Santa Paula Times

(Photo above left) Ron Merson (right) was introduced by Wally Bobkiewicz and celebrated as the Citizen of the Year at the annual Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner. (Center photo) Anne Graumlich presented the Business of the Year Award to (left) John Nichols. (Right photo) Santa Paula Times Publisher Don Johnson presented the Building/Site Beautification Project of the Year Award to the City of Santa Paula’s Downtown Main Street Projects to (right) Councilman John Procter.

Ron Merson, John Nichols Gallery, City honored with Chamber of Commerce awards

February 14, 2007
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesRon Merson was celebrated as the Citizen of the Year at the annual Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner, where John Nichols Gallery and the City of Santa Paula Downtown Improvement Projects were also lauded for their contributions to community. The event also unveiled the first ever Dr. Sam Edwards Distinguished Community Service Award honoring its beloved namesake.The dinner was held at The Grove at the Glen Tavern Inn, and Alan Teague was the festive Master of Ceremonies for the celebration of community and commerce.“The Grove is a great new spot; the Chamber has new officers with great new and exciting ideas,” said Teague, who introduced special guests Supervisor Kathy Long, Vice Mayor John Procter, Councilmen Dr. Gabino Aguirre and Ralph Fernandez, and former Council members Rick Cook and Mary Ann Krause. Also in attendance were Brian Miller, chief aide to Rep. Elton Gallegly, and representatives of Assemblywoman Audra Strickland and Senator George Runner.Merson received the Citizen of the Year Award from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, who noted that “Tonight we are recognizing a man who has given over 30 years of service to the residents of Santa Paula” in numerous ways. “He brings together Santa Paulans once a year for a celebration of community in a way unlike anyone else,” while also working to bring the “life lessons provided in team sports to thousands of Santa Paula youth over the last 20 years.”Merson is a quiet activist, “but the impact of his work has helped make Santa Paula the outstanding community we all know and love,” noted Bobkiewicz. A resident of the city since 1977, several years later he became involved in the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the then-sponsor of the Christmas Parade, which Merson chaired starting in 1982. When the Chamber disbanded he became a member of the Santa Paula Optimist Club, which took over parade sponsorship.“Ron has continued as chair ever since,” last year marking his 25th anniversary of coordinating the parade, founded in 1949 and the longest running such holiday celebration in the county. “What does the Santa Paula Christmas Parade mean to this community? This last year I walked the parade route during the parade, and watched the hundreds of people lining Main Street” including the children who now take high tech entertainment for granted, but for an hour “are transported to a different place. A place where the action is live and in person,” said Bobkiewicz.Many communities have lost “this sense of togetherness” provided by a parade, but the “Christmas Parade helps ensure that in Santa Paula, we have not lost this sense of togetherness in our town.” Bobkiewicz added that Merson “really is Mr. Parade in Santa Paula,” and has been instrumental in helping with the recent resurgence of the Kiwanis Citrus Festival Parade, and the creation of the Labor Day Parade, helped by his wife, Pam, “who has been his able partner” in all pursuits.A past president of the Optimist Club, Merson has also been heavily involved in the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) on a local and state level before moving on the AYSO National Management Commission. Merson also served as a Briggs School District trustee, has been a longtime member of the Odd Fellows, and was instrumental in the preservation of their famous Clocktower.“A final skill I would like to mention about Ron is his love to put on pancake breakfasts” with the Optimists and Oddfellows, including organizing the annual 4th of July breakfast. “It is my pleasure this evening to bring attention to the hard work and quiet deeds of a man who has worked tirelessly to make Santa Paula a better place,” Bobkiewicz concluded. “Ron, you have succeeded.”“Thirty years ago we made a major decision” to move to Santa Paula, a family friendly place, said Merson, who noted he has “surrounded himself” with those involved in community service. Pam not only “allowed me to do all those things,” which often included their sons Scott and James, but volunteerism became a family way of life. “We’ve been very happy to be in Santa Paula,” noted Merson.Former Mayor and Santa Paula Times Publisher Don Johnson presented the Building/Site Beautification Project of the Year Award to the City of Santa Paula’s Downtown Main Street Projects.
“I’ve spent the better part of my life on Main Street,” including during the economic setbacks of the 1980s to 1990s that saw some established merchants retire and others just shutter their businesses, said Johnson. The area became shabby and rundown: “It was horrible, and the Council decided that the downtown needed some help.”In 1993 architect Doug Nelson worked with the city to create a Downtown Improvement Plan, which after initial major infrastructure projects languished due to a lack of funding. Bobkiewicz was hired in the early 2000s, and the Council “told him that were tired of making decisions that weren’t implemented” and asked Bobkiewicz to get to work on the area, said Johnson.“Wally was determined to take those books off the shelf” and implement the plan. “Things happened; the trash was picked up and the sidewalks cleaned” as the improvement pace quickened to include turning the South Paseo and the Green Street Alley - the projects honored by the Chamber - into beautiful and practical pedestrian walkways. “It came full circle” when various new businesses opened, up a testament to “taking a chance” and the success of a group effort, said Johnson.“...We build on past efforts” of previous Councils, noted Procter, who accepted the award on behalf of the City.Anne Graumlich presented the Business of the Year Award to John Nichols, noting “For over two decades, John has combined a love of art with a canny mind for opportunity and profit to create a successful business that has enriched our community. He is a man who both followed his dream and created a successful business.”His first limited hours gallery was upstairs in the Clocktower Building before Nichols purchased a building to open Mr. Nichols, a bookstore and gallery, where over the years he held numerous exhibits of art and photography by both regional and nationally recognized artists. In 1994 he founded the Sespe Group - Creative Services, which provides curatorial services, exhibit design and installation for businesses and institutions, including the Oil Museum and others.Nichols is a dedicated volunteer for a variety of organizations and is active on the board of the Santa Paula Theatre Center, among others. “In his spare time,” Graumlich laughed, “John has become a fine art photographer,” winning numerous awards.“John has truly enriched the life of his community through his business and volunteer activities,” which have benefited from his “unflagging creativity and one-of-a-kind personality. John followed his dream and made money doing it,” using his “creative spirit and all that it promises for our community’s future.”“Leslie is a constant inspiration,” said Nichols of his wife, before adding some typical “Nicholisms” that delighted most of the audience and left others somewhat baffled.