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Kathe Tanner: SLO County chamber of commerce names volunteers of the year. Here's who is being recognized

Tribune - 12/21/2023

Dec. 21—As the holidays race past and we hurtle toward 2024, I'm reminded again about a tireless group without whom 95% of our town's happenings simply wouldn't happen.

They're the folks who organize parades, run social media accounts and fundraisers, set up chairs, sell tickets and popcorn, flip over the food on the barbecue pit, herd people who need to find a place to park, help those who need a place to live, muck out pet stalls and who, day after day, year after year, do more things to raise funds for more good causes than I can wrap my head around.

Indeed, the North Coast runs on volunteer power.

They rarely get thanked for everything that they do.

In January, the Cambria Chamber of Commerce will honor some extraordinary people who do a lot behind the scenes to provide enjoyment and help for the rest of us.

Cambria top citizen is long-time volunteer, military veteran

The Chamber's board of directors tapped Dave Ehlers to be the organization's 2023 Citizen of the Year.

Pick a local cause, and Ehlers, 59, probably has a hand in it somewhere, somehow.

American Legion Post No. 432? Check. Ehlers' involvement in all levels of that nonprofit that honors veterans and active-duty service members began immediately after he joined in 2014. He was quickly swept into the job of post commander, a post he's filled for a total of six out of the nine years he's been a member.

Boy Scouts? You bet. An Eagle Scout, Ehlers was the local troop's scoutmaster until 2018.

Ride to Recovery American Heroes ride? That, too.

Lighting manager for Cambria Follies and the high school drama program and its shows? Indeed.

Toys for Tots? Yup.

Ehlers has been the area's campaign coordinator for five years, but modestly and accurately says he couldn't do it without his unofficial brigadier coordinator, wife Jennifer "Jenn" Ehlers.

On Dec. 13, as they unloaded yet another car full of donations, he said the annual drive is a success because of the unflagging generosity of North Coast residents.

"There were so many toys in my car just now, I couldn't open the door!" Jenn Ehlers said.

They had to roll down the window and open the door from the outside, her husband added with a laugh.

Not satisfied with all those activities, the Ehlers recently joined the town's Hesperian Independent Order of Odd Fellows founded in the 1850s. The venerable group has been quietly re-energizing to contribute liberally to various causes and help the community in many ways.

Dave is not living a typical pensioner's life in Cambria, however.

Yes, he retired from active duty and the reserves in the Air Force in 2008, after having served 22 years as a military officer and KC135 pilot in the Middle East and all over the world.

But the Desert Storm/Desert Shield veteran is still working full time, remotely from Cambria, as a senior learning manager for IBM in the Americas. He helps train people from Canada to Latin America.

Taco truck named Cambria chamber's top business

The Cambria Chamber of Commerce's top business is Boni's Tacos, a commercial "authentic taqueria" venture that started at high school football games, expanding in 2005 into a custom-built taco truck.

Bonifacio "Boni" and Lupita Viveros and their family began selling their notable al pastor tacos and other varieties on weekends, tucking their truck in alongside a hill at the intersection of Burton Drive and Main Street in Cambria'sEast Village.

Nearly two decades later, it's still there Fridays through Mondays, drawing in ever-larger crowds of fans wanting their burritos, taquitos, gorditas and more.

Always the center of attention, however, is the tall, revolving vertical rotisserie from which they shave off the tasty al pastor pork to order.

Boni Viveros' commissary kitchen in the town's Tin Village semi-industrial area is still in force, but the family ended their weekday sales there earlier this year.

The pair retired, but their son, Cesar Viveros, and his husband, Alfonso Acuna, left their respective careers in banking and healthcare, respectively, to manage the truck and the business.

It's familiar turf for Cesar Viveros, who began working there at the age of 8.

He also cut his public chops starring in Coast Union High School musicals from the fifth grade until he graduated. (Remember him as Winthrop in "Music Man?")

The 27-year-old entrepreneur has not only taken on the business, Cesar immediately leaped into community volunteerism this year by organizing Cambria's very first — and quite successful — Cambria Pride By the Sea event on June 25.

The inspiration for the event came the end of a trip to Mexico he and Alfonso took.

"It was the beginning of Pride events down there," Cesar Viveros said. "I was left with enormous sadness that we had no Pride here at home, no rainbows, no parade."

Back home, the determined young man vowed to change that.

"I put it together in 25 days," he said. "There were 20 businesses, including Boni's, of course ... a huge raffle, what I think was Cambria's first drag show, a magic show, Pilates instruction, music and so many people."

He estimated the attendees numbered about 500, a big crowd for the parking lot of Cambria's Veterans Memorial Hall.

The young man's headlong dive-into volunteerism and the long, successful business run of Boni's Tacos convinced the Chamber board to award the taco truck and him the 2023 Business of the Year award.

What's ahead?

Both awardees will get their public accolades and trophies at the chamber's annual board-installation dinner on Jan. 16, 2024, at the San Simeon Beach Bar & Grill. For details and reservations, go to the chamber's website.

Returning board members of the chamber board include Melissa Avina, Erik Frederiksen and re-elected Steve Kniffen. Newly elected are Juli Amodei, Maira Arrellano, Dianne Greenstein, Tiffany Fernandez and Crystal Reynoso.

Alex de Alba and Fidel Figuroa have resigned from the board. Reynoso is serving the rest of Figuroa's term. Board leadership is reviewing applications from those seeking to fill de Alba's term, and plan to announce the winner in time for the installation ceremony.

Former board member Jeremy Mains retired in late Novembe. Fernandez will fill the remaining year of his term.

Meanwhile, director Miguel Sandoval has termed out.

This year's board will have two other notable changes.

Recently retired Oz Barron was to leave the board in January, staying with the chamber as a individual. He's the former co-owner with life and business partner Kris Gregson of the Cambria yarn store, Ball & Skein & More, a shop now owned by Annie Groeninger.

On Wednesday, however, retiring longtime board president Mel McColloch convinced Barron, who was the board's current vice president, to stay with the business group for another year to ease the learning curve for the many new members.

In a complex musical-chairs maneuver to further facilitate that, McColloch appointed Barron to fill the one-year vacancy left by de Alba's departure, promptly appointed Barron as president and then resigned from the board.

In the email to present and incoming board members, McColloch urged them to elect Barron for another term as president.

It's a true changing of the guard. For the first time more than 20 years, McColloch won't be at the helm of or on the chamber's board. He's recovering from some severe health problems that began in July. The decorated veteran, injured in battle, was the town's 2022 Pinedorado parade marshal. He's promised to remain a chamber member, as active as his health will allow.

We're all hoping you get well soon, Mel, and are wishing a fond Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to Cambria's consummate volunteer.

This story was originally published December 20, 2023, 5:00 AM.

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