On the surface, it didn't seem like there was much to give thanks for in 2009. Jobless rates skyrocketed, people lost their homes at a rate not seen since the Great Depression and the state legislature again refused to pass a budget on time.
But in Lodi, caring, honest and devoted people pulled together to make the best of a bad situation. What's more, these people are the same ones who have been working behind the scenes to make Lodi the livable, lovable place it's been for years. To them, 2009 was business as usual.
Thursday, they were given recognition in grand fashion.
More than 200 community members came out to Wine and Roses to celebrate the city's most concerned, dedicated and selfless individuals for the Lodi Chamber of Commerce's 87th Annual Meeting and Outstanding Citizens of the Year celebration.
Annette Murdaca was named the Citizen of the Year for her work with Lodi House, the Lodi's shelter for homeless women and children she created. Also, she's on the advisory board for Lodi's Salvation Army.
Salvation Army Envoy Dan Williams introduced Murdaca to the crowd and said if the Biblical character of David was a man after God's own heart, then Murdaca was a woman after God's own heart.
As is her style, Annette Murdaca modestly accepted the award as the daughter of a hard-working garbage man, and wife to a great pizza-maker. Murdaca was referring to her father, the late Rudy Vaccarezza; her husband, Jim, is owner of the Italian restaurant Pietro's. Both Murdaca's father and brother, Rudy and David Vaccarezza, respectively, have been named Citizen of the Year.
Murdaca received standing ovations before and after her eloquent acceptance speech in which she focused her gratitude towards the community, which she said is the reason she won the award.
"The town gave their time, their help and their treasure," she said. "The best part of this night is that all of you were included."
Other highlights from the night included:
- The graduation of the 2009 class of Leadership Lodi.
- Nada Hinojosa and Andi Kutlik were honored as Ray Hirning Street Faire Volunteers of the Year.
- Phil Marcus was honored as the Deanna Enright Chamber Member of the Year.
- Paul Verdegaal was honored at Agribusiness Person of the Year.
- Tracy Williams was the International ATHENA Award winner.
- Scientific Specialties Inc. was honored as Industry of the Year
Williams was overcome with emotion as she received a standing ovation from the audience. On Thursday, she became only the second Lodian ever to receive the ATHENA Award. Evie Olson previously earned the prestigious award in 2006.
"She makes this world and Lodi a better place," said Theresa Larson, who introduced Williams to the audience.
Verdegaal was honored for both his extensive community work and his contributions to agribusiness.
"You can't count all the research products he's led," said John Ledbetter, who presented Verdegaal to the crowd.
Trivia from Thursday's award dinner
Q: For how many years has Lodi's Chamber of Commerce existed?
Answer: 3) 87
Q: How did the Lodi Chamber of Commerce's operating performance rate in 2009?
1) Top 90 percent in the West
2) Top 50 percent in the West
3) Top 10 percent in the West
4) Top 2 percent in the West
Answer: 4) Top 2 percent in the West
Q: What is ATHENA Award winner Tracy Williams' biggest weakness?
1) Scared of the dark
2) Has a hard time saying "no"
3) Road rage
4) Isn't a "people person"
Answer: 2) Has a hard time saying "no"
Q: How many graduates were there in the Leadership Lodi Class of 2009?
Answer: 2) 14
Q: Approximately how long did it take Salvation Army Envoy Dan Williams to read off all the groups, organizations and non-profits Annette Murdaca has provided time, money and resources to?
1) 45 seconds
2) 60 seconds
3) 120 seconds
4) 180 seconds
Answer: 4) 180 seconds
Q: How much average growth has Industry of the Year Scientific Specialties Inc. seen each of the last five years?
1) 11 percent
2) 4 percent
3) 8 percent
4) 15 percent
Answer: 1) 11 percent
Q: According to Lodi Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Pat Patrick, what is the first question usually out of the mouth of Volunteer of the Year Phil Marcus?
1) "What's in it for me?"
2) "How long will this take?"
3) "How can I help?"
4) "What more can be done?"
Answer: 3) "How can I help?"
Q: What did Street Faire Volunteers of the year Nada Hinojosa and Andi Kutlik say is the best part of getting up before dawn to supply street faire vendors with doughnuts and coffee?
1) "Doughnuts are at their best."
2) "Parking is great."
3) "Get to see the steam off your breath."
4) "Get to choose the best doughnuts for themselves."
Answer 2) "Parking is great."
Q: What was Agribusiness Person of the Year winner Paul Verdegaal's health advice for the audience?
1) "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."
2) "Sleep in until noon every once and awhile."
3) "Enjoy Lodi wine, it's good and good for you."
4) "Make banana smoothies a regular part of your diet."
Answer: 3) "Enjoy Lodi wine, it's good and good for you."