By Jeff Benziger
Becki Barton Nicholes’ many years of community service earned the honor of being named “Citizen of the Year” at Friday’s 49th Annual Community Service Awards banquet hosted by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce.
Nicholes was introduced by former Citizen of the Year Sharon Caruso.
Nicholes was born in Eugene, Ore., the middle of five children. She attended Downey High School in 1978 and then taking child development education classes at Modesto Junior College. She opened Becki’s Munchkinland Day Care 35 years ago with sister Cindy. Becki served as a volunteer firefighter in 1985 and met future husband Bryan Nicholes. She worked her way up to captain as she became certified as a Firefighter 1 Swift Water Rescue and Heavy Rescue. She worked on numerous wildland strike teams. Becki earned her Emergency Medical EMT certificate. After the birth of son Colby, Becki resigned but continued to serve the community. She was a charter member of the Venture Club of Ceres and has belonged to the Soroptimist International of Ceres for over 19 years and served as its president in 2004-05. Nicholes is a past recipient of the Soroptimist of the Year award, due to her time as co-chair of the Fundraising Committee, chair of the Women of Distinction event, and participating in other activities to improve the lives women and girls.
She was appointed to the Proposition 10 Board for the county and served as chairman of the campaigns of numerous City Council and mayoral candidates.
For six and a half years Becki was a Girl Scout leader in Ceres, coached Ceres Youth Soccer and played Ceres Adult Soccer for seven years. She also served on the Chamber’s board. Through her church involvement, she and husband Bryan organized the first two “Love Ceres” events. She served on the Ceres Street Faire Committee, managing the children’s activities.
In 2012, Becki and Bryan were named the Chamber’s “Volunteers of the Year.”
She is often seen at community events taking photos of participants.
“Becki also has a passion for helping others,” said Caruso. “She can often be found about town checking on her friends and spending quality time with them.”
At New Life Christian Church in Turlock the couple has co-led a small marrieds group.
Nicholes accepted the award with smiles but tearfully announced that she has been battling cancer since July. She quickly added that she feels blessed to be a part of a tightknit, caring and supportive community.
“We’re really here to serve God and all the people of our community,” said Nicholes.
Tom Westbrook, who for 13 years has been planning for the city and is now the city of Ceres’ Community Development Director, was given the “Distinguished Service Award.”
“One might argue that Tom is just doing his job,” said Traci Farris, the city’s recreation manager. “Well, that’s true, but Tom also spends time doing so much more for our community. As a liaison for the Ceres Chamber of Commerce, Tom is found every year setting up, working and tearing down the margarita booth at the Ceres Street Faire. He is a key management player on the annual Bands, Brews & BBQ Throw Down Committee. He supports as many crab feeds as possible hosted by our many local service clubs.”
She also noted that Westbrook has “played an integral role in the planning of the Ceres community and is an instrumental leader in helping to move our city in a positive direction.” She specifically cited him for his work in placing new business in Ceres, including his work to bring Blaker Brewing here.
“His attention to detail and ability to communicate were prime factors for having this new business choose Ceres as their new home – plus he promised to be a regular there,” said Farris of Westbrook.
Others nominated were Brandy Meyer, Ken Moncrief and Katherine Roudebush.
Volunteer of the Year
“Volunteer of the Year” honors went to Shella Joiner. Others nominated were Shelia and Lee Brandt and Kim Johnson.
Joiner was selected because of her “big heart” for the community. She founded a group called Unity in the Community which helps needy families during the holidays. Joiner routinely helps with fundraisers and helped with the Ceres Relay for Life and Holiday Hoedown to benefit the employees of Sam’s Café displaced from work and their income stream after the November fire. She also promotes the “Shop Local” campaign and has used her artistic talents for the community’s good.
Business of the Year
The Chamber bestowed its “Business of the Year” award to Cost Less Foods. Del Ambris, manager of the Ceres store, accepted the award.
Cost Less was selected because it epitomizes several, if not all of the characteristics for the award: exceptional growth through additional creation of jobs; revenue growth, innovative products or services, exemplary customer service, volunteering in the community and economic support of the Ceres business community. Cost Less enjoyed record-breaking daily and weekly sales, said incoming Ceres Chamber President Juan Romo. The store also supports the Ceres Unified School District Foundation, the Chief’s Advisory Committee, the Community Stakeholders Committee and the Stanislaus Partners in Education. Last year the Cost Less team captured first-place for fundraising in the Ceres Relay for Life event. Under Ambris’ management, Cost Less also donates to over 10 schools in Ceres, four in Modesto and four local charter schools. They also donate to St. Jude’s St. Vincent de Paul Society food pantry, the “Every 15 Minutes” programs, and food fundraisers for the Ceres Rotary and Ceres Lions clubs as well as the Ceres Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Fosters Freeze and Golden Valley Health Centers were also considered for the award.
Downtown Business feted Sam’s Café was bestowed with “Downtown Business of the Year” honors. Wells Fargo Bank was also nominated for the award.
Outgoing Chamber President Renee Ledbetter said the community has benefited from Sam’s Café, which suffered the setback of a fire in November. The business is temporarily closed but making plans to open.
“Because they have done so much for Ceres, the community pulled together to raise money to help the employees get through this difficult time,” said Ledbetter. “That’s the kind of community we live in.”
Owner Sherrill McManus Peterson has donated to many charitable causes brought forth by the Soroptimists, the Ceres Lions Club, and Ceres police and fire departments, CUSD’s “Every 15 Minutes” program and Chamber.
‘Young Citizen of Year’
Sammantha Hill received “Young Citizen of the Year” honors. Gary M. Condit was also nominated.
The 12-year-old Sammantha is the corresponding secretary for her Ceres 4-H group and volunteers at the Stanislaus County Animal Services Shelter visiting and playing with adoptable dogs and cats. On her own she developed the “Blessing Bags” for those in need. She assists in the school library sorting and putting books away. Sammantha also assists elderly neighbors in putting trash cans out and wheeling them back. She volunteers to sit next to a Spanish speaking classmate to help learn English as well as represent Team Sammantha for the March of Dimes to raise funds for research of premature babies and prematurity awareness.
The Legacy award, designated for individuals and/or businesses that have contributed through service, support or volunteer efforts to the Ceres community for more than 40 years, was given to Bertolotti Disposal. Also nominated was Stuart David Fine Furnishings.
The event also witnessed the installation of the new Ceres Chamber Board of directors. Juan Romo was installed as the new president of the Chamber and Herman Bhatti as vice president. David Gonzales is treasurer and new directors are Marcus Bazan, Jason Chapman, Lea Ann Hoogestraat, Paul Huckaba, Shella Joiner, Kristina Luna and Brandy Meyer.
“I grew up here so I love this little town,” said Romo. “Ceres is like my little Mayberry.”