Exeter Chamber recognizes Man, Woman, Business of the Year and Heritage and Beautification award winners at annual banquet
By Reggie Ellis
EXETER– Cyclists, physical therapists, hairstylists and dog enthusiasts all have something in common in Exeter – they are dedicated to their city and the people in it.
On Feb. 22, the Exeter Chamber of Commerce held its 97th annual Awards Banquet at the Exeter Memorial Building. The event honors those whose commitment, dedication and teamwork has made a positive impact on the people, quality of life and the business community of Exeter. The Man and Woman of the Year award are given to those who volunteer their time to improve and promote Exeter. The Heritage Award honors someone who provided outstanding service to and made contributions to the community for more than 25 years. Business of the Year is selected based on its impact in the community in developing a positive workforce and strong business principles. The Beautification Award is given to businesses or organizations that constantly works toward exhibiting pride in their business and community and setting an example for others.
Woman of the Year – Carole Dillon
For Carole Dillon, the answer to her question was HOW. This year’s Woman of the Year was one of the founding members of the Exeter chapter of Helping One Woman (HOW), an organization that holds monthly fundraising dinners to support women struggling to make ends meet. Dillon started the chapter after attending a HOW dinner in Hanford for her daughter-in-law Jenny, who was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor. Dillon said she will never forget the overwhelming feeling of love and support she felt at the event in September 2015.
“She stood up there with her bald head from chemo with her 15-month-old daughter Anne and a huge crowd of people were there supporting her,” Dillon said. “You can’t enough show enough appreciation. All you can do is try to do that for someone else.”
The experience inspired her to start her own chapter in Exeter where she had meet many struggling mothers during her 28 years of teaching kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary School. After meeting with HOW directors, Dillon formed the local chapter and held her first dinner in July 2016. The dinner was for a close friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was forced to quit working during her treatments. Without a job, the woman lost her health insurance and could not afford insurance on her own.
“It was an amazing night and there were a lot of tears,” Dillon said. “She was gone just five weeks later but I will never forget that night.”
In 2017, Dillon’s two-and-a-half year-old grandson Jace had just received a bone marrow transplant. At just six months old he was diagnosed with Wiskoutt-Aldrich Syndrome, an immune deficiency in the blood that prevents clotting. Dillon said the family was living in hotels in the Bay Area just to be near their son and were having to travel back and forth for work when they could putting a huge strain on their finances.
“He had a lot of complications from the chemo but you wouldn’t know it today,” Dillon said. “He’s a ball of energy.”
The evening underscored the need for HOW dinners that require attendees to pay $11 for their meal plus a $10 gift. It’s called a gift and not a donation because the money can be used however the family sees fit. Some families use it to buy new clothes for those who have lost weight during treatments while others have used it to buy gas cards for travel to and from overnight doctor’s appointments out of the area.
This July, the Exeter chapter of HOW will celebrate four years of helping women through life changing events. To date, the Exeter chapter has raised more than $112,000 for 38 women. Dillon has only missed one dinner in four years to attend a family reunion out of state.
“I stand up there every month and I can feel the love in the room,” Dillon said. “I’m grateful Exeter has embraced this.”
Dillon may be the one at the podium but she certainly doesn’t put on the events alone. She has an active and dedicated group of fellow women including Rose Bjarke, Robyn Perna, Felicia Capps, Jeannie Paragin, Sally Perkinson and Judy Davenport. She also has a growing list of dedicated attendees that include former coworkers, neighbors and friends from church.
“One woman comes with her granddaughter every month so that she can see what a big difference a little giving can make in someone’s life,” Dillon said. “We all need to see firsthand a reason why we need to give to others.”
The next HOW dinner in Exeter will take place on March 10. The beneficiary is Elysian Rose, who was diagnosed with photosensitive epilepsy, Asperger’s, hyp-thyroidism and development delays at birth. For the last 24 years, she has been unable to be in the sun, go to the movies, watch tv, use a smartphone, play video games or enjoy the Fourth of July. Her medical expenses are more than $1,200 every other month and her single mother and sole care giver, Sandra Dorado, is having health issues of her own and can no longer keep up with the demands of running her own fundraisers to cover the costs of her daughter’s care.
If you want to nominate someone to be the beneficiary of a HOW dinner you must attend a dinner to nominate them. HOW dinner’s in Exeter are held on the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Exeter Memorial Building, 324 N. Kaweah Ave. in Exeter. To register for the dinner, go to mysosevent.com and search for Exeter events. For more information, call Carole Dillon at 559-731-7304.
