It was, in the words of Signal Publisher and President Chuck Champion, a night to “celebrate” Santa Clarita-area residents who have “given so much to so many for so long.”
It was The Signal’s 11th annual “51” awards gala, and it drew more than 300 people Thursday night to the Hyatt Valencia, where 51 of the Santa Clarita Valley’s most selfless people got a rare dose of the spotlight – and a prominent, public “thank you.”
In the past 10 years, The Signal’s “51” honored the area’s “most influential” residents, as decided by a panel of the newspaper’s editors and management. Many of those people were repeat honorees.
But this year, in an effort to take the awards “to the next level,” the paper chose to recognize contributions to the community through volunteerism, professional expertise, non-profit involvement and overall leadership.
“Many of our past honorees came up to me or other staff members and expressed that, while it is great to be honored year over year, it might be time to change up the event and recognize other hard-working citizens who, while doing great things, seem to fly under the radar, but yet do fantastic work in the Santa Clarita Valley,” Russ Briley, The Signal’s executive vice president of community relations, told the crowd.
And so five winners in each of 10 categories were announced on Sept. 10, and they were honored Thursday night with framed awards and loud applause. They were not ranked.
Only one resident was singled out — putting the final digit on “the 51.” That was Ken Wiseman, CEO and managing partner of Santa Clarita’s AMS Fulfillment distribution center.
Wiseman’s business is an 800,000-square-foot warehouse at the Valencia Commerce Center – but it’s also a depot of goodwill and community service, as the 61-year-old Wiseman employs and mentors numerous at-risk kids, the developmentally challenged, criminal offenders looking to get on the right track, the homeless, and victims of domestic violence.
“I’m still pinching myself – these are the icon leaders of the city,” Wiseman said of winning the top award … and of his fellow honorees.
Wiseman, joined at the gala by Betty-Lou, his wife of 36 years, said he was humbled by the recognition – and grateful to be in the company of the other winners.
“It’s like if you surround yourself with golfers better than you, you play a better game,” he said. “I always make it a point to surround myself with leaders like them.”
The 10 categories in which the 51 were recognized were: emerging leaders; volunteerism/unsung heroes; non-profits; health care; economic development; technology; business; government; hospitality/philanthropy; and education.
“It’s really impressive to see so many community leaders doing the good work that everybody does,” said Bill Momary, who founded, in his Saugus garage, “Ebyline” — which connects freelance journalists to a network of publishers. Momary was honored in the technology category.
Martin Rodriguez, honored in the non-profits category, said, “It’s cool being in a city that recognizes” giving back and helping others.
Rodriguez is a senior loan officer for Wintrust Mortgage, but he spends about as much time in his roles as Board Chair of the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project, and Board President for Single Mothers Outreach.
Living in Santa Clarita and sharing the spotlight with the other “51” honorees “spurs you to do more,” Rodriguez said.