Woodlake shines light on community members with annual awards

Woodlake announces this year’s winners for annual awards, which recognize businesses, teachers and other individuals who are active members in the community

WOODLAKE – This year, the city of Woodlake honored multiple residents and businesses for their contributions to make the community in 2022.

On March 3, the city will gather at the Woodlake Veterans Memorial Building to celebrate the winners of this year’s awards. Not only are multiple teachers and school employees being recognized, but also some of Woodlake’s most beloved restaurants, including the Woodlake Drive-In and Our Place Cafe. in order to celebrate Woodlake’s most active community builders, there will be a dinner at 6 p.m., and residents can purchase tickets at city hall, the Woodlake High School office or by contacting Sally Pace at 559-805-3975.

This award is part of many that are given to residents or businesses who have contributed to make Woodlake a better place. An anonymous committee reviews nominees to select the winners. The following groups will select an anonymous person from within their group to be on this committee: City of Woodlake, Woodlake Police, Chamber of Commerce, Lions and Lady Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis, The HomeGrown Project, Woodlake Unified School District and Woodlake High School.

Woman of the Year — Carmita Rodriguez-Pena

Throughout her career, Carmita Pena has always sought to positively impact the lives of students at Woodlake Union High School (WUHS). She carries a strong belief that each student has the power to succeed. A 1996 graduate of WUHS, she has devoted her career to guiding students to a fulfilling future. She has risen through the ranks, from being a counselor to her current role as Coordinator of College and Career Programs at WUHS. She has coordinated many meaningful programs at WUHS, including career day, senior exit interviews and career readiness curriculum. 

“I hope I can inspire other women around me to give back to their community.  As a Woodlake graduate, I always hope to inspire our students to pursue their dreams and to always remember where they come from as they attain their goals in life,” Pena said.

Pena has also been instrumental in establishing the agricultural academy at WUHS and has been an active member of the Tulare-Kings Linked Learning Consortium since its inception. She also leads the student community service program, which connects students to their community through a required 85 hours in community service. Pena is an active member in the Woodlake Kiwanis Club, and is the WUHS Key Club advisor. She is also currently serving as the Secretary for the WUHS Foundation. Pena is known for being a hard-working example and her quiet style of leadership that helps others get involved.

Man of the Year — Mike Rivas

Mike Rivas is a lifelong citizen of Woodlake and third-generation resident of the community. He owns and operates Woodlake Growers Supply, a feed and hardware store, in town. Rivas serves as a resource for many, and is always available to the community for all livestock and small motor questions, concerns and needs. He has often been called on to sponsor and mentor kids, as well as adults, in a variety of endeavors. In addition, Mike is a big supporter of community and school sports teams and other activities, including Future Farmers of America (FFA). He is an advocate for youth in agriculture and serves as beef livestock chairperson for the Tulare County Fair. He and his wife, Leslie Rivas, also raise cattle and mentor beef exhibitors in the county.

New Business of the Year — Our Place Cafe, Amanda Demascio and Ryan Karas

Amanda Demascio and Ryan Karas made themselves at home in Woodlake with their new restaurant called Our Place Cafe. Since opening their doors, they have become a welcomed influence in the community of Woodlake. Besides serving up home cooked style meals in the heart of Woodlake, they have contributed many donations to the community. 

“We started Our Place Cafe for the purpose of not only bringing great food at an affordable price to the community but opportunity for employment in a healthy nontoxic work environment,” Demascio said. “We have experienced a few terrible work environments and are trying to make a change.”

During the holidays last year, they helped with food and meal giveaways in town. Not only that, but when WUHS needed concession stand service at their sporting events, they took on the task with reasonable prices for students and fans. Demascio and Karas, along with their cafe, have already been active members of the community in their short time being in town.

2021 Business of the Year — Woodlake Drive-in, Ali Mohamed

The Woodlake Drive-In, and its owner Ali Mohamed, has been an active member of the community and supports many local efforts, such the Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, WUHS Foundation, Boys and Girls Club and the Woodlake Chamber of Commerce. Mohamed regularly donates and publicizes events for local organizations and events through his business, which is a central hub for locals. The Woodlake Drive-In serves as a local marquee board for the whole town, with Mohamed cooking up food alongside a local staff. 

