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47th annual event showcases a community with heart
BoT Ram Saini
Agriculture Leader of the Year Ram Saini prepares his notes to thank friends, family, and the community on Friday night at the 47 Annual Best of Turlock awards ceremony.



Dr. Doug Marks, DVM



Henna Hundal



Assyrian American Civic Club of Turlock, Inc.



Gil Ogden



Ram P. Saini, Ph.D.



Matt Swanson



John Lazar



James Brenda







Hundreds of people may have gathered at the Assyrian American Civic Club on Tuesday, but a handful of individuals stole the spotlight, and rightfully so. They were an Eagle Scout, a doctor, a future valedictorian, and a philanthropist to name a few, and now they are the 47th Annual Best of Turlock award winners.

While some of the individuals may be averse to the attention bestowed upon them, the annual Chamber of Commerce event provides the community a moment to showcase the good work of individuals that often flies under the radar. Take Gary and Louise Reed of Lock-n-Stitch, the Corporation of the Year, for example.

“We are just a cast-iron repair company,” said Gary.

While this is true, Lock-n-Stitch is also responsible for repairing the dome of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., a job bestowed to a singular company in the nation and an accomplishment unreadable upon the faces of the couple holding hands on stage Friday night.

 However, the Reed’s modesty is indicative of the good nature possessed by all of the Best of Turlock winners.

Educator of the Year Gil Ogden came to Turlock at 19 years old with $60 in his pocket. He played football with now Turlock Police Chief Robert Jackson and graduated from college with Turlock City Council member and vice mayor Amy Bublak. Now, as the director of student services in the Turlock Unified School District, he gives his time and efforts to establishing programs that target at-risk youth. TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto honored Ogden's unwavering morality both personally and professionally when introducing him Friday night.

Agriculture Leader of the Year Ram Saini came to California from India, where he ran the country’s largest poultry co-operative. As a founding member of Preserve Chemical he has developed formulas used in the poultry and swine industries and served on the California Poultry Federation Board of Directors for years. He has also dined with Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

If there ever was a person to disprove the theory that accomplishments are proportional to one’s age Youth Citizen of the Year Henna Hundal would be the one. As a senior at Turlock High School, Hundal has taken 19 honors and advanced placement courses, presently has a 4.72 grade point average, and is ranked number one in her class of 497 students.

“As important as the numbers are, they only tell us part of Henna Hundal’s story,” said Principal Marie Peterson.

To name just a few of her extracurricular activities, Hundal founded the school’s math club, contributed to several publications including the Huffington Post, participated in Mock Trial, and is a certified yoga instructor. She is also gracious and articulate.

“I cannot begin to quantify the depth of gratitude I feel,” she said.

Gratitude was a theme of the evening where every speaker before the podium thanked not only their friends and family for their support, but the community. Perhaps Citizen of the Year Matt Swanson put it most succinctly when he said, “The bottom line is, I love Turlock.”

Turlock is the town where his grandfather founded the family’s turkey farm in 1941, and his father established Associated Feed, the company that has grown five-fold under Swanson’s care. With more than 12 companies and extensive philanthropic work, Swanson has ventured far beyond the agriculture industry into real estate, animal nutrition, education, Christian ministry and more.

“Some might call him the modern day Renaissance man,” said former mayor John Lazar.

Lazar himself was given a Special Recognition Award for his service to the community for the past 22 years as a former Turlock City Council member and mayor, but also as a friend evident by the fact that he accepted his award with a standing ovation from the audience.

Those gathered at the Assyrian American Civic Club Friday night were also in the proper place to honor the club as Humanitarian of the Year.

“It’s a great honor,” said club president Sam David.

And well deserved.

The Assyrian American Civic Club recently shipped 380 boxes in a container that left the port of Oakland to Northern Iraq to assist the Christians facing the threat of the Islamic Extremist group ISIS. Also as an education based cultural organization, the Club offers scholarships for Assyrian American youth from kindergarten through the Doctorate level.

James Brenda was introduced as Volunteer of the Year by his brother Fred Brenda, who was selected as Business Leader of the Year in 2014. James played an integral role in helping the Prodigal Sons and Daughters addiction recovery ministry relocate to a bigger space and in turn help more youth and adults in the community. Brenda also serves on several local boards including the California State University, Stanislaus Foundation Board and the Stanislaus Business Alliance Board.

“Thank you James for being a man who, when seeing a need, also sees possibilities, and when seeing a problem, sees an opportunity,” said Fred.

This same attitude can be attributed to local veterinarian Doug Marks.

As an Eagle Scout and longtime Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 451, Marks has overseen 73 young men also achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. He has also earned the Silver Beaver Award, which is reserved for registered adult leaders who have made an impact on the lives of youth.

“Doctor Marks personifies the Scout laws on a daily basis,” said Matthew Speckman who introduced Marks.

While locals are more likely to recognize Marks at Monte Vista Small Animal Hospital attending to their pets, his commitment to his job and personal values inside and outside of the workplace is a trademark shared by all of the 47th Annual Best of Turlock winners.