Escondido, CA

Escondido Chamber installs new chairman, Matt Pound, bids farewell to CEO Rorie Johnston

Sherehe Hollins, Director of Education for the Center, holding the “Friend of Education” plaque and (from left) Rorie Johnson, CEO, Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Luis Ibarra, superintendent of the Escondido Elementary School District and MC Don Romo.

The theme of Friday night’s 109th installation of officers of the Escondido Chamber of Commerce was a “Starlit Gala,” included a stirring speech by incoming chairman Matt Pound, and an emotional farewell to the Chamber’s CEO, Rorie Johnston.

Pound told the group gathered in the museum of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido:  “The largest challenge I believe we have at the Escondido Chamber is to preserve, strengthen and expand the American Dream and help put it within reach of every child, every family, every worker, and every entrepreneur ‘All Of Which Are Our People.’ ” See below for more of the speech.

Awards included: Business Leader of the Year: John Masson, Entrepreneur of the Year: Vinklectic,  Community Organization: USA Multicultural, Family Owned Business: O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub,  Community Enhancement: Oasis Senior Services, Friend of Education: California Center for the Arts, Community Volunteer: Kitty Aeling, Jack Raymond Civic Engagement: Ashley Iverson, Ambassador of the Year: Jenny Dicorato, Board Member of the Year: Christine Antione, Rookie Board Member of the Year: Jayde Olin and Legacy Award: Kevin S. Svetich, CLU.

Tina Inscoe sang the national anthem and Johnston welcomed attendees and thanked the sponsors and volunteers who made the evening possible, including Jennifer Pound, Elana Reinhart and Tina Inscoe.

VIPs in the audience included State Senator Brian Jones of the 38th District, a representative of 3rd District Superintendent Kristin Gaspar, Escondido Mayor Paul McNamara, Councilman John Masson, Tom Stinson, representing Assemblywoman Marie Waldron,  Board of Education for EUHSD, Tina Pope, Escondido Fire Chief Rick Vogt and Cal Fire Chief Geoff Pemberton.

MC’s for the evening were Don Romo, with Erickson Hall Construction and Tom Stamos, founder of Escondido Realty and the 2013 Realtor of the Year.  

Stamos described the people that would be getting awards. “While being very successful business people in their own right, we are honoring them for their selfless dedication to improving the lives of Escondido residents and businesses.” 

The first presenter was Matt Pound, joined by Fire Chief Rick Vogt and Cal Fire Chief Geoff Pemberton. They presented the Jack Raymond Civic Engagement Leadership Award, which recognizes individuals, organizations and/or programs that go “above and beyond”, engaging, enhancing and benefitting our community.

Pound described how, “On December 14, 2017, Cory Iverson, a Fire Apparatus Engineer for CAL FIRE paid the ultimate sacrifice while battling the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, California. He is survived by his wife, Ashley, their daughter Evie, and – at the time – their unborn daughter Taylor. Ashley had spent more than half her life battling severe anxiety and depression largely in part from PTSD due to nearly losing her home at the age of 13 from arson and from an inner need to help others on a large scale. 

“One month prior to Cory’s passing, a colleague took his own life leaving behind a young child and wife. It was then that Cory understood the gravity of mental health and the devastation it can leave behind in its wake. In founding the Iverson Foundation for Active Awareness (IFAA), Ashley can keep Cory’s memory alive for their daughters and to continue Cory’s legacy through his sacrifice to help all first responders; those that selflessly help others on a daily basis. 

Ladies and gentlemen, please congratulate Ashley Iverson, recipient of the Jack Raymond Civic Engagement award.”

In accepting the award, Mrs. Iverson said, “You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at the same time.”

The Community Enhancement Award went to San Diego Oasis. Romo noted that “San Diego Oasis combats social isolation in older adults by promoting lifelong learning, healthy living and community service. They train older adults to serve as volunteer tutors for at-risk children in grades K-4th. And what sets this program apart from other literacy programs is that their volunteer tutors commit to working one-on-one with the same child throughout an entire school year.” 

Romo added, “They currently have seventy volunteer tutors serving 124 at-risk elementary school students improve their reading, writing and inter-personal skills in 12 local schools. They also offer more than 400 free and low-cost classes for older adults here in Escondido.”

