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story.lead_photo.caption Democrat photo/Austin HornbostelCalifornia Fire Chief Allen Smith was joined by his family as he was honored as the California Area Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year for 2021.

The California Area Chamber of Commerce presented its Citizen, Business and Volunteer of the Year awards at the Chamber's regular monthly meeting last Thursday.

Typically, the Chamber honors recipients of the awards at its annual meeting. This year's meeting was scaled back drastically due to the pandemic, with the dinner and scholarship auction that typically are hosted in conjunction with the business meeting canceled. As an alternative, the Chamber decided to present its yearly awards at a regular meeting to better promote COVID safety.

California Fire Chief Allen Smith was the recipient of the Citizen of the Year award. California mayor and Chamber member Norris Gerhart presented him with the award.

"I couldn't say enough about Allen," Gerhart said. "I can't say enough about what he's done for the city(Smith) has given his life to the city of California, Missouri."

Dan and Carol Mesey, of Moniteau County Toys for Tots, were the recipients of the Chamber's Volunteer of the Year award. Dan Mesey also gave the Chamber a wrap-up report on Toys for Tots' performance in 2020 right before the award presentation; despite the pandemic, the program was still able to serve 366 recipients in 2020.

"Folks, maybe you don't realize this, but you're special," Mesey said. "You stepped forward, and you helped kids that you don't even know."

Chamber vice-president Sharon Campbell presented the pair with the award, explaining it recognizes individuals who have given tirelessly of their own personal time in service of bettering California and Moniteau County.

"I just want to say, you spent so much time talking about how thankful you are for Moniteau County," Campbell said when presenting the award to the Meseys. "This is our opportunity to thank you."

Leeper Auto Repair was honored as the Chamber's Business of the Year, with Gerhart again presenting the award.

"California's thankful for every individual that's in business," Gerhart said when reflecting on the impact of the city's strong population of local businesses.

Gerhart called Leeper Auto Repair an "asset" to the community.

Sally Vogel, who recently retired following a 50-year career working in salons, was also honored at Thursday's meeting. Chamber member Brad Baer presented Vogel with an honorary lifetime Chamber membership in recognition of her many years of service to the community.

In other business, the Chamber also plans to move forward with planning for a full-scale Ozark Ham & Turkey Festival for this year, with the date set for Sept. 18. The first planning meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. March 1; anyone is welcome to attend and contribute ideas or feedback, not just Chamber members.

The Chamber also plans to host its annual Easter egg hunt. The event is set for March 27.

Some discussion at Thursday's meeting revolved around the Chamber's sponsorship of Missouri Boys State participants, a proposal to donate property to the Chamber, and establishing a committee dedicated to promoting shopping locally. All of these points of discussion are set to be revisited at next month's Chamber meeting.

Finally, the Chamber welcomed a new member — Miss B's Crafts, operated by Jenine Baker.

The California Area Chamber of Commerce's next regular monthly meeting is set for 8 a.m. March 11.

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