Morro Bay chamber names its Citizens of the Year, other award winners

Susan Stewart, left, and Sharon O’Leary are Morro Bay’s 2015 Chamber of Commerce Citizens of the Year.
Susan Stewart, left, and Sharon O’Leary are Morro Bay’s 2015 Chamber of Commerce Citizens of the Year.

Two women who have played instrumental roles in Morro Bay — volunteering their time in public service — were honored last week as Morro Bay’s 2015 Citizens of the Year by the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Susan Stewart and Sharon O’Leary were recognized at the Chamber of Commerce Installation Dinner held Jan. 8 at the Morro Bay Golf Course.

Stewart has volunteered with several organizations in the community for many years, including Morro Bay High School, the Morro Bay Merchants Association (of which she’ll be president in 2016) and the Morro Bay Promotions Committee, according to Erica Crawford, the chamber’s new chief executive officer and president.

Stewart has been the owner of Beads by the Bay, a crafts supply store, since 2006.

I love Morro Bay and want it to succeed.

Susan Stewart, co-citizen of the year

She also has served on the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce board for six years, including as president, and has served on the city’s Local Economic Action Plan team.

“She balances her home and business life with enthusiasm and energy,” said Ken Vesterfelt, last year’s Citizen of the Year, who presented the award to Stewart. “As a parent, she has volunteered for her children’s school PTA program as a classroom assistant and in the 4-H club. As a business owner since 2006 who believes in collaboration, this recipient has served on numerous committees, including the city’s 50th anniversary committee and more.”

Stewart said she wants to see Morro Bay succeed.

“I came from a small town back East, and I like small towns,” Stewart said. “I like the accessibility you have to government and decision-making. I love Morro Bay and want it to succeed.”

O’Leary has played an instrumental role in connecting people in need with social services. No official organization existed a year-and-a-half ago when she spearheaded citywide efforts, through a “Community Resources Connections” outreach, to gather data and alert people in need to programs that help them find housing, jobs, health care, benefits, clothing and more.

“Her quiet strength reminds us all the time of the need in the community,” Morro Bay Councilwoman Christine Johnson said. “She continually interacts and gains the trust of people who have fallen on hard times so they open up to her. She knows where to go around town and throughout the county to network and get services for people. We’re so grateful for her.”

O’Leary said she has spent a lot of time talking to people at food distribution hubs around town, gathering information on how many people live below the poverty line and what their primary needs are. About 2,500 to 2,700 people are impoverished, according to that data.

Her quiet strength reminds us all the time of the need in the community.

Morro Bay Councilwoman Christine Johnson on Sharon O’Leary, co-citizen of the year

O’Leary said a key component of the outreach has been compiling a resource list with contact information and breakdowns of services for a flier.

Other award winners included Nancy Castle (“Living Treasure”), an active volunteer in numerous community groups; The Grill Hut (Business of the Year), owned by Jason and Lori Scheer, who are involved in Morro Bay High School activities and various booster clubs; and Jazmin Perez (Student Citizen of the Year), an FFA sentinel, senior class president and member of the Friday Night Live club, among a number of other groups.

City Attorney Joseph Pannone and the Rev. Ed Holterhoff, of St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in Morro Bay, each donated $100 so that Perez’s family could attend the chamber dinner. Perez, who also received a $250 award at the event, hopes to become a pediatric surgeon.

“I just want to thank my mom and my grandma, my biggest supporters the past four years,” Perez said.