Man of the Year – Charles Duby
Many people who grow up in a small city run from their hometown in hopes of making it big somewhere else. Charles Duby, this year’s Man of the Year, decided he wanted to run toward his hometown in the hopes of making it a bigger draw to keep people here.
Duby had only finished his second ever triathlon in 2014 in Tulare when he realized it could easily be done in Exeter. The small city was easy to work with to close down local roads and city staff helped him approach Caltrans to close down roadways near Highway 65. Instead of running an event to make money, Duby and his friends decided to make a running event that raised money for the community.
“All we did was say, ‘Why not have a triathlon in Exeter?’,” Duby said. “That’s all it took to get it started in 2015.”
In the first five years of the race, the Rocky Hill Triathlon has donated $124,000 to community projects in Exeter, many of them concentrated on revitalizing City Park near Lincoln Elementary School and the library. The money has built a toddler play structure along with security fencing and benches for supervision parents, put shade structures over both playground sets and installed new swing sets. Donations have also added a shade and rubberized flooring for play structures at Schroth Park at the corner of Belmont Road and Vine Street.
“To say that raising that amount of money is humbling doesn’t even begin to describe it,” Duby said.
The success of the race is due to its organizers, a group of Exeter professionals who spend much of their free time training for and competing in marathons and triathlons. The Rocky Hill crew include Melanie White, David Nielsen, Brady Johnston, Kevin Martin, Tom Clar and Jamie Wilson, who has competed in three Iron Man triathlons on his own.
“This is a course made by triathletes for triathletes and we all know if you want it to be successful you have to challenge people,” Duby said.
The formidable course begins with either a grueling 800 yard swim at the Exeter Union High School pool, followed by a steep cycle up Rocky Hill and nearly 25 miles overall before a 6.2 mile run back to the high school. The event practically named itself as Rocky Hill has been a beacon for fitness fans for years. The iconic landmark not only provided an emblematic backdrop but also its most imposing pitch. Duby himself has never competed in the Rocky Hill Triathlon because he wants to oversee the details of the race and make sure competitors enjoy testing their mettle. Each year’s race exceeds expectations. When the race began in 2015, they had a goal of 100 participants and 140 signed up. Last year, they had to turn people away because they only had enough medals for 185 finishers. This year, the bought 225 medals and registration is already racing toward the March 14 event.
“I never expected it to do what it’s been able to do,” Duby said.
But you don’t have to run, swim or bike to be part of the triathlon. Due to the race’s mission of showcasing Exeter as a destination, cleaning up trash along the route is a huge undertaking in the weeks before the race. This year’s clean up event will be on Saturday, March 7. Duby said volunteers should meet at 9 a.m. on Rocky Hill drive at the Friant-Kern Canal before hiking up the loop to Yokohl Valley Road, Meyer Avenue to Spruce Avenue and then back to Rocky Hill Drive.
“The recognition from the award is great, but doesn’t change or mission of making it better every year,” Duby said.
Business of the Year – PRO-PT
PRO-PT believes in treating the whole person, but it is it’s treatment of the whole community that earned it the honor of this year’s Business of the Year.
PRO-PT opened its Exeter office in April 2015 with one provider and one front office person. In just under five years, the Exeter office has grown to include five providers and two front office personnel as well as eight part-time aides. PRO-PT specializes in orthopedic injuries, spine care, balance and fall prevention, post surgery and workers’ compensation rehabilitation, athletic training, and impact concussion screening.
“It is a huge honor to be recognized with Business of the Year Award, it affirms our mutual trust and respect within the community we serve and it feels really good to know that people recognize how hard we work,” said Steffani Rich, a physical therapist and clinical director for the PRO-PT office in Exeter.
One person nominated the rehabilitation company because “they honestly love their clients and treat them with respect.” They provide offer free orthopedic exams and concussion testing and screening for Exeter Union High School student athletes, participate in community events and support local sporting events, such as the Rocky Hill Triathlong and Hell of a Half Marathon. They financially support a variety of youth organizations in Exeter including the Eels swim team, Boys & Girls Club, Boy Scout, youth soccer and karate programs.
Another person noted: “I feel PRO-PT is a business that shows the community its appreciation by being there for the people and their physical needs.”
PRO-PT had a presence in Exeter even before they had an office. In 2014, Exeter Union High School was the pilot project for the physical therapy corporation’s effort to have certified athletic trainers at practices and games in a collaboration with the high school. This is the sixth year that PRO-PT has split the cost of a sideline trainer with the Exeter Unified School District.