Since 2001 when he purchased the business, Mohamed has made several building improvements. One of these is the drive-thru window. Mohamed is known for his hands-on ownership, and knows many of his customers personally. The Woodlake Drive-In attracts customers from all over the valley, coming for the great food and friendly service.

Lifetime Achievement Award — John Wood

John Wood graduated from WUHS in 1967, and joined the Army shortly after, where he served in the Vietnam War. Throughout Wood’s life, he has served the community of Woodlake in many ways. He has been a member of the Woodlake Lions Club for many years, serving in nearly all of its officer positions. Along with his contribution to maintaining the Woodlake rodeo grounds, he has contracted many of the acts for the rodeo and the stock. 

He also organizes the Woodlake Rodeo Parade, held every Mother’s Day weekend. In his spare time, Wood assists the Woodlake Lady Lions with both the maintenance and improvements to their booths. Wood has also assisted the Woodlake Cemetery with burials, well maintenance and maintaining the grounds over the years. He is known for always being willing to step in and help the community of Woodlake: friends, businesses and often lending a hand to folks he does not know.

Administrator of the Year — Megan Marquez

Megan Marquez won this award due to her positive impact that she has made during her leadership at Woodlake Valley Middle School (WVMS). She knows all of her students by name, and is sure to greet them at school with a conversation. She also makes an effort to remind them that they are important to her. Marquez is known for her caring nature and guidance that is felt throughout the campus. 

“I try to be connected to students not just as a leader on campus, but within the community, so that parents and students can know that you care about their child, their whole child, not just their academics, but them as a young adolescent,” Marquez said.

Marquez works at creating an inclusive environment in which every student is able to connect in a positive way with both staff and fellow students. Among her many admirable qualities, she holds herself personally responsible to always do the right thing. Marquez has been in Woodlake schools for 11 years now, and says that she quickly found home in the city. She is not only proud to be a Woodlake resident, but is also proud of the lasting impact she is able to make in students’ lives.

“How you treat students, even when it isn’t always the best circumstances, should be with dignity and respect, so that they learn from it,” Marquez said, “That’s part of our job is to help them learn how to be young humans.”

Educator of the Year — Blanca Lucatero

Blanca Lucatero is a teacher of Spanish for native Spanish speakers, and teaches multiple Advanced Placement (AP) classes for Spanish at WUHS. She is a dynamic instructor who holds high expectations for all students, and motivates students to achieve. Her classroom is a welcoming environment, where students apply their Spanish daily by speaking, listening and writing. 

“I am proud that students and their families continue to see me as having been a positive influence and a support to their families. In a small town you get to know multiple generations of families which grows the sense of family within the community,” Lucatero said. “I hope to be a role model that the students will remember the lessons that I tried to instill in them beyond Spanish lessons.”

Additionally, Lucatero promotes academic excellence by serving as the advisor for the California Scholarship Federation (CSF), which is an honors organization that recognizes academic achievement. She is also the advisor for the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, which promotes acceptance of all students at WUHS, and provides a space for the LGBTQ+ community on campus. Blanca has also served as the cross-country coach for many years, and volunteers at numerous athletic events and extracurricular activities.

“Later I encouraged participation in clubs led by ACT for Women and Girls that promoted concepts of social justice through programs on sexual health education, women’s rights, immigrant rights, and political advocacy,” Lucatero said.

Youth Mentor of the Year — Gary Cannon

Gary Cannon is a science teacher at WUHS. He serves as the cross-country head coach and as the department head for math and sciences. Cannon is also the advisor for WUHS Link Crew, a program in which upperclassmen mentor incoming freshmen students, and check on them throughout their first year on campus. Cannon also helps Link Crew students design, obtain approval for and complete a community service project. Not only that but Cannon has also partnered with the Tulare County Office of Educations and WVMS to train student mentors. These student mentors work with middle school students in need of mentorship. The Link Crew plans events, with some reaching into 1,000 attendees, donates supplies to different community member groups and has even helped a student design a mural that will be installed in Woodlake.

Cannon wanted to work in Woodlake because of its culture and size. Since it’s small, it is a place where everyone knows each other, which makes the opportunity to get involved and make an impact plentiful. Cannon gets involved in the community in many ways, such as attending and supporting local events. He also makes a point to help guide students into how to be an active member of the community.

