Rob Miller (right) was named Merchant of the Year at last year's Keizer First Citizen Awards Banquet. (KEIZERTIMES file/Eric A. Howald)

Rob Miller (right) was named Merchant of the Year at last year’s Keizer First Citizen Awards Banquet. (KEIZERTIMES file/Eric A. Howald)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Things will look a little different this year at Keizer’s First Citizen Awards Banquet.

The annual banquet starts at 6 p.m. Saturday at Keizer Quality Suites, having moved from its previous spot at the Keizer Civic Center. There will be a prime rib dinner and no host bar. Tickets are $44 each or $400 for a table of eight seats.

Per usual, awards will be handed out for First Citizen, Merchant of the Year, President’s Award and Service to Education.

Nominees for the First Citizen award are Rich Duncan, Richard Walsh, former mayor Lore Christopher, Don Conat and Mark Caillier. Merchant of the Year nominees are Keizertimes publisher Lyndon Zaitz, Joe Egli, Scott and Kalynn White, Shelly Paddock and Larry Jackson. The Service to Education nominees are Chuck and Krina Lee, JoAnne Beilke, Jim Taylor, Scott Coburn and John Honey.

The different part ties in with this year’s theme of Rising to the Occasion.

“You can bring someone in who will be recognized that night,” said Audrey Butler, president of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce board. “Maybe it’s someone you want to recognize. We will have small awards.”

Christine Dieker, executive director of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce that puts the event on, said the idea ties in nicely with this year’s theme.

“We are wanting to start something special with this rising to the occasion recognition,” Dieker said. With a table, a business or organization that wants to honor and recognize those rising to the occasion daily or annually can do so. They might not be considered for the main awards, but they are the workhorses behind the scenes. They are doing what they are passionate about.”

As an example, Dieker said her husband’s company is sponsoring a table and recognizing the coach of their daughter’s soccer team. She also noted Chemeketa Community College is sponsoring a table and wants to honor people at McNary High School.

“We’re so happy about that,” Dieker said. “Sometimes we can’t thank those kind of people enough. This is for businesses, schools or government organizations to sponsor a table. Maybe they have a list of people and will share one or two. The sponsors of the tables will be recognized and get better seats. They will also get the warm feeling that comes with this.”

At this point, it’s unclear if the new recognition will be a one-time deal or will become annual.

“I would love to see it be annual, but let’s see the participation level,” Dieker said. “I would love to see 15 tables of that nature.”

Dieker noted steps are being taken to ensure the main award winners don’t get overshadowed in any way.

“The main recipients will be presented their awards as they have in the past, given by (last year’s) recipients of each of those awards,” Dieker said. “They will have that platform on the stage, as much time as we’ve had in the past. The rising to occasion recipients will not be brought to the stage. They will be in the program and we’ll have them stand at the table. There will be a camera going around the room with an introduction of our rising people. We’ll highlight them quickly on the screen. It’s their 20 seconds of fame. Many of these people have never been to the banquet before.”

There are other smaller changes this year, including a return to the Keizer Quality Suites.

“We love to give an opportunity for all of our chamber members to spend money (at the hotel),” Dieker said. “We want to do it in a rotating fashion. The caterer we brought in last year was a chamber member, while the Quality Inn is as well. It is a nice venue.”

Things will also sound a bit different this year.

“We are doing professional audio this year,” Dieker said. “We decided to increase the ambiance. Nathan Bauer will be the emcee.”

Last year’s winners were John Doneth (First Citizen), Rob Miller (Merchant of the Year) and Ron Hittner (Service to Education). For the first time, two President’s Awards were handed out last year, to Mark Caillier and McNary High School teacher Jim Taylor.