By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Sharon Caruso feted for service
Honored with Citizen of the Year award
Sharon Caruso2
Sharon Caruso expressed surprise and honor that she was named Citizen of the Year during Friday evenings banquet. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Sharon Caruso's decades of community service earned her the "Citizen of the Year: Lifetime Achievement Award" at Friday evening's 48th annual Ceres Chamber of Commerce banquet.

Caruso, who moved to Ceres in 1987, was employed for 18 years at Gallo Winery. Along the way her community service has included:

• Planning and set up for the Ceres Harvest Festival;

• Work on the Mae Hensley and Virginia Parks PTAs;

• Tallied judges' scores for the Miss and Little Miss Ceres pageants;

• Chaired the committee that reinstated the Miss Ceres pageant in 2000 while providing training and etiquette seminars for contestants, helped with sales and selection of judges;

• Coordinated a float in the annual Ceres Street Faire Parade;

• Modeled in the Soroptimist fashion show fundraiser for years before she became a Soroptimist member in 2003;

• Served on the Soroptimist board of directors while sitting on the Distinguished Young Women's contest committee;

• Gave presentations for the Soroptimist Empowering Teens program at junior highs in Ceres;

• Actively participated in all community service projects of Soroptimists, including serving as the chair of the club's Fabulous Fall Auction for the past six years;

• Volunteered at polling places in Ceres;

• Served ice cream at the annual Daniel Whitmore Home Ice Cream Social;

• Served on the Smoke of the River Committee;

• Helped rally Ceres Unified School District to recognize the Perpetual Motion dance team - of which her daughter was a member - as a sport and thus fulfill the requirement for PE classes;

• Opened her home for the annual Ceres Garden Club tour;

• Provided sponsorship of a garden at the Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson;

• Attended Rotary Club community functions and fundraisers for over 35 years;

• Received the Rotary's top honor, a Paul Harris Fellow in 1994;

• Support of the Gallo Centre for the Arts and Salvation Army Red Shield Center;

• Serves on the committee for the community brunch of the Team Salvation Army Red Shield;

• Donates annually to the Ceres Community Baby Shower;

• Donated clothes and presented etiquette seminars to women at the Redwood Family Center;

"As you can see, Sharon is a friend to all and never says no to any project big or small," said Dick McKay, last year's recipient.

Caruso said she attended her first Chamber banquet in1975 when Helen Marchy was the recipient.

"I think I've been to every single one since 1975 and never in a million years did I think I would be standing here in front of my family and all my friends saying thank you so much - I'm truly honored, and humbled and shocked and surprised," said Caruso. "I do what I do because I truly love this community."

Attending were her husband, Paul Caruso and daughter Amanda.

‘Young Citizen of Year'
Kendall Meyer was named "Young Ceres Citizen of the Year." She has served in the Interact Club on her campus and helped to feed the homeless and helped as a leader in "Love Ceres." She also volunteers with the Ceres Police Department and volunteers as a CPR instructor. Kendall is captain of her varsity volleyball team and maintains exceptional grades in high school.

Rotary Club honored
The Ceres Rotary Club was honored with the "Distinguished Service Award." In Ceres since 1977, the club has lived out its motto, "Service Above Self." The club's many good acts include helping the city to rehabilitate part of Smyrna Park, helping eradicate polio worldwide and construction of a factory in Guatemala that employs disabled persons to build wheelchairs and helping to rehab wheelchairs in the U.S. through Hope Haven. The club also adopts the Salvation Army Red Shield Center in south Modesto and recently bought a competition boxing ring and equipment for use there. Local Rotarians also last year offered $6,300 in high school scholarships and adopted families at Christmas time. They also gave 1,200 hard-covered dictionaries to every third-grader in Ceres.

Business of the Year
Lou Toste was named "Volunteer of the Year," cited for his decades of working with Ceres youth in the soccer league. Last year's recipient, Lisa Mantarro Moore, detailed his contributions. Toste was recognized for being instrumental in developing and maintaining the Ceres Youth Soccer League and helping the city to expand the local soccer facility into a "top notch regional gaming facility." A native of the Azores and resident of Ceres since 1975, Toste is also an active volunteer in the Volunteers in Police Services (VIPS). Toste also serves on the Ceres Community Foundation board of directors.

Toste noted that approximately 1,500 kids play at the Ceres River Bluff Regional Park soccer facility and that soon allow disabled kids to play soccer.

