Some of the most galvanizing business, agricultural and philanthropic figures in the region call Turlock home, and on Thursday evening the Turlock Chamber of Commerce honored eight of those individuals as some of the city’s best and brightest gathered in one place.
The 50th annual Best of Turlock awards, held this year at the Assyrian American Civic Club, took the opportunity to recognize outstanding citizens and their accomplishments in 2018, bringing together Chamber members, community leaders and Turlock supporters for an “Appetizer International Bazaar” featuring local restaurants.
“I think it’s truly an honor to be able to see these people and make sure that we recognize them in the right way,” Chamber Board Chair Craig Pitau said. “They do so much for the community and so much for the overall wellbeing of our town.”
This year’s Best of Turlock event differed from years past in that instead of a formal, sit down event, guests were able to enjoy samples from restaurants like Mundo’s Latin Grill, The Creperie, The Grand Cru, Burt’s BBQ Shak, Vito’s Ristorante and more in a networking-friendly mixer setting.
“We wanted to do something faster-paced instead of having people sitting in chairs and listening to people speak,” Pitau said. “We wanted to have people mingle, and that’s what the Chamber of Commerce is about.”
This year’s ceremony included awards presented to the Agricultural Leader of the Year, Business Leader of the Year, Educator of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year, Small Business of the Year, two Youth Citizens of the Year and the Citizen of the Year.
This year, Turlock resident Surjit Malhi was honored as Turlock’s Citizen of the Year, who is well-known around town for helping people in need. Even after being targeted in a hate crime earlier this year where vandals attacked him and defaced his truck, Malhi said that his Sikh faith has taught him to always put others first.
Just this year, Malhi helped to feed local homeless individuals, cleaned up area freeways and even sponsored over 200 families affected by the Camp Fire in Butte County, using his own vehicles as transportation for donations.
“These people have done so much — especially Surjit,” Pitau said. “He has truly given back to the community and is just a wonderful person, so for me it was an honor to recognize someone like him tonight.”
Other honorees included:
— Select Harvest USA as the Agricultural Leader of the Year. In 2018, the agribusiness combined the best processes of growing, packing, marketing and shipping almonds to 55 countries throughout the world while employing 140 people in Turlock.
— The 2018 Business Leader of the Year was Jack Wilkey. Founded in 1993, Wilkey Industries has since specialized in providing innovative solutions through design, fabrication and installation of processing equipment in agriculture, industrial and manufacturing facilities. The organization not only employs 50 people at their 40,000 square foot facility in Turlock, but Wilkey is also very active in the community, supporting the Chamber, Ag Scholarship Luncheon, Rotary, Stanislaus County Fair, 4-H, FFA and high school sports programs.
— Corine Meyer was recognized as the Educator of the Year thanks to her 28 years of service in Turlock Unified School District, where she works with special needs students as an adaptive Physical Education teacher. She also links families and students with local resources and activities, such as the Special Olympics and the Society for Disabilities bike camps and snow skiing opportunities.
“I’m blessed every Sunday evening because I don’t have to dread the next day — I get to wake up and go be with my kids,” Meyer said as she accepted her award.
— The Humanitarian of the Year was Reverend Jeffrey Woods, who brings pastors and staff from churches throughout the region together for lunches through his nonprofit organization, The Barnabas Leadership Foundation, which has grown to include 150 people. Woods also served as a leader in establishing and organizing the Turlock Gospel Mission, and currently serves on the Emanuel Hospital Patient Care Board.
“Over the 20 years that I’ve lived in Turlock, I can think of hundreds of people who would be deserving of the humanitarian award,” Woods said, naming off teachers, first responders, healthcare workers, journalists and more as worthy recipients. “I am so deeply grateful for a city where people care, where people give and where people go beyond their job.”
— Gary Wahl, Michael Willemse and Amy Wilson of Wahl, Willemse & Wilson CPAs were honored as the Small Business of the Year, recognizing the organization for its 30-plus years of providing quality accounting services to the area.
— Pitman High School student Noor El-Nounou and Turlock High School student Cameran Sherwood were the Chamber’s Youth Citizens of the Year — fitting, as both students are their respective school’s student body presidents.
El-Nounou has made it her goal to teach students and staff about cultural differences, and has been a part of the Mayor’s Youth Conference, Superintendent Student Senate, Key Club, PHAST and even founded Cultural Day at PHS. She is also a member of the school’s poetry club and earns excellent grades.
“I always thought it was so important to celebrate the things that make us different,” she said. “With the help of my student body it’s been amazing, and I’m so thankful to be a part of the Pitman Pride.”
Sherwood this year maintained an impressive 4.1 GPA while enrolled in college prep classes, and has also been on the Principal’s Honor Roll each semester in addition to achieving high enough academic status to be a member of the California Scholarship Federation.
Sherwood also excels in football, basketball and baseball, serving as a leader for the Bulldogs on each team, and also takes time out of every school year to help with Relay for Life.
“I’m so humbled and honored to receive an award like this,” Sherwood said. “I want to thank the staff and faculty at Turlock High School…the way they develop students into great people that grow up to be great leaders in this community is something that I value very much.”