Since opening its first location in Visalia in 2001, co-founders Todd Martin and Ronald Eynaud have opened 13 other locations in Porterville, Tulare, Lindsay and Dinuba in Tulare County as well as Kingsburg, Fresno, Clovis and Madera. PRO-PT is also proposing a new location in Visalia at the northwest corner of Mooney Boulevard and Riggin Avenue.
Like Rich, most of the company’s therapists are home-grown talent from Tulare County and the Valley. He said their dedicated physical therapists provide personalized and innovative care to help patients achieve their optimal function. For more information on PRO-PT in Exeter, call Steffani Rich at 559-592-9000 or visit www.pro-pt.net.
Heritage Award – Kristie Brasiel
This year’s Heritage Award winner was selected for her dedication to Exeter’s small town charm. Kristie Brasiel has lived in Exeter all of her life and says nothing epitomizes the town’s quaintness quite like Fall Festival. Brasiel’s appreciation for the annual October event dates back to attending the carnival as a child. In 1973, she was one of the contestants for Red Carpet Festival Queen, a precursor to what is now known as Fall Festival.
“That experience really inspired me to want to give back to my community,” she said. “You really see how the whole community comes together to make something happen.”
After high school, Brasiel worked briefly for a local chiropractor before going to vocational school to get her cosmetology certification. She’s been cutting and styling hair in Exeter for 30 years with the last 10 running her own beauty shop Kristie Brasiel’s Dazzle at 275 E. Pine St. in downtown Exeter. For the last 20 years she has donated her time every week to cut hair for senior citizens at The Manor House retirement home and has donated her scissor skills twice at the Exeter Relay for Life cutting hair for Locks of Love, an organization that uses donated hair to make wigs for cancer patients.
As an adult, Brasiel realized that there is no Fall Festival without the work of Exeter Chamber of Commerce, so she decided to become a board member. She served on the board of directors for two terms from 2013-2019 during which she made baskets for silent auctions, attended ribbon cuttings and mixers each month and as a business owner has sponsored five contestants for Miss Exeter, the successor title to the Red Carpet and later Fall Festival Queen. She personally gets involved with the girls and helps them along through that journey. She remembers one girl in particular, Christine Molina, the daughter of Terry Molina, a message therapist who works at her shop.
“She was as shy and you could be but the experience of meeting people in the community and being interviewed helped her come out of her shell,” Brasiel said.
Chamber members didn’t waste any time in recognizing Brasiel’s volunteering spirit when they nominated her for the award one year after she left the board, the minimum time a former board member is eligible for a chamber award. Not one to stand still, Brasiel is now fully engaged in the Exeter Kiwanis Club where she holds a familiar job, making silent auction baskets, for the club’s annual wine tasting and Christmas tree auction event Spirit of the Holidays. Brasiel said she hopes news about the award will inspire others, especially young adults, to give back to the community.
“If we don’t keep it going we won’t have what we have today,” Brasiel said.
Beautification Award – Exeter Bark Park
They say that the longer you own a pet, the more you can see a resemblance to the owner. That’s also true of the Exeter Bark Park, this year’s Beautification Award winner, where you can see impressions left by every aspect of the community. In addition to the people and pets that partake in the park, the land across the street from city hall was donated by the city and so was some of the chain link fencing, Exeter high school students welded together and installed the poop bag stations, companies donated piping for the sprinkler system, another company donated a portion of the solar lights around the perimeter, one Boy Scout project placed railroad ties along the fenceline to keep the dogs from digging underneath and another built an arbor and bench for their Eagle Scout projects.
All of that community support takes a lot of coordination, and that’s where Mike Germaine and his pack of pet-minded supporters worked to shepherd the way. Germaine moved to Exeter in 2001 to be closer to his children and noticed there wasn’t a dog park anywhere this side of Visalia. So he started a petition to open one only to find someone else in town was already working on it. Once they combined their efforts, the petition was presented to the City Council with 250 names. The group eventually created a nonprofit called Friends of Residential Exeter Dogs executive committee, or FREDEx for short. Many people have helped along the way, but Germaine said a special few deserve to be named including Denise Albright, Maralou Higgins, Robert and Tricia Blattler, Mike East, Suzie Macaluso, Pat Fuller, Dave McNair and Patricia Miller.
The Exeter Bark Park continues to draw dog lovers from all over the country as the last dog park before the entrance to Sequoia National Park. Germaine contends it is the nicest dog park in Tulare County, because it offers seating, shade, water and areas to separate large from small dogs. The only thing the park doesn’t have is adequate lighting. Germaine said his group is currently raising funds to buy brighter, broader lights so the dog park will get more use during the summer months, when pet owners prefer to visit after it cools down at night.