Business of the Year
Classic Wine Vinegar Company, located at 4110 Brew Master Drive in Ceres, was bestowed the "Business of the Year Award." Walter and Donna Nicolau purchased the business 25 years ago as a weekend hobby, said Chamber President Renee Ledbetter. With sons Walter "Sonny" and Tim, the company bottles vinegars for 75 different labels and manufacture wine vinegars using the oak barrel age process, or the Orleans method. In fact, theirs is one of the few Orleans vinegar-making companies left in California. Classic Wine Vinegar also manufactures rice, fruit and distilled vinegars and bottle extra virgin olive oils, flavored dipping oils and are a certified organic facility. The Ceres company was also spotlighted on the Food Network's Good Eats Show with Alton Brown.

The facility, built in 2005, includes a gourmet food and gift shop. Ledbetter called Classic Wine Vinegar as one of the "best kept secrets in Ceres." The growth of the company has resulted in plans to expand to an adjacent facility to bring more jobs to Ceres.

"Ceres is a really good place to work with because they do say ‘yes' to a lot of things and they understand that the regulations and the burdens that we receive just trying to be in business that they try to help us to move along," said Walter Nicolau.

Downtown Business
of the Year
Addy's Boutique was presented the "Downtown Business of the Year Award." The business started in 2011 as Addy's Purses & Accessories by Kevin and Karen Climer of Keyes and as Karen's sister, Shella Joiner started making custom home décor. Shella's husband Mark started making custom folk art pieces. The two couples merged their businesses and set up on Lawrence Street last year.

"It didn't take long for Addy's to attract a following with its unique products, stylings and services," said John Curtiss in announcing the award.

The business gave back to the community by hosting a gift and food drive to assist multiple families during the past holiday season.

Shella thanked the community for its support, saying: "It's just an amazing journey and I'm so grateful to be doing it with my sister."

Legacy Award
Save Mart Supermarket was given the "Legacy Award." Emcee Eric Ingwerson said Save Mart actively supports more than 150 schools and charities.

Save Mart is readying to move into adjacent space as it expands its Ceres store. Store manager Donna Lambert said the new store will debut in April or May. The improved store will introduce a pharmacy, expanded meat department with fresh sea food, custom grilled meats, expanded produce to include organic, a bakery, ready-to-go sandwiches and meals, a soup bar, full service deli, a taco/burrito sandwich bar and seating area for in-store dining.

"Our presence in Ceres isn't just about making money; it is also about helping others," said Lambert, who mentioned her store's sponsorship of sports team, and its Fresh Rescue program sending perishables to local food banks.

Officers installed
The event also gave the Chamber a chance to install its new officers, with Congressman Jeff Denham administering the oath. New directors are Brandy Meyer of Meyer CPR & First Aid; Kristina Luna of the Ceres Chapel of Franklin & Downs Funeral Home; Herman Bhatti of KB Real Estate & Mortgage; Stephanie Caraveo of Golden Valley Health Centers; and Jason Chapman of GDR Engineering. The Chamber's new vice president is Lea Ann Hoogestraat of Hoogestraat Consulting.

Denham speaks
Denham spoke to the gathering, mentioning how jobs are foremost on the minds of his constituents. He thanked the Chamber for doing its part in fostering business growth. Denham also praised the Ceres Unified School District for doing "such an amazing job of figuring out how to get things done."

"From my early times in the state Senate with Jay (Simmonds) figuring out ‘how do we build schools differently than the rest of the state,' and actually getting them built and getting them to be world class," said Denham. "But I think even better than that, we're bringing back a lot of the important programs to get our kids excited about going to school; the tech programs that not only show them the different ag technologies but the new technologies outside of agriculture to get them excited about school. It also gets our businesses excited who want to locate here."

The congressman said infrastructure in the Valley is important to economic development, such as good bridges, a good water conveyance system and highway improvements. Denham said his priorities in Washington include fighting for greater water storage facilities to ensure farms have the water. He said Shasta Lake needs to be raised and dams need to constructed at Temperance Flats, Sites Reservoir and Los Vaqueros.

Carmen Hercules and husband Felipe Hercules spoke about their plans to expand the St. Jude's Auto Repair shop on Whitmore Avenue. Carmen praised the Chamber and city for helping them to realize their dreams.

The event featured a silent and live auction that included a bidder offering up $1095 for a Make America Great Again ball cap signed by President Donald Trump and $500 shelled out by Congressman Jeff Denham for a framed signed photo of Willie Mays.