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Retiring Siegel wins Chamber’s top award
• Chamber of Commerce hosts closed-to-the-public awards ceremony for Zoom audience
Siegel wins award
Dr. Scott Siegel, superintendent of the Ceres Unified School District, was presented the “Citizen of the Year Lifetime Achievement” award Monday evening by incoming Superintendent Denise Wickham. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Ceres Unified School District Supt. Scott Siegel was honored with the “Citizen of the Year Lifetime Achievement” award during a socially distanced format at the Ceres Community Center on Monday evening.

This marks the 52nd year that the Ceres Chamber of Commerce has recognized outstanding members of the community who have made extraordinary contributions to Ceres. For the first time since 1969, the Ceres Chamber of Commerce did not honor a “Citizen of the Year” in a banquet setting because of precautions related to COVID-19.

The Chambers also honored:

• Ben Castellanos as the “Volunteer of the Year,”

• Kase Manufacturing as “Large Business of the Year” for businesses with 35 or more employees;

• Supermom’s Frozen Yogurt & More as the “Small Business of the Year” award for businesses with under 35 employees;

• The Ceres Unified School District as its “Legacy Award”;

• The Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple of Ceres/Modesto with the “Distinguished Service Award.”

The Chamber did not give out a “Young Citizen of the Year” honor this year for lack of any nominations, possibly due to schools not meeting in-person because of COVID.

Siegel, a 30-year education veteran, was nominated by his assistant superintendents for his “unwavering commitment to meeting the needs of Ceres students and families so that all students can reach their full potential.” Those nominating the Turlock resident said that “Beyond his role as the CEO of Ceres schools, Scott’s heart for the Ceres community is evident in his service through various boards, community organizations, and volunteer efforts.”

Under his leadership, both as superintendent since 2010 and in his prior role as the district’s Chief Business Officer, funding was secured to build new schools to serve a rapidly expanding student population; CUSD weathered California’s worst fiscal crisis in memory without significant impact to student programs and services; and in 2016, all CUSD students received Internet-enabled devices to support their learning, as well as access to free or low-cost Internet service at home. According to incoming Superintendent Denise Wickham, having those systems in place for the over 14,000 Ceres students enabled the district to shift to distance learning after the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, while at the same time many districts scrambled to get devices into students’ hands, train staff to use instructional technology, and address connectivity issues.

Recognizing the socioeconomic challenges in Ceres, Dr. Siegel connected specific needs with resources. He made CUSD facilities available to the Second Harvest Food Bank for its food distributions, serves as a member of the Ceres Community Collaborative to empower and support vulnerable populations, and sits on the board of the CUSD Foundation which provides funding for K-12 enrichment and scholarships for graduating seniors. In 2015, Scott led the unification of CUSD Foundation and the former Ceres Education Foundation to maximize the impact of funds. He also was been instrumental in forging a relationship between CUSD and the city, which allows for a sharing of facilities for youth sports programs.

For nearly two decades, Siegel has served as an active member of the Ceres Rotary Club, leading subcommittees and contributing to countless community service projects. He managed ticket sales for the annual crab feed and served meals at the Red Shield Center’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. He led “Student of the Month” recognitions, participated in the Rotary Read-In and the distribution of dictionaries to third-graders. Recently he helped establish the Ceres Rotary Club Foundation and sits on its board.

He regularly attends and contributes to fundraisers, celebrations, and events of other Ceres service clubs such as Soroptimist International of Ceres and the Ceres Lions Club. In the past Siegel volunteered as a “celebrity” server at Alfonso’s Mexican Grill for both Soroptimist events to raise funds for projects such as the restoration of the Ceres water tower. He has also been a volunteer mentor for the Stanislaus County Office of Education’s “6 Cups to College” program, and served on the campaign committees for two successful school bond measures.

Siegel was hired as a Ceres High math and science teacher in 1989. He was named CUSD “Teacher of the Year” in 1996 and Stanislaus County “Teacher of the Year” in 1997. In 1999, he became CHS principal. Today, as Scott prepares to retire this June, he can still recall the names and personal details of former students he encounters.

