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Bud Runyan honored as ‘Citizen of the Year’
• Ceres Chamber honors businesses, volunteers at annual installation banquet
Bud Runyan
Bud Runyan, seen here with wife Cindy, was honored as the 2019 Citizen of the Year at Friday’s Chamber banquet held at the Ceres Community Center. He was honored for his extensive community service record inside and outside of the Ceres Lions Club. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Bud Runyan’s many years of community service earned him the honor of “Citizen of the Year” during the 51st annual Community Service Awards banquet hosted by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce on Friday evening.

Runyan was introduced by former Citizen of the Year Ken Lane who shared about Bud’s decades of volunteerism.

Because of his two children, Bud’s record of community service started early when he coached Ceres Youth Soccer and assisting in the Ceres Dolphins swim team. He donated time to Ceres Cowboys Youth Football and cheerleading organization. For 10 years Runyan worked behind the scenes for Steps Dance Arts Center and actively supported the Ceres High School Perpetual Motion Dance Team.

Lane said Runyan’s passion to volunteer transferred to the Ceres Lions Club in 2001.

“There is really no time card to show the number of hours this year’s honoree has clocked in relation to community events in the last 20 years."
Ken Lane in introducing Bud Runyan

“There is really no time card to show the number of hours this year’s honoree has clocked in relation to community events in the last 20 years,” said Lane of Runyan. “I am sure his wife has some ideas but honestly whenever this year’s honoree was asked to help he helps no matter what.”

Runyan has chaired the Ceres Lions Club’s Omelet Breakfast for 12 years. He also assisted in renovations to Camp Pacifica, a Lions Club owned camp for dead and hard-of-hearing youth.

Lane called Runyan a “quiet, humble man who would never highlight any of his work but you can’t think of a community project and barbecued food and not think of our honoree, Bud Runyan.”

His extensive volunteerism had him working at the Ceres Street Faire, Ceres Christmas Festival, at the Stanislaus County Fair as a parking lot attendant, Ceres Relay for Life, Santa’s Breakfast at Central Valley High School and for the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children. The Barton Overhead Door, Inc., employee for over 35 years also uses his skills to help less fortunate residents with home repairs.

Bud and his wife of 39 years, Cindy Runyan has two children and one grandchild.

Distinguished service

Zenia Zeniga of Ceres was given the “Distinguished Service Award” but was not present to receive it as she was attending a national conference for the Pajama Project in New York. Zeniga grew up homeless with her mother who comforted her children living in their van by reading to them. After her mother passed away in 1987 Zenia and her siblings were abandoned by their father and shuffled around to different foster homes. For approximately eight years, Zenia has collected and distributed pajamas and books to children in need through her Central Valley chapter of the Pajama Project.

“Her goal is to make sure that any child who needs them has new, clean pajamas to wear to bed every night,” said Chamber of Commerce Vice President Shella Joiner.

The award was accepted on her behalf by two close friends, Blanca and Rosie.

Volunteer of the Year

“Volunteer of the Year” honor went to Renee Ledbetter who is active in Chamber and community affairs.

Chamber official Brandy Meyer said Ledbetter is passionate about the Ceres community.

“If she’s not promoting its economic benefits or business development or coordinating community events, she can be found meeting with business owners to find out their needs or is cleaning up the stretch of highway running through Ceres. In her downtime she sells real estate,” said Meyer.

Renee Ledbetter awarded
“Volunteer of the Year” honor went to Renee Ledbetter who is active in Chamber and community affairs. Ledbetter is a local real estate agent always looking to promote Ceres.

Ledbetter expressed a desire to not be honored but the Chamber persisted because of her involvement with the Chamber board for over eight years, four as president. She has also helped to organize the Ceres Street Faire, Ceres Agribusiness Luncheon, Chamber banquet , Movie Night in Whitmore Park, One Table/One Community, the Chamber’s annual Legislative Breakfast, and the Bands, Brews and BBQ Throw Down.

“What makes Renee unique is her forward thinking,” noted Meyer. She cited Ledbetter’s lobbying efforts to secure plans for Ceres to have a train platform once the rail service for the Altamont Express Corridor (ACE) train is extended to as far south as Merced. 

“She’s always trying to bring new business and industry to Ceres to sustain its economic vitality,” said Meyer of Ledbetter.

Ledbetter was instrumental in assisting Blaker Brewing to open a tap room in southwest Ceres and approval of a new 7,000-square-foot Whitmore Towers commercial restaurant/retail building proposed across the street from Ceres High School. She also helped promote the Doghouse Tap Room which was approved last month by the Ceres Planning Commission.

Ledbetter also worked to retain Swan Pools, West Coast Call Center, Soul Saver Shoe Repair and Valley Pool & Spa which contemplated relocating to Modesto or other towns.

A tearful Ledbetter accepted the award, saying, “I love this community, I love the people here, I love our businesses and …. I really care about this community more than people realize. Every day when my feet hit the floor I’m always thinking what can we do to bring more business, to keep businesses here, to excite people about Ceres. I wasn’t born here; I was a transplant, but Ceres is home.”

