Chamber President Sofia Valenzuela announced the honorees, who were nominated by community members and selected by a committee of past award recipients.
Valenzuela said the winners, who will be recognized during a Feb. 16 gala at the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts, are living examples of how to make a difference in the community.
Female Citizen of the Year: Pam Warta
Warta has been involved in community causes for years, but the 61-year-old still has energy to burn.
The 23-year Tracy resident said it’s natural to get involved, but not because it can lead to such an award.
“I do it because I love this community and being a part of something,” Warta said.
After the Festival of Trees wrapped up its 12-year course fundraising for the Sutter Tracy Hospital Foundation in 2011, she and her husband, Dave, concocted a new wintertime event, Tracy’s Home for the Holidays. That’s in addition to running Comfort-Keepers, a homecare provider that helps seniors stay in their homes.
But Warta said she’s used to a high-energy life, having grown up in a big family and having raised one herself — she has six children, Sean, Jennie, Kelly, Michael, Emily and Jane.
Tracy is a growing community with the heart of a small town, Warta said, and it’s something that compels her to support causes that bring the city together as a community.
“It’s not hard work — we’re having fun,” she said.
Valenzuela said Warta's passion to help others makes her stand out in the community.
“She definitely rolls her sleeves up and gets things done," she said.
Male Citizen of the Year: Richard Spence
Spence, a member of the Breakfast Lions Club, donates countless hours to organizations such as Brighter Christmas, Tracy Interfaith Ministries, the Sister City Association, and many others.
A Tracy resident since 1966, the 72-year-old said he’s just doing his part to maintain the country’s volunteer spirit.
“I think you’ve got to give back to the community,” he said. “Someone’s got to step up.”
Spence said he joined the Lions Club shortly after he moved to town with his wife, Donna, and it put him on a path of local volunteerism.
But Spence, who has two sons and a daughter, said he never thought getting involved would lead to recognition.
“It’s a big honor, but you don’t do these things for the accolades and awards,” he said. “There are certain people in this community who are as deserving or even more deserving.”
Valenzuela said that a selfless attitude is part of what makes Spence so special.
“He comes (into the chamber office) always wanting to nominate someone for these awards,” she said. “He’s all about others. He’s all about serving the community.”
Spence said he wouldn’t know what to do if he wasn’t pitching in with one cause or another.
“I’m not really into computers and TV, and I like to keep busy and stay involved,” he said.
Professional of the Year: John Frerichs
Since he was a child, Frerichs wanted to join the family business.
Now, the 70-year-old is managing the insurance company his father once headed and that his grandfather founded in 1919.
Frerichs said that his father was one of the first of many teachers he had in the business world, and that he’s never forgotten the lessons of "diligence, hard work and honesty.”
They’re the same virtues, Valenzuela said, that earned him this year’s Professional of the Year honor.
“He just has a way of dealing with his customers,” she said. “He’s really been a servant of this community.”
The lifelong Tracy resident has been married to his wife, Judy, for 38 years. The couple have a son and daughter.
Frerichs has no immediate plans to leave the family business. In fact, he said he’s trying to make it to January 2015, which will mark the beginning of his 50th year with the business — or possibly to 2019, when the business turns 100.
“I’ve always been proud that in all the years I’ve worked that I never woke up Monday not wanting to go to work,” he said.
Entrepreneur of the Year: Virna Hudson
Hudson and her husband, Cliff, have taken Fresh Coat Painters from a three-employee outfit in 2007 to a 20-employee operation that’s on the verge of opening its first showroom.
“All the work we’ve been doing so far, we’re starting to see it play out,” said the 39-year-old.
Valenzuela called Hudson "the number one salesman for her company."
Hudson was dedicated to her business’ growth even before it opened.
“We got involved with the community (immediately),” she said. “We were able to establish relationships with the business owners in the community — business-minded people like us.”
Hudson was “very humbled” by the award, and credits the success of Fresh Coat Painters to listening to clients — and a little help from her husband. Hudson also has two sons.
“I have to give credit to my husband, because not only is he my partner, he’s a part of the business,” she said. “He’s the silent guy behind the scenes.”
Ambassador of the Year: Karen Aranda
From the moment she attended a Tracy Chamber of Commerce meeting, Aranda recognized that being a chamber ambassador would be a perfect fit.
For the past several years, Aranda has reached out to individuals and businesses telling them about how the chamber helps rookie and veteran entrepreneurs alike.
In her conversations with others, she uses as an example the growth of Altamont Mechanical Heating and Air Conditioning, which she and her husband, Sam, started three years ago when he was laid off.
“I’m like, that’s so me,” the 48-year-old said. “I’m a people person, and (with) the success of our business, I like seeing other people achieve that.”
Aranda said that, in a world increasingly dominated by social media, she enjoys the face-to-face interaction that comes with being an ambassador.
“I still like the old-school way of marketing,” she said. “It’s just so natural to me.”
Valenzuela said Aranda and her husband are a perfect example of success to show other entrepreneurs.
“They are the poster child for the chamber when it comes to a business that comes in and really takes off,” Valenzuela said.
Business of the Year: Barista’s Coffee Shop
The coffee shop of Harish and Nalini Patel has been a downtown fixture since it opened eight years ago.
After running an ice cream shop for five years in the mall and briefly returning to a commuter job, Harish Patel said the couple wanted to feel as part of the community again.
“We missed the passion of running a business in Tracy,” he said.
Harish Patel was “really surprised” and “humbled” by the award and said awards such as this are not why he and his wife of 27 years are in business.
“I’m not here to compete, I’m here to take care of the people who come into my business,” he said.
The Patels’ children, Shaan and Shani, also work at the coffee shop — but that’s not the only reason Barista’s is a family affair.
“The people are phenomenal,” Harish Patel said. “My clientele base is amazing.”
He’s learned that customers should feel at home, especially when economic times are tough.
“During a down cycle (in the economy), never cut back,” he said. “Keep the quality the same, and the customer service.”
That kind of personal touch is one of the reasons Valenzuela cited as the shop’s success.
“Barista’s truly is so unique in how they operate,” she said. “As soon as you walk in, they make you feel welcome.”
Organization of the Year: Hearts of Harvest Foundation
Becki Brown and Pam McCain each know the struggle of having a child with a major medical condition.
One of Brown’s three children was born with a congenital heart defect, and McCain’s daughter faced three open-heart-surgeries.
Along with volunteer Bonnie Smith, McCain and Brown banded together during a support group meeting in 2000.
After that meeting, they formed Hearts of Harvest, which since 2001, has raised $415,000 to support parents whose children suffer from heart ailments.
“This is why we do it,” McCain said. “We’ve had to sit in the hospital bedside, not knowing what tomorrow will bring.”
Most of the money Hearts of Harvest has raised, Brown said, goes to the extra expenses a family incurs when a child is seriously sick such as transportation, food, and sometimes a second residence.
With their children now healthy, Brown said the nonprofit is part of hers and McCain’s effort to pay forward God’s blessings in their lives.
“This honor realizes one of our ambitions, and that’s a responsibility to give back to the community,” Brown said.
She and McCain hope the award will generate more awareness for the charity and allow them to touch more people.
• Contact Jon Mendelson at 830-4231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
WHAT: Tracy Chamber of Commerce Community Recognition Award gala
WHEN: 5 p.m. Feb. 16
WHERE: Grand Theatre Center for the Arts, 715 Central Ave.
DETAILS: The black-tie affair will feature no-host cocktails beginning at 5 p.m., and the awards ceremony begins at 6:30 p.m.
COST: $40 each
INFO: 831-6858 or 835-2131