Siegel accepted the award saying he has been fortunate to be surrounded by “excellent, dedicated educators my whole career.” He said they share in the credit for the award he received.

“I can assure you that any contribution I have made to the district and to this community is dwarfed by what the district and this community has given to me,” said Siegel. “I thank this community for introducing me to my wife, for entrusting me with your students, for allowing me to have such a fulfilling career and for surrounding me with such fantastic colleagues and lifelong friends,” said Siegel.

Lourdes Perez 2021
CUSD Trustee Lourdes Perez spoke about the success of the Ceres Unified School District as she accepted the Legacy Award on its behalf. - photo by Jeff Benziger

“Legacy Award”

The Chamber handed its “Legacy Award” to the Ceres Unified School District, which was formed in 1965 with the mergers of Ceres Union High, Westport Elementary and Ceres Elementary school districts. The tradition of student-focused leadership, caring and capable staff, and a community that supports its students and schools reaches all the way back to the 1870s, when the first Ceres school opened its doors to 28 children from six families. Daniel Whitmore donated land to house the school building originally established on a farm near the present Hatch Road. Daniel Whitmore, John Service, and Ephraim Hatch were among the first school trustees. 

Then, as now, school was the heart of the community, and the one-room school building hosted Grange and community meetings in addition to lessons on reading, writing, and arithmetic. By the turn of the century, a second two-story school building in what is now Whitmore Park housed classes organized by grade level, and the name Ceres School District emerged, to be replaced in later years by Ceres Grammar School and, eventually, Ceres Elementary School District, prior to unification.

The early part of the 20th century saw the addition of Ceres High School in 1908, the first commencement ceremony in 1912, and the beginning of school transportation – initially via horse-drawn wagon – in 1915. 

The Clinton Whitmore School opened on Lawrence Street in 1931 and would become the site of the present district office. In the population boom following World War II, Ceres built Don Pedro, Caswell, Carroll Fowler, and Walter White Junior High School. Upon unification in 1965, Dr. Robert “Bob” Adkison became CUSD’s first superintendent, followed by Bruce Newlin, Bea Lingenfelter, Walt Hanline and Siegel. The first CUSD Board trustees were Clare Berryhill, Howard Hickey, Ed Kaiser, Grant Lucas, Virginia “Betty” Parks, Dale Sinclear and Homer Vilas.

Today, CUSD embodies its mission statement: “Committed to Excellence, Responsive to Every Student.” CUSD’s 21 campuses and 2,000 staff members serve more than 14,000 students in preschool through 12th grade and Ceres Adult School, providing quality instruction, Chromebooks for students, nutrition, social-emotional programs, an award-winning Career Technical Education program, and a path to post-secondary education through a focus on college readiness. The district is known for its absolute commitment to meeting the needs of all students.

Current board members are President Betty Davis, Clerk Valli Wigt, Lourdes Perez, Faye Lane, Hugo Molina, Brian de la Porte and Mike Welsh.

Receiving the plaque was Perez.

“We are committed to providing excellent educational opportunities for all students here in Ceres and providing benefits and supports to our families in the community of Ceres to create a better future,” said Perez.

KASE wins award Mike Reynolds
Mike Reynolds of Kase Manufacturing received a plaque as “Large Business of the Year” for businesses with 35 or more employees. Presenting the plaque was Donna Lambert of the Chamber.

“Large Business of

the Year” award

Kase Manufacturing, a cannabis manufacturing plant in southwest Ceres, was selected for the “Large Business of the Year” award.

“Under the ownership of Mike Reynolds, who is driven by passion and personal experience, the team at Kase Manufacturing share a common goal to remove the stigma around a plant that has helped so many lives,” said Chamber official Donna Lambert who introduced the award. “After spending 10 years working in the Ceres Unified School District, Mike’s life took on a whole new meaning when his young son was diagnosed with epilepsy.”

In 2017, the city of Ceres approved the establishment of Kase Manufacturing, one of the first legal cannabis extraction facilities in the state, allowing Reynolds the opportunity to manufacture the medicine to help control his son’s epileptic seizures.

