Shining a light on those who have gone above and beyond in service to the community, the Santa Ynez Valley Foundation and Santa Ynez Valley News have chosen a group of outstanding volunteers to honor this year.
Dorothy Brunton has been selected as the Santa Ynez Valley 2015-16 woman of the year, and Jim Lohnas has been named man of the year, in honor of their leadership and extensive efforts to give back.
They were chosen by a panel of board members of the Foundation, editors of the Valley News and former honorees, based on nominations made by Valley residents.
The panel also voted to award the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award to two couples this year: Helmut and Doris Holzheu and Roger and Ann Nielsen.
The Valley Foundation is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and as part of that celebration has established a special posthumous honor -- the Stuart C. Gildred Award.
The late Stuart Gildred, who founded the Valley Foundation in 1991, will be the first recipient of the posthumous award, in recognition of his extensive service to the Valley and its residents.
Additionally, two high school students will be recognized as Youth in Service Award recipients. They are Brooke Redell and Kendall Stevens. Both are seniors at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School.
The winners will be honored April 2 during a gala awards banquet at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton.
"The man and woman of the year recognition is a great way for our community to pay tribute to our steady, quiet heroes whose caring hearts and hard work define 'community.'" said Foundation Director Anne Christensen. "The Valley is filled with the energy and power of people reaching out and taking care of neighbors, friends and strangers just because it is the right way to live as compassionate human beings. These honorees have literally touched thousands of lives through their volunteer work, and it is our honor to celebrate them."
Brunton has had many careers including modeling, hotel owner and avocado rancher. She owned and operated the Mole Hole and Tastes of the Valley. She spearheaded the Farmers Market and First Street Wednesday activities, and initiated the Solvang Tourist Zone Beautification Program and the Solvang Century Bike Ride. She also serves on numerous boards and clubs, including Solvang Rotary.
Lohnas has been a longtime member of the Los Olivos Rotary Club and is the originator of the Los Olivos Jazz and Olive Festival, the club's major fundraiser of the year. All the proceeds go to charities. Most recently, he was elected to the Los Olivos Elementary School Board.
"I was pretty shocked to hear of this (award)," said Lohnas. "My wife is a past woman of the year, and I've been to all the banquets and watched it through the years, and I know a number of the past recipients. I never really put myself in the same category as those people.
"I believe recognition is really important," he continued. "None of us do this to achieve awards; we do it for the people that we're trying to help. But it is really, really nice to see that somebody notices. This particular award is just a wonderful way to thank people who have done so much."
The Valley Foundation has as its mission improving the lives of people in the Santa Ynez Valley and Los Alamos, by investing in programs that feed the poor, promote health, nurture seniors, challenge youth and inspire the community to make a difference.
The Foundation and the Valley News created the Man and Woman of the Year Program in 1995 to recognize local residents for their volunteerism. The Youth in Service Award was added in 2012 to honor students in grades nine through 12 for outstanding service to others.
In addition to recognition plaques, each adult honoree receives a $1,000 grant from the Foundation to be donated in the honoree's name to a charity of his or her choice. The students each receive a $1,000 scholarship to be used for postsecondary education.
Profiles of each honoree will be published in the Valley News in the weeks leading up to the banquet.