Dr. Luis Ibarra, superintendent of the Escondido Elementary School District presented the Friend of Education Award to Sherehe Hollins, Director of Education at the California Center of the Arts, Escondido. In making the award Dr. Ibarra said, “The Center for the Arts, Escondido is a precious community resource within our wonderful city. The center has an extensive Education Department that serves over 16,000 patrons through their youth programs. These programs are held both on and off site to fit the needs of their clients. The Center works with over 30 school districts nearby and continues to have a strong partnership with our local school districts and community organizations. Through their countless programs, school children are provided art discovery through exposure and interactions with resident artists, concert pianists, and outstanding performances. 

“Through their “My Story” program, students in 4th and 5th grade are provided an arts integration program as they learn about history and social science through photography and theater. The Center for the Arts also hosts an annual event in the Fall called ‘Educators Night Out’ where educators are treated to an evening of wine and cheese as they network with local artists and performers at the center. It is for these reasons and so much more that the Center of the Arts, Escondido has been selected for the Friend of Education Award.”

Hollins described the group of people she works with as “a super team,” and added, “It’s an honor to serve.”

Dr. Ibarra also presented the Educator Of The Year Award to Rorie Johnston. He said, “The education committee has been working to bring education and business together for the betterment of the community. We believe having excellent schools is good for business. Given that, the committee would like to unveil a new award, the Educator of the Year award that would be awarded to an individual that has gone above and beyond to promote education. We can think of no other individual who has done more for education than our very own, Rorie Johnston.” 

He continued, “In the last three years, Rorie has been instrumental in bringing back the Education Committee. Breathing new life to the committee, we were able to host a number of events and speaker series. Two years ago, Rorie launched the Rising Stars program, which seeks to bring the community together to honor high schools seniors for demonstrating character, integrity, love of learning, involvement and an ability to overcome challenging life circumstances. 

“Now a highlight of each month, one student from each campus is celebrated for their resiliency and perseverance joined by local business leaders, principals, dignitaries and their families at a breakfast. The Rising stars program is an opportunity for businesses to better connect with education, shine a positive light on the community, and build mutually beneficial relationships. Through Rorie’s efforts, she has secured generous scholarships to commend the students’ efforts.” 

A man who could almost literally be described as ubiquitous, so many Escondido events does he attend and take photos of—Angel Aguilar— was honored with the Community Organization of the Year award.

Romo noted that Aguilar received the record for award nominations. He said, “Angel Aguilar is the founder of USA Multicultural Entertainment Group, who presents many community events such as the International Mother’s Day Festival, the Multicultural Holiday Festival, Herencia Mexicana Festival, and the Cinco De Mayo Festival. Mr. Aguilar has spent the past sixteen years working tirelessly to build a collective community of artists and businesses in Southern California, who embrace all cultures.  His dream is to unify everyone through the universal love of family, the building of strong local and global communities, and by embracing diversity.” 

Stamos welcomed Rorie Johnston back to the stage to present the Jim Felix Award for active community service, to Kitty Aeling. Mrs. Johnston, said  “The Jim Felix Award recipient is recognized for their active community service, commitment of time, resources and hands-on involvement.  I could not let this year pass without honoring this very special woman. She has been my rock from day one at the chamber. She has answered countless phone calls, chatted with numerous visitors and kept the front office of the chamber running as a volunteer for over 15 years. And she always remembers my birthday.”

She is also benefactor of the Escondido Rotary Foundation, Supporter of the California Center for the Arts, Palomar Family YMCA, the Boys n’ Girls Club, the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum, St. Clare’s Home, as well as having granted funding support for Interfaith Community Services, Escondido Charitable Foundation, Escondido Youth Encounter, Escondido Education Foundation, and St. Mary’s and St. Timothy’s Catholic Church. 

“She is the Matriarch of the Aeling family, my friend and dare I say, surrogate Grand Mother as she shows compassion and care for everyone that she meets. Kitty Aeling, it is a pleasure to present you with the  Jim Felix Community Volunteer Award,” said Johnston. 