“Through product quality, efficacy, and education, Kase envisions an industry shaped to truly benefit its consumers,” said Lambert. “The focus of Kase Manufacturing is to stay on the forefront of alternative medical cannabis formulations. Everyday customers find the healing effects of cannabis – from insomnia to curbing the intrusive impact cancer leaves on the body. Kase Manufacturing works very hard to provide clean alternative treatments, high-quality products, and unparalleled service to the communities it serves and is focusing on taking its products globally.

Ben Castellanos
Ben Castellanos receives the “Volunteer of the Year” award from Chamber official Paul Huckaba. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Volunteer of the Year

Ben Castellanos, a dedicated grandparent volunteering at Hidahl Elementary School for the past six years, was honored by the Chamber as its 

“Volunteer of the Year.”

He was selected as a person who exhibits patience, driven by passion and humble about their work. Castellanos was also recently named the 2020 “Volunteer of the Year” by CUSD. Prior to the pandemic bringing changes to the school system, Ben had been recognized as a fixture on the Hidahl campus during the school day and for evening events. He has been especially dedicated to ensuring students and staff members are safe when walking to and from the parking lot each day.

Supermom's award
Dovie Wilson (left) accepts the Small Business of the Year award plaque from Brandy Meyer in the absence of the owners of Supermom's Frozen Yogurt.. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Small Business of the Year

Supermom’s Frozen Yogurt & More was honored with the “Small Business of the Year” award.

Supermom’s Frozen Yogurt & More has been swirling, brewing, and making memories in the Ceres community for 10 years! Supermom’s always goes above and beyond for our community and deserves to be recognized for their continued support of our students, citizens and community as a whole. Owner Tina Borden has always been recognized for allowing students to work for her business and often donates yogurt and products to several different community events. Supermom’s has hosted community gatherings like Coffee with a Cop, the Ceres Chamber of Commerce morning mixers, and is very active in partnering with the Ceres Fire Department’s Breast Cancer Awareness efforts every October. 

Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple
Members of the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple of Ceres/Modesto were on hand to receive the “Distinguished Service Award” for their church. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Distinguished Service Award 

A number of members of the Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Temple of Ceres/Modesto were on hand to receive the “Distinguished Service Award” for their church. 

“The Gurdwara Sahib of Ceres understands the social responsibilities towards the community at large and to benefit the community they have a range of services including a Sikh library, services for senior citizens and religious services,” said Chamber Vice President Shella Joiner. “Each year the members of the Gurdwara Sahib take part in a community event organized to educate and explore different areas of Sikh/Indian community culture in California and the United States overall. This event provides an opportunity to bring together Central Valley law enforcement community, administration officials, non-profit executives, and other cultures to network and learn from each other.”

On May 10, 2020, members volunteered in a drive-through luncheon to thank first-responders and other essential workers for their efforts during the pandemic. Those attending were provided with a meal, cold drinks and personal protective equipment such as masks, hand sanitizer and the like.

“The members of the Ceres Gurdwara are always extending their services to those in need showing immense support for the communities they serve.”

Shella Joiner speaks
Chamber Vice President Shella Joiner speaks about being optimistic that the community can turn the corner from the coronavirus pandemic which shut down life in 2020. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Joiner gave a short speech, recapping how many have lost their jobs and businesses and loved ones and families struggling with distance learning through 2020.

“We’re still reeling from the effects of this virus,” said Joiner, “and trying to maneuver these still somewhat challenging times.”

She said the Chamber did not escape the effects of COVID-19. The Chamber closed its office for a while and had staff work remotely while board directors had to learn how to meet via Zoom.

“We at times also felt lost on how to help businesses and today we still struggle with the idea that we cannot yet hold some of our annual events, like this one tonight,” said Joiner. “We were forced to cancel several events last year, like the Ceres Street Faire, the annual Agribusiness Luncheon and our barbecue festival. As we move into 2021 we remain hopeful that we can resume levels of normality. We hope that all our children will soon be back in school. We look forward to sharing meals together in our local restaurants and worshiping together in our churches. I know I look forward to the day when I can set aside this mask and see others’ smiling faces and when we can come together and celebrate our community.”