Posing for a photo with Mayor Chas Jones, far left, were First Citizen award recipients David Low (Senior First Citizen), from left, Eric Niemann (First Citizen), Maeve Dempsey (Junior First Citizen) and Blaise Pindell (Future First Citizen). (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

A Philomath native who graduated with the local high school’s Class of 2004, Maeve Dempsey takes great pride in her community. So, when the opportunity to establish a city ad-hoc committee that focuses on inclusivity materialized a couple of years ago, she wanted to be involved.

“I’ve been a part of it since its inception and it’s been a long road,” Dempsey said about the city’s Inclusivity Committee. “The work is just so important to me. I was born and raised here and so Philomath is near and dear to my heart. Making sure that it’s a place that everybody can feel that way about is really important to me.”

Dempsey was one of four First Citizen recipients honored during Wednesday evening’s Samaritan Awards, an annual event hosted by the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce. Dempsey was recognized with the Junior First Citizen award and she was joined on the Philomath High auditorium stage by Eric Niemann (First Citizen), David Low (Senior First Citizen) and Blaise Pindell (Future First Citizen).

Dempsey, a 36-year-old skills trainer in the Corvallis School District, described her involvement with the Inclusivity Committee as a passion.

Maeve Dempsey accepts the Junior First Citizen award from Mayor Chas Jones (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“I’ve always been super involved in my community and this opportunity just sort of presented itself amongst the tragic circumstances of George Floyd’s murder,” Dempsey said. “Through the work we did in Philomath to raise awareness of that event, it became clear that there was opportunity to be had to create space for all of the people in Philomath.”

The city of Philomath nominated Dempsey for the honor.

“I’m just honored to be amongst great company,” she said.

Niemann said he was “honored and humbled” to be selected for the First Citizen award.

“It’s been a crazy journey — I started out as a cubmaster and wound up being the mayor and I didn’t anticipate any of that,” Niemann said when asked about his life in public service. “But I think Philomath is a town where everybody steps up and volunteers.”

First Citizen Eric Niemann shakes hands with Future First Citizen Blaise Pindell. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Niemann, who served as mayor from 2019-20 after four years as a city councilor, continues to be active with the Philomath Youth Activities Club board of directors. An ongoing project since his days as the mayor is the establishment of veterans memorial park that will carry the name of Paul J. Cochran, who lost his life in Vietnam.

“Helping Vietnam veterans and their Gold Star families find closure from the Vietnam War has probably been the most challenging, the most emotional and yet the most rewarding of the things that I’ve done,” Niemann said.

PYAC nominated Niemann for the award.

Low, the Senior First Citizen award recipient, has been involved in various opportunities to volunteer through the years but his level of commitment to service increased following his retirement from the banking industry in 2016. He has served on the City Council since 2017 and that same year became a Philomath Community Services board member. He’s served as the latter organization’s treasurer since 2019. For the past 14 years, Low has also been active with the Friends of the Library, including a stretch as president.

Philomath Community Services nominated Low for the honor.

David Low makes his way to the stage as the Senior First Citizen. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Pindell, a high school senior who was recognized with the Future First Citizen award, carries a 4.0 grade-point average in the classroom and has also been a standout in Philomath High athletics.

“He is an excellent example of what it means to be a Philomath Warrior,” Samaritan Awards emcee Bre Miller said while reading from a short biography prepared for the event. “No matter what he chooses to do in the future, he will be successful.”

Pindell was nominated by Philomath High School.

Several local and regional dignitaries were on hand for the awards, including Mayor Chas Jones, city councilors Catherine Biscoe, Matt Lehman and Low, Benton County commissioners Xan Augerot, Pat Malone and Nancy Wyse, Benton County Sheriff Jef Van Arsdall and State Rep. David Gomberg.

Eddie Van Vlack and grandchild pose for a photo with Mayor Chas Jones. Van Vlack was accepting a Samaritan Award on behalf of PYAC volunteer Randy Tryon. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Jones talked to the crowd in a welcome message and helped with on-stage responsibilities, including posing for photos with those who were honored.

The evening represented an opportunity for recognition to be bestowed upon individuals, organizations and businesses for their contributions. The Philomath chamber solicited nominations in the various categories.

Business of the Year awards went to Out West Farm & Ranch (small business) and Hendrix Heating (large business). Accepting the honors were the Grant family for Out West, and Carla and Roger Kaminga for Hendrix Heating.

Strengthening Rural Families was recognized as the Nonprofit of the Year with Lauri Lehman accepting the award. The People’s Choice Award went to the Philomath News with Brad Fuqua accepting the honor.

Steve Boggs accepts a Samaritan Award from Mayor Chas Jones (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Samaritan Award winners for various organizations included the following:

• City of Philomath — Steve Boggs

• Clemens Primary School and Philomath Elementary School — Brittany Kennedy

• Girl Scouts, Service Unit 29 — Trish Hendrickson

• Kings Valley Charter School — Wren Huff

• Kings Valley Community Trust — Kevin Collins

• Maxtivity Creative Space — Melinda Passon

• Peace Lutheran Church and Dementia Warriors — Jerry Wylie

• Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce — Oscar Gutbrod

• Philomath Community Services — Alicia Warren

• Philomath Fire & Rescue — Paula Anderson

• Philomath Frolic & Rodeo — Deidra Ehlers

• Philomath Rotary Club — Helen Bennett

• Philomath Youth Activities Club — Randy Tryon

• Strengthening Rural Families — Janelle Iverson

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.