The Oregon nursery and greenhouse industry’s best were honored at Oregon Association of Nurseries President’s Awards Banquet for 2021, taking place November 3 on the chapel lawn at the Grand Wailea Resort, Maui, Hawaii. The banquet capped off the annual OAN Convention, highlighted by the passing of the gavel from Kyle Fessler of Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas Inc. (Woodburn, Oregon) to Josh Robinson of Robinson Nursery Inc. (Amity, Oregon).
Tom and Debbie Fessler of Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas Inc. served as convention hosts, and past president Jim Simnitt of Simnitt Nursery served as the master of ceremonies for the awards dinner.
Several honors were presented as chosen by the OAN Awards Committee.
Ben Verhoeven, owner of Peoria Gardens, was named Emerging Nursery Leader of the Year. Verhoeven has served on the OAN Executive Committee for the past year as the member at large, and was recently elected board secretary. He recently served as greenhouse segment representative on the OAN Board of Directors.
“Strong voices are critical for the success of the OAN, and we are in good hands with Ben,” presenter Amanda Staehely, owner of Columbia Nursery LLC, said.
The Farwest Show Committee, chaired by Patrick Newton of Powell’s Nursery, was named Committee of the Year for its work in getting the show restarted after it had to be canceled the year before due to COVID-19.
“A lost year in an event can be a death knell, but not with the leadership and volunteers of the Farwest Show committee,” award presenter Jim Simnitt said. “Patrick Newton and the committed members not only reinvigorated the show in 2021 but were critical in our success to bring the Farwest Show back.”
Mark Bigej, chief operating officer and ownership group member at Al’s Garden & Home, was given the OAN Outstanding Service Award. He was recognized for his service as OAN past president and as current chairman of the OAN Government Relations Committee.
“Mark Bigej has been part of the association so far back he babysat my boys at Convention many moons ago,” award presenter Tom Fessler said. “He runs a top tier growing and retail operation, and when the association needed his strong hand and voice, he made a difference. Mark led the effort to change the structure of our board of directors, he served as president during tumultuous times of the association where finances were downright scary. He now leads our government relations committee at a crucial time at the legislature that will shape our industry for decades. There is no better person to do it.”
Four members were given Honorary Life memberships in the OAN. They included Tom Fessler of Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas Inc., Doug Zielinski of Alpha Nursery, Kathy LeCompte of Brooks Tree Farm, and Terry Thornton of Nursery Connection LLC.
All four are past presidents of the OAN (Fessler in 1996, Thornton in 1998, Zielinski in 1999 and LeCompte in 2001). Thornton, now retired, is one of the rare suppliers who has served as an OAN president.
Rod Park of Parks Nursery presented the honorary life membership to LeCompte. “Kathy has been involved in agriculture and forestry her whole life,” he said. “A leader no matter where she is — at home, at church, in her community and within the OAN family — Kathy is a nursery industry warrior. She does nothing halfway, becoming a black belt, running for office when we needed her most, and a voice of clarity and reason within our political efforts in Salem and Washington, D.C.”
Tom Brewer of HC Companies and the OAN Board presented the honor to Thornton.
“It is a particular honor to recognize an unsung hero of the OAN tribe,” Brewer said. “Terry Thornton’s measure and impact can be found throughout his distinguished career. Starting as a shelf stocker at Teufel Nursery, Terry found his passion in hard goods. He was old school in getting catalogs and products into the hands of our buyers and with most things — it was a family affair. Thornton family is always all in. He served the OAN in many capacities at the chapter and board level.”
Kyle Fessler presented the honorary life membership to his father, Tom.
“Tom has a deep love of his Catholic faith, his family, and the nursery industry,” Kyle said. “He is proud of his children and family. Tom’s best moments are spent with his 14 grandchildren in his fishing boat. Tom is an honorable, hard working, and humble man. He loves and values his employees and is passionate about growing and influencing the nursery industry.”
Jim Simnitt presented the honorary life membership to Zielinski.
“Doug is a true community member and leader lending his skills and time to numerous efforts that serve the greater Keizer area,” Simnitt said. “Years ago, while serving as the OAN President, he and Clayton Hannon decided to take the OAN to convention right here in beautiful Hawaii. It is fitting that this award is being presented here tonight.”
Five recipients received the traditional Five Star Awards, which are given by the outgoing president in recognition of outstanding service or support during the year.
Outgoing president Kyle Fessler gave them to OAN Communications and Web Design Manager Beth Farmer, OAN Director of Finance and Administration Stephanie Weihrauch, the Government Relations Committee, his parents Tom and Debbie Fessler, and his wife Mollie Fessler.
As is traditional, incoming president Josh Robinson presented Kyle, as outgoing president, with a gavel plaque and a special thanks for his year of service. “Kyle, thanks for all you have done for the association,” Robinson said.
Friends of Nurseries awards given to key nursery supporters
The Oregon Association of Nurseries has announced the winners of its Friends of Nurseries Awards for 2021. These awards are given to elected officials and others who help the association advance the best interests of the nursery industry in some way, whether through key advocacy, coalition building or just good, old-fashioned support for a bill or issue.
Oregon House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) was given the Legislator of the Year award for her key support on several issues, and her strong engagement with the nursery industry and OAN.
“There were enormous stakes during the last session for the viability of the industry and Rep. Drazan simply asked, ‘How can we help?’,” outgoing OAN President Kyle Fessler said. “That goes a long way and her commitment to protect the industry is something we wish to highlight as a true partner.”
The Friends of Nurseries winners for 2021 include State Rep. Mark Owens (R-Crane), Rep. Ken Helms (D-Beaverton), Rep. Jeff Reardon (D-Happy Valley), Rep. Vikki Breese Iverson (R-Prineville) and Chris Huckleberry, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon 5th District).
Owens was recognized for contributions on the water supply issue, which is critical for an agricultural industry that is reliant on irrigation. “He was a critical voice of reason that touched every corner of the water debate,” Fessler said.
Helm was also recognized for contributions on this issue, balancing municipal and environmental needs with agricultural needs. “Rep. Helm was a steady hand on all aspects of water policy and set the Water Resources Department on a path toward sustainability and clear policy direction,” Fessler said.
Reardon served on the Natural Resource subcommittee of the Oregon Joint Ways and Means Committee, and helped saw to it that water supply needs were funded. “$535 million and a cogent plan to put the state in the best possible position to stretch water as a precious resource could have not been accomplished without his efforts,” Fessler said.
Breese Iverson was recognized for her efforts on the House Natural Resources Committee. “She was resolute and clear minded that to compete in the national and global economy, agriculture needs help rather than punitive regulations,” Fessler said. “She proved herself as someone the nursery and greenhouse industry can depend on.”
Huckleberry was recognized as an important liaison between U.S. Rep. Schrader’s office and the nursery industry.
“There is little doubt that staff make things happen in a congressional office,” Fessler said. “Huck has been a behind the scenes friend to our industry. He’s a true Oregonian, and an exemplary public servant. He deserves recognition for his decades of service and support of the agricultural community.”
THANK YOU TO OUR SPONSORS
The OAN would like to thank all of the sponsors for their generous support of the 2021 Convention! It was a landmark return to the Hawaiian islands. More than 80 OAN members and guests had a wonderful time at the luxury oceanfront hotel with acres of tropical gardens. Members gathered to discuss the tests and trials the industry faces over the last growing season, and recognize the leaders who contributed to the success of the association. Congratulations to everyone.
The OAN is looking forward to another great annual Convention next year! Stay tuned for details.