“I see my responsibility to the community as being the bridge between what students need or want and coordinating resources to make ideas become goals and goals become reality,” Cannon said. “Being one small part of such a dynamic team; which is focused on what is best for the students, is inspiring. Woodlake is a place where students come first in education and that makes me feel proud of the work we are doing here.”

Youth of the Year — Paige Perez

Paige Perez is known as an exceptional young person at her school. She is involved in a multitude of clubs, sports and extracurricular activities. In most of these activities, she serves in a leadership capacity. Paige has been involved in all four years of volleyball and softball, and has managed to balance that with her schoolwork impressively. Her academic performance, as well as her rigorous coursework load, demonstrate her emphasis in education. 

This year, Perez is taking dual enrollment courses, which are college classes, along with three AP courses. What really sets Perez apart from her peers is her ability to serve in multiple leadership roles. Paige is currently serving as the FFA president and Key Club class representative. Perez has logged a total of 162 Community service hours; nearly double the 85-hour-minimum required for graduation.

Youth of the Year — Diego Headrick

Diego Headrick currently has over 274 hours of community service, and has been an active member of FFA for all four years of high school. It is through his active role in FFA that he has blossomed, and became one of three students picked from the state of California for the National FFA Band. He became part of 50 students in the ensemble that stretches across the nation, and performed in front of roughly 65,000 FFA members at each general session of this year’s 95th National FFA Convention & Expo, which took place in Indianapolis, Ind. on Oct. 24 through Oct. 30.

“FFA has helped me so much throughout my life, and has helped me gain public speaking skills, and gain some of those soft skills I feel every student needs to prepare for the world or college,” Headrick said in a previous interview with the Sun Gazette. “I feel like that really helped shape me and helped me be more personable with others.”

Headrick is in the top percentage of students in his class and even takes AP classes online to make himself a better candidate for top college admission. He has superb written and verbal communication skills and has received honors from the WUHS school board for both. Headrick has served as the FFA sectional president and chapter vice president. He is also a senior-class officer this year as well as an officer for the band club. Not only that, but Headrick is one of the student representatives to the agriculture advisory committee. Headrick also makes time to explore the arts by participating in band, and shows his athleticism by participating in tennis and track. Coming from such a small farming community, Headrick takes every advantage offered to better himself, and others, for life outside of our small town. Rarely do we see a student with so much potential in so many different areas.

Spirit of Woodlake — Sue Winters

Over the past 10 years, Sue Winters has been very involved in Woodlake schools and the community. Although she lives in Three Rivers, she has reached out to the Woodlake community through volunteer work and being part of the WUHS Foundation . As a member of the Three Rivers Union School Board of Directors, she has encouraged a positive connection between our schools. Although her son, Terran, graduated seven years ago from WHS, she has continued to stay involved with the Woodlake High School music program.

Winters currently serves as the WHS Foundation Scholarship Chairperson and on the Hall of Fame Committee.  She is also a member of the Woodlake Kiwanis Club, in which she serves on a multitude of committees, including the July 3rd Blast, Toys for Joy, and as the Woodlake Awards Student Supervisor.  She has logged many, many hours at the Rose Garden and the Woodlake Food Pantry. In addition, she is a member of the Bravo Babes, a group of ladies that work without notice or praise in the trash cleanup and beautification of Bravo Lake. Winters is a delightful individual who always has a smile and a helping hand for all the projects she is involved with.

Organization of the Year — Woodlake Lions Club

The Woodlake Lions Club is best known for its Woodlake Lions PRCA Rodeo, which attracts both participants and spectators from near and far each Mother’s Day Weekend. The 68th Annual Woodlake Lions Rodeo is scheduled for May 13-14, 2023.  We also host the High-Five Rodeo each year on the Friday before rodeo weekend, which provides a rodeo experience for developmentally-disabled individuals throughout Tulare County.  The Woodlake Lions Club was founded in 1948, beginning their long-standing tradition of serving the community of Woodlake. 

The local club is composed of local businessmen, farmers and ranchers, law enforcement personnel, and other professionals, who all donate their time, resources, and hard work to maintain “America’s Most Beautiful Rodeo Grounds.” The Woodlake Lions Club is proud to assist local organizations, schools and charities, as well as help fund special projects within Woodlake. Through the Club’s premier and largest fundraising event, the Woodlake Lions Rodeo, a substantial amount of money is contributed back to the community, benefiting local charity causes and educational scholarships for students.

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