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Danville chamber hands out community awards

120+ people attend annual ceremony to honor year's top citizen, employee, business, nonprofit

Some of Danville's finest residents and contributors took center stage last Thursday as the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce presented its annual community awards at Crow Canyon Country Club.

The chamber honored its local Citizen of the Year, Employee of the Year, Business of the Year, Nonprofit Organization of the Year and Chairman's Award recipients during a luncheon that also featured town officials delivering the State of the Town presentation.

More than 120 business professionals, government officials, town representatives and other community members attended the afternoon event, sponsored by Chevron and Sutter Health, Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Dan Ashley, anchor of ABC7 News, served as master of ceremonies and presented the awards.

Citizen of the Year

Ken Behring helped change the face of the San Ramon Valley by developing Blackhawk in the 1970s.

Already a successful developer in Florida, Behring purchased 5,000 acres in the Valley in 1972, and the first home in Blackhawk was completed five years later. The Blackhawk Museum was constructed in 1987, and Blackhawk Plaza followed in 1989.

Behring's impact locally and around the world expanded in 2000, when he founded the Wheelchair Foundation, which aims "to create awareness of the needs and abilities of people with physical disabilities, to promote the joy of giving, create global friendship, and to deliver a wheelchair to every child, teen and adult in the world who needs one, but cannot afford one," according to its website.

The Wheelchair Foundation, now a division of Behring's Global Health and Education Foundation, is set to give away its one millionth wheelchair this year.

Behring, 86, was out of the country last week and unable to attend the chamber presentation. His wife Pat and son Jeff accepted the award on his behalf.

Business of the Year

Republic Services, which has provided solid waste and recycling services for Danville businesses and residents for more than 20 years, received the annual Business of the Year award. Tim Argenti, general manager for Republic Services in the Danville area for the last 16 years, accepted the honor.

Republic Services has supported a variety of local organizations over the years, including the chamber, San Ramon Kiwanis Club, Veterans Memorial Building, Rotary Club of Danville, Sentinels of Freedom, Danville Little League, Museum of the San Ramon Valley, Sustainable Contra Costa, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties, and the Friends of the Danville Library.

The company was also a major sponsor of the former Longs Drugs/CVS Challenge golf tournament at Blackhawk Country Club, which attracted the world's top female golfers. Republic Services also donated hundreds of tickets to the First Tee Program, allowing young golfers the opportunity to meet the professionals.

Employee of the Year

This year's award went to Nancy LaBelle, executive director of Danville-based nonprofit Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area for the past eight years.

"Nancy has been the driving force behind the success of increased support, development, education and independence for people of all ages with Down syndrome," chamber officials said. "Nancy's core belief is that everyone has the right to a voice, a good education and to live the best quality of life possible."

Under LaBelle's leadership, the Down Syndrome Connection of the Bay Area has tripled its membership and budget.

Nonprofit Organization of the Year

Kids' Country has provided educational enrichment after-school programs for elementary school students in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District for the past 30 years.

The nonprofit grew from an after-school child care provider at one elementary school to more than a dozen sites and 160 employees providing services for nearly 2,000 children.

"Its unique Program of the Arts helps to fill the void left by the elimination or curtailment of courses historically offered by schools including visual and performing arts, language, STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) and leadership," chamber officials said.

Kids' Country has also embarked on a $9.5 million project to build a state-of-the-art Kids' Country Center for the Arts & Sciences in Danville. Executive director Stacy Litteral accepted the award on the organization's behalf.

Chairman's Award

Michael Spranger, owner of Promotional Edge in Danville and an active member of the Chamber of Commerce, received the annual Chairman's Award.

Spranger has served on the chamber's board of directors and its home-based business council as well as vice president of membership. He's also been a familiar face in the community during the holiday season, appearing as Father Christmas.

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