient began construction in March 2003 and did not complete it until fall of last year. But it was well worth the wait as San Joaquin Prime Care now has a beautiful new brick medical center at 330 E. Pine St. in downtown Exeter.
With nine exam rooms, the 3,900 square foot clinic includes a partial lab for on-site blood draws, free pregnancy testing, weight management classes and child health development programs, etc. The clinics average clientele is usually concentrated on children and elderly patients but the clinic is open to all age groups and accepts most medical insurance.
The other stars of the night were the chamber's Man and Woman of the Year, Heritage winners and its honorary member, all announced prior to the event. Man of the Year Leamon Smith was chosen for his continued support of community events through the chamber and the Kiwanis Club. Born in Farmersville, raised in Exeter and after living in Visalia, Smith, known as Smitty, now lives in Exeter along with his three children and eight grand-children.
"I'm trying to help the Exeter school system keep money coming in," Smith said. "We all live in Exeter now. We've had enough of Visalia."
JoAnn Dodson was named Woman of the Year for her dedication to promoting Exeter anywhere and everywhere. A former travel agent and business owner, Dodson is now an ambassador to the chamber and single-handedly organized the Santa Claus photo shoot for children during the chamber's Christmas Open House every Thursday night during December leading up to Christmas.
"People all over tell me that they want to live in a town like Exeter," Dodson said. "I am proud to live in Exeter and be the Woman of the Year."
The chamber chose Heritage Award winner Bill Sario for his continued support of the Exeter Boys & Girls Club through volunteer hours, and donating material and labor of his engineering company Rising Sun. "Since I have all the streets tore up I knew I wasn't getting the Beautification Award," said Sario, whose company is wrapping up modernizing the entire Exeter's aging water system. "I live in the best city in the world and I am honored and privileged to be a part of keeping it that way."
Heritage winner Shirley Hickam was chosen for her involvement with the Exeter Alumni Association, volunteer hours as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army and serving 10 years on the Tulare County Historical Society.
"I was skeptical when all the antique shops kept moving into town. Why don't we just open a restaurant and sell leftovers?" she joked about the flight of more traditional retail establishments. "But the city is just beautiful with the murals now. I know things have changed and its all been for good."
Lorene Holdsworth was named a Heritage winner for watching over those who can't care for themselves. Sometimes called an angel or guardian angel, Holdsworth takes care of elderly residents in Exeter, going to the grocery store for them, driving them to doctors appointments, making sure they pay their bills on time and keeping them company. For the last three years she has sent money to Honduras to help Javier Edguardo Martinez Sierra, who is now 6 years old.
"This is a great community and I couldn't do what I do without a lot of support from people who live here and my family," she said.
Geraldine "Geri" Sandidge was named the chamber's Honorary Member for volunteering her time to make sure each business was in stock of the chamber's mural guides and that each person she crossed on the streets in Exeter knew about the beautiful murals. Sandidge, 89, has said she loves the murals because they elicit memories of her childhood in the area.
"I have fun doing it, but I guess now I have to get serious," Sandidge joked. "I've been in shock about this whole [award] ever since they told me. I haven't slept, but I think I'll sleep tonight."