Ilyana Vidal
Ilyana Vidal, a student at Patricia Kay Beaver Elementary School was named “Youth Citizen of the Year.” - photo by Jeff Benziger

'Young Citizen of the Year'

Ledbetter presented the Chamber’s bestowing of the “Young Citizen of Year” award to 12-year-old Ilyana Vidal who has been a non-profit business owner for two years. Operation Baby Bundle is her brainchild

The Patricia Kay Beaver Elementary School student sews baby blankets for babies at Memorial Medical Center and has six high school students who have joined her. As part of the Central Valley Leadership Team she helped raise $650 for Operation Baby Bundle and made 40 blankets in five days. Ilyana is also involved in many community service projects, such as Toys for Tots, breast cancer patient support baskets, walk- and jog-a-thons for charitable causes, and Pennies for Patients.

Ilyana also maintains a jar at school which students can draw out slips of paper with motivational sayings printed on them.

“We are so lucky to have a young lady, an individual like this in our community and hopefully one day she will come back and become one of our leaders,” said Ledbetter.

“I’m just super happy to help the community in so many different ways and I’m just thankful that I have this opportunity,” said Ilyana.

ceres dentist
Ceres dentists Dr. Sofia Arevalo and Dr. Mital Patel accept the “Small Business of the Year” award on behalf of their Magnolia Dental office. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Small Business of the Year

The “Small Business of the Year” award was presented to downtown Ceres dentist Mital Patel. Since he took over the dental practice of Dr. Bruce Young in 2017, Magnolia Dental has doubled in size. Both Dr. Patel and Dr. Sofia Arevalo donate their time to provide oral screenings for third- and fourth-graders in Ceres during Oral Health Care Month and this month plan to visit six schools. They also launched the hygiene in fun and interactive ways. Dr. Patel is planning to open a pediatric dental office in the fall next to his current practice at 2561 Third Street.

The business also has participated in community events, such as sponsoring the Ceres Street Faire, participating in the Trunk or Treat Halloween event, giving baskets to seniors and donating toothbrushes and kits to child welfare services and Keyes Head Start program.

Business of the Year

The Chamber presented its “Business of the Year” award to Kingspan Insulated Panels which operates at 2000 Morgan Road. The business operates globally in more than 70 countries to manufacture building panels for a low-carbon use world. Kingspan came to Ceres in 2008 and has grown, employing over 80 full-time employees. The Ceres plant was recently retrofitted an old manufacturing plant with state-of-the-art equipment that resulted in high-efficient insulated panels.

Trevor Hearty
Kingspan plant manager Trevor Hearty (left) receives honors for his company from Ceres Chamber President Herman Bhatti. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Plant manager Trevor Hearty accepted the award and credited the diligent workforce here for Kingspan’s willingness to invest in the Ceres plant.

“We’re certainly here for the long term,” said Hearty.

'Legacy Award'

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 Alfonso’s Mexican Bar & Grill.

Paul Huckaba gave a brief history of the business, which opened in 1973 when Alfonso and Martha Lara secured a portion of the TKE Café on Lawrence Street. In time the restaurant grew and expanded into the entire building. 

“Ceres became their community immediately,” said Huckaba, who recounted how the business has given tirelessly to the community.

Alfonso came to the United States from humble beginnings in Mexico and became a chief cook at Carmen’s in Modesto’s McHenry Village before deciding to go into business for himself. Alfonso passed away in 2013 and left behind three children, Sally Lara, Alma Lara Velasquez and Al Lara Jr. Today the business is operated by Martha and the three children and grandson Patrick Velasquez.

Alma said it was her parents’ hard work and persistence that made the restaurant a Ceres mainstay and “we couldn’t have done that without the Ceres community.”

Alma Lara Velasquez, Al Lara Jr. and Sally Lara accept 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. The award was given to Alfonso’s Mexican Bar & Grill which was started in 1973 by their parents, Alfonso and Martha Lara. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Sally Lara recalled how on the first day when Bob Wix and Brian Carlin walked in “we knew we had a family in Ceres.” 

The event also served to install new Ceres Chamber board directors. Herman Bhatti is president of the Chamber and Shella Joiner as vice president. The Chamber board of directors is Paul Huckaba, Jason Chapman, Donna Lambert, Brandy Meyer, Rajinder Bollar, Mario Hernandez, Darlene Collier, David Gonzales, and liaisons Tom Westbrook and Jay Simmonds and office manager Dovie Wilson. Chamber ambassadors are Kathy Cross, Donna DeHart, Jacob Mosley and Ramon Mendez.

“I joined the Chamber about two-and-a-half years ago and didn’t think I’d be in this position today,” said Bhatti. “I am extremely grateful for the opportunity given to me. From when I started until now I’ve seen Ceres grow and prosper in many ways. I and many of us here see the potential this community has, seen downtown Ceres expand with the restaurants, bars and stores is amazing. Watching the new plazas open on Mitchell gives me a sense of pride to see our city grow and we’re not done yet.”