The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce hosted its 2021 awards ceremony Wednesday, recognizing outstanding city businesses that have persevered through a second year of the pandemic.
The annual awards luncheon is meant to honor business owners and entrepreneurs in Soldotna, as well as offer appreciation to all the Soldotna Chamber’s sponsors. Some of the events the chamber was able to put on last year through sponsorships and fundraisers included the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Lemonade Day, Progress Days and the Levitt Amp free concert series, among others.
Of the seven awards, Justin Ruffridge — the owner of Soldotna Professional Pharmacy — was chosen as the chamber’s 2021 person of the year.
Officials at the chamber said they chose Ruffridge because of his health care leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and for his other involvement in the community — including his post as a Soldotna City Council member, member of the Kenai Performers, and positions on the Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission and the Alaska Board of Pharmacy.
“Certainly, the last couple of years took all of us by surprise,” Ruffridge said during the awards ceremony. “I’ve said it over and over throughout the last couple of years — how blessed I am, and (I) wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
He credited the community during his acceptance speech, noting some of the positive moments of last year.
“When you see so much of the difficulties that people were navigating and the challenging times that we found ourselves in, we just saw this community come together,” Ruffridge said.
He also offered special thanks to his mentors and staff members at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.
The business of the year award went to Mary Krull, the owner of Whistle Hill— which encompasses Brew 602 coffee shop and Addie Camp restaurant.
She was credited with taking her longtime affinity for train travel and aesthetic, and creating a successful and popular business out of it. She and her husband, Henry Krull, as well as some of their children and staff, accepted the award Wednesday afternoon.
“(The) coffee shop and waffles and restaurant and all that, and putting trains inside buildings to sit there and eat and drink, I never would have imagined it,” Henry said. “So we’re all very proud of Mary. It’s kind of a family affair but she really is the vision behind it.”
Northcountry Fair — the kitchen, tabletop and home furnishing store in Soldotna — took home the chamber’s small business of the year award.
Kimberly Hansen, the owner of Northcountry Fair, closed on the building in February 2020, only a few weeks before the pandemic made its way to the United States and shut down many businesses nationwide.
She was chosen as the small business of the year recipient for the way she adapted to economic hardships posed by the pandemic, and her major participation in Soldotna’s first shop local program.
“I bought this store in February 2020 and never in a million years would I have expected the challenges I’ve gone through, but this wonderful community we live in, all the businesses support each other and all the people support us,” Hansen said.
Merrill Sikorski won the commitment to youth award for his work with the Caring for the Kenai project, which is an annual ecological and sustainability competition for local high school students.
For the commitment to youth award, the chamber selected Josiah Martin. He created his own photography and videography company called Martin Media, and has partnered with the chamber and other local businesses for promotional videos.
Joe Moore, the manager of the Altman, Rogers & Co. certified public accounting firm, won the 2021 excellence in profession award. He was unable to attend the ceremony, so Monica Frost accepted the honor on his behalf.
John Czarnezki, Jennifer Hester and Ken Butler won the government and civic affairs award for their work with the Soldotna downtown improvement project.
This story was updated to add Mary Krull’s full business venture, called Whistle Hill, and the government and civic affairs award for the downtown improvement project.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Josiah Martin accepts the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce’s commitment to customer service award for his work at Martin Media during the chamber’s 2021 award ceremony at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Justin Ruffridge accepts the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce’s person of the year award for his pandemic response work at Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.
photos by Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion
Kimberly Hansen accepts the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce’s small business of the year award from Sara Hondel for her work at Northcountry Fair during the chamber’s 2021 award ceremony Wednesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Mary Krull, with husband Henry Krull, accept the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce’s business of the year award for their work at Brew 602 and Addie Camp during the chamber’s 2021 award ceremony at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)