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Dolores Chamber banquet offers Vulcan salute to local businesses

Citizen of the Year Vass calls for unity in town amid issues at school, playground

Aliens, astronauts, Jedi and steampunks gathered at the Dolores Community Center Saturday night for a Chamber of Commerce banquet that called for peace and unity.

The Dolores Chamber of Commerce’s annual spring banquet had a sci-fi theme this year, so many of the roughly 120 local business owners and dignitaries who attended wore costumes from their favorite space movies and shows.

The Chamber’s biggest fundraiser of the year brought in money for the scholarships it offers to Dolores High School seniors, as well as to cover general operating expenses, but the main focus of the night was honoring local businesses and individuals. Linnea Vass, recipient of the Citizen of the Year award, called for their neighbors to work together despite recent controversies in the school district and town government.

Chamber manager Rocky Moss said the event has always been about bringing Dolores citizens together.

“The great thing about it is, it brings in people from all the walks of life in Dolores,” she said. “You’ve got the bankers, the merchants, people from the school, all that stuff.”

This year’s Business of the Year award went to Dolores River Brewery, which has been open about 16 years. Chamber board member Scott Cooper, also the superintendent of Dolores Schools, described the brewery as a “sanctuary” for teachers and other town residents after work, and praised its longevity.

“Not many businesses in town make it to 16 years,” he said. “(The brewery) continues to be a solid business.”

Moki Youngquist accepted the award on behalf of his father Mark, the brewery’s owner, who was traveling at the time. He thanked the Chamber, the rest of the pub’s staff and its regular customers, while teasing some “big projects” the business plans for later this year.

“You are the blood in our veins,” he told the audience at the banquet. “Without those of you that show us your undying and loyal support, our business would be little more than a storefront.”

Board member Deanna Truelsen said Vass, co-owner of the Dolores Food Market, was nominated as Citizen of the Year mainly due to her work on the Dolores School Board, where she served for about 10 years until her term expired in 2017. She was among the driving forces behind the school district’s infant and toddler program, the 2015 mill levy override and, most recently, plans for a school-based health clinic.

The banquet came just a few days after a rowdy school board meeting in which board member Casey McClellan called for Cooper’s termination as superintendent, and in the midst of a municipal election that has largely focused on controversies like the town’s decision to tear down the Ron Kotarski, Jr., playground. Vass urged banquet attendees not to let such controversies divide them.

“We are diversified – we are not divided,” she said. “We need to come to the table together, come with solutions, come with ideas. That’s where we grow our strong community.”

She received applause and a standing ovation from the crowd. Youngquist echoed her sentiments, saying his business wants to help people focus on “what (they) share” rather than their differences.

In addition to the Citizen of the Year award, Vass won first place in the banquet’s costume contest for her glittery alien-themed outfit.

Rotary Club of Dolores member Ruby Gonzalez was also honored at the banquet with an award for service to the community.

Guests at the banquet included current and hopeful town trustees, candidates for Montezuma County Commissioner, members of the Dolores School Board, Sheriff Steve Nowlin and numerous business owners. Businesses and organizations from all over the county donated items for a live and silent auction, and the Dolores-based Montezuma Mexican Restaurant catered the food.

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