Beth & Todd Stevens of Vinklectic were honored as Entrepreneurs of the Year. Stamos describe, “Beth’s vision to open a boutique on Grand Avenue was a dream come true. With the support and help from husband Tom, they opened Vinklectic in late 2017 and worked hard making a beautiful and friendly shopping experience. They quickly expanded the store in the summer of 2018 and have not looked back. Their vision and skill is evident in the layout and design of their beautiful store, and has added value and grandeur to Grand Avenue. Vinklectik is also highly endorsed by Rorie as one of her favorite places to shop. The success of Vinklectik demonstrates that small business is alive and well in the downtown Escondido area!”

The Family-owned Business of the Year Award went to Sullivan’s Irish Pub. “Sullivan,” said Stamos, has been the owner of ‘O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub in downtown Escondido since 2012 when he took over and purchased the Pub from the former owners. Since then he has touched many lives in the Escondido community, and he does so in a very quiet and reserved fashion. He has hosted numerous community fundraisers such as ‘Pints for Pups,’ ‘The Ride for 911,’ and many others benefiting Autism Speaks, the Marine Corps Historical Society, the Wounded Warriors Project, and the Terry Farrell Firefighters Fund! He was also nominated for ‘Publican of the Year’ in 2011 by the Irish Pubs Global Association.” And, added Stamos, “he serves the best damn Shepherd’s Pie this side of the Mississippi!”

Ambassador President Yessenia Mendoza presented the Ambassador of the Year to Jenny Dicorrato. Mendoza noted, “An ambassador is a volunteer who assists chamber leadership and is actively involved in chamber events and programs focused on developing personal relationships and fostering effective business connections among members.  Our goal is membership growth and retention.   

“I first met Jenny DiCorato at a Plates for 8 networking lunch that she hosted.  Jenny is warm, welcoming and has a great sense of humor.  She made me feel like I belonged.  She was a natural to become an ambassador. As a long-time chamber member, Jenny brought a fresh perspective to the ambassadors.  When we initiated the first member appreciation gift bag program last year, Jenny was the first to volunteer to deliver them to chamber businesses. She had so much fun doing it, she ended up delivering 50 gift bags, energizing the rest of us to step up and quickly complete the entire 144 deliveries.”

Mendoza concluded, “Even though she has a very fixed work schedule, Jenny still managed to participate in much more than her fair share of events, where her presence always adds a positive lift.  I’m always happy to see her at an event, knowing that her energy will infect everyone there.”

Longtime Chamber legend Ken Lounsbery presented the  Business Leader of the Year Award to John Masson of Masson & Associates, civil engineers. He noted that the real motto of a Chamber of Commerce is “Business R Us.” “Local business is what the Chamber is all about.” Civil engineering, he said, is a vital element of business growth. He noted that Masson once told him, “Everywhere I go I see examples of what we built.”

Accepting the award, Masson, said, “This is an amazing nomination. I’ve missed several of these installations so I guess a great way to get me here is to give me an award. It’s an honor to be in the same group with the others who have won this.”

Outgoing Chairwoman Kristen Steinke presented the Board Member of the Year award to Christine Antoine, who is Principal Public Affairs Representative for the San Diego County Water Authority. She was unable to attend the installation.

Steinke also presented the Rookie Board Member of the Year  to Jayde Olin, who is Branch Manager for Banner Bank in Escondido is Finance Chair of the Chamber board. 

The Legacy Award went to Kevin S. Svetich, CLU, last year’s chairman, who Steinke described as “the only person to have served three terms as board chair, thus earning three photos on the Chamber’s wall…each one notable. From the infamous mustache-era, to the refined businessman look, and on to the this-better-be-the-last-photo look! Kevin S. Svetich, CLU – thank you for your service!”

Mayor Paul McNamara gave the oath of office to the incoming officials. 

Matt Pound described Rorie Johnston as “a true original and tough as nails. She was my Chamber guru. I’m lucky to have Rorie as a friend.” 

Mrs. Johnston, eyes glistening with emotion, said, “I have so many people to thank. . .  I consider all of you my friends.” She added, “The board believed in me and gave me so much support.”

Local state officials Senator Brian Jones and Tom Stinson, representing Marie Waldron’s office, presented Mrs. Johnston with a joint plaque from the legislature. 

Incoming CEO James Rowten was introduced. 

Speech by Chamber Chairman Matt Pound; Excerpts are quoted below

Matt Pound told the audience, “The US Chamber of Commerce is projecting continued growth of around 2.6% for 2019 and they are forecasting for unemployment to remain low, wages to keep expanding and inflation in range of the Fed’s target of 2%. Now while these numbers are important because they are key indicators everything we want to achieve as a City, but economic growth is not the only indicator of success for this great City. Our local economy has always been built on the backs of our people and the people are the reflection of the success of our City. 

