WARRENTON — “This group is all about team and all about volunteerism,” former Mayor Willis Van Dusen said to the 1980s-bedecked crowd gathered Saturday night at the Astoria Golf & Country Club for the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet.
At the chamber banquet, where it gathers its constituents and honors the most prolific volunteers each year from Astoria and Warrenton, Van Dusen and local Aflac proprietor David Reid took home the 2014 installment of Astoria’s equivalent of citizen of the year.
The George Award is named after the saying “let George do it,” shorthand for the reliable, unselfish person who is always ready and willing to help. Van Dusen became just the second person to win the Award — Chamber Executive Skip Hauke is the other — getting his first in 2004.
“Watching Willis be mayor was extraordinary,” said State Sen. Betsy Johnson, presenting Van Dusen the award and at times tearing up.
She touched on the many partnerships and projects that have defined Van Dusen’s legacy, including the Astoria Sports Complex; the Astoria Riverwalk and Riverfront Trolley; the Garden of Surging Waves; the relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard; the 17th Street Pier; and collaborations between Columbia Memorial Hospital and Oregon Health and Sciences University, to name a few.
“The common thread has been Willis behind the scenes, not only connecting people and ideas, but making people care about things,” said Johnson, who praised Van Dusen’s indiscriminate authenticity and generosity, whether it be with her, former President Bill Clinton during his visit in 2008 or with any member of the local community.
“At every public event,” said Johnson, “Willis inevitably called positive attention to what he referred to as the Astoria team.”
When he and his wife Lisa arrived on the North Coast in the early 2000s for his new job as district sales coordinator for Aflac of Astoria, Reid said they were looking forward to becoming involved in the community. You run into Reid all the time, simply because he is so involved, said Hauke during his presentation of Reid’s George Award.
Over those years, said Hauke, Reid’s been a volunteer of every type for the chamber, downtown association, Astoria Regatta Court, Astoria Rotary Club, Camp Kiwanilong, the Clatsop County Historical Society, the Astor Street Opry Company, the city and more — all the way down to skimming logs to rebuild Fort Clatsop at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.
“He helps whenever he can, however he can, because he’s a good guy,” said Hauke.
Reid’s also a Chamber member two times over, through Aflac and with his wife Lisa. The two have owned Lucy’s Books since 2013. His wife was unable to be at the banquet, with an author visiting Lucy’s for Second Saturday Artwalk.
“One doesn’t exist without the other,” said Reid about the relationship between Astoria and Warrenton, reflected in its joint Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber employs five full-time employees and two part-timers, along with volunteer boards overseeing the staff, the chamber’s ambassadors and for other volunteers.
It advertises its members, organizes marketing campaigns and marshals volunteers to put on such annual regional attractions as the UnWined wine tasting in March; the Crab, Seafood and Wine Festival in April; Fourth of July fireworks; and the Great Columbia Crossing in October.
The Chamber’s 1980s-themed banquet foreshadowed its series of events in early June to mark the 30th anniversary of “The Goonies,” centered around the weekend of the annual Goonies Day June 7. The 30th anniversary of the film will include cast and crew reunions, film screenings, fan gatherings, filming location tours, in addition to treasure hunting, group truffle shuffles, trivia scavenger hunts and more.
For the past year, Reid has been president of the chamber’s board of directors. He is being replaced by Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival organizer Loran Mathews.
“In my experience, the spirit of cooperation has never been stronger,” said Reid, speaking to the three goals of the chamber’s board set for 2014. They included, he said:
• Remodeling the chamber welcome center at 111 W. Marine Drive, an ongoing project.
• Developing a plan to support trade and service sector chamber members. The chamber is in the midst of developing a promotion to encourage people to hire — not just shop — locally, educating the public about local contractors and service providers.
• Growing the chamber to 600 members, a goal it achieved in mid-July.
The chamber now stands at more than 620 business, nonprofit, government and individual members, including Buoy Beer, not even a year old and named Chamber Member of the Year. Its award was accepted by co-owner Luke Colvin, a George Award winner in 2008.
Reid said the constant increases in membership increases the power the chamber has to affect issues important to the local economy. “This current surge in our membership is also a strong reflection of the value the chamber members, like you, feel they get from their membership.”