“So tonight, as you have seen is a night about how the Chamber is supporting all of our business, resident, student, government and military people of this great City. 

“When discussing our people here in Escondido, I can’t help but think about all of you sitting in this room that have had the opportunity to live out your   “American dream.” American Dreamers like you have taken their freedom and ran with it for hundreds of years. They applied their ideas, talents and sweat to achieve great American feats like the transcontinental railroad, the assembly line, the interstate highway system, the personal computer and the world wide web. These and other innovations have allowed generations of American to pursue their unique dreams.” 

Pound continued, “We tend to talk about the American Dream as a singular concept, but it comes to life in countless ways. Without the ideas and industry of all these dreamers, we could not have built the most dynamic and resilient economy on earth.

“The largest challenge I believe we have at the Escondido Chamber is to preserve, strengthen and expand the American Dream and help put it within reach of every child, every family, every worker, and every entrepreneur ‘All Of Which Are Our People.’ That is how we, this generation of leaders build a more unified and strengthened City that we can be proud to leave to our Children and Grand Children.”

Pound continued, “The Escondido Chamber will have a packed agenda this year full of events, partnerships opportunities and meetings that focus on harnessing our current economic growth and doing everything we can to keep it going and put it to work on behalf of all Escondidoans who hope for their shot at living their American Dream. 

“The first big issue facing our local business community is the lack of Workforce availability.

Escondido business are in desperate need of talented and hard-working people to help lead the growth of our local economy. It is no secret that as a city we lack the ‘people’ with the appropriate skills or education to fill open positions. Employers throughout Escondido and San Diego continue to be vocal about positions sitting vacant because they can’t find the workers they need, when and where they need them. 

“The Escondido Chamber is at the center of this very dynamic and complex challenge. We are working to strengthen the foundation of opportunity for all our PEOPLE by focusing on the education of all our students within the Escondido Education system. 

“The Education committee meets regularly to promote a unified vision of our partnership between businesses and educators. The education committee has put on wonderful education summits that highlight the programs within our local schools along with reaching out to business leaders to discuss the growing needs in the workplace within Escondido. 

“The Chamber will continue to be committed to the development and protections of all our schools CTE programs. I believe all students should have an opportunity live out their “American Dream” and contrary to what a lot of people believe this does mean every student must attend a 4-year university to achieve them. As the community leaders in this City we have a responsibility to create, creative opportunities to expose our students and staff members within the education system to the abundant career paths within our great City.”

Pound said the Chamber and Association of General Contractors and Project Cornerstone “are in collaboration as we speak to provide 100 students within the City of Escondido with an opportunity to attend a free 2 day camp that will expose them to a multitude of career paths within the construction industry.”

Pound noted that “Our local schools are staffed with fantastic men and women that care deeply about our student’s individual success both academically and outside of the classroom. Our local business leaders are ready to walk beside these students are committed to teaching them and taking the baton from our educators to make sure these young people succeed.”

Pound praised the Chamber’s “Rising Stars,” “a prime example of business leaders and educational leaders working together to walk beside our youth and encourage them to make sure they understand how much they matter, and that they have every opportunity to live out their American Dream!”

He also lauded Kristen Steinke’s effort to create a new partnership with the San Diego Veterans Chamber of Commerce, through the Veterans Incubator Program. “Through the Incubator Program we will have the ability to walk beside our Military Veterans and their families as they themselves have the chance to live their ‘American Dream.’  . . . It is imperative that we walk beside these new business leaders not only because of their service to this Country but because we have the opportunity as a community to Keep Them Local!” 

Noting that successful businesses do much good through philanthropy and corporate citizenship. 

Pound said the Chamber would  “defend the profoundly positive role of business within our city. Every year it feels like our businesses are under attack by legislators, activist and lawyers trying to make a quick buck! The Chamber has always taken their responsibility serious in protecting, educating and lobbying on behalf of our local businesses. Through the hard work of our leadership teams within our committees like Economic Development-Tom Stamos and Government Affairs- Cristine Antwoine we are able to bring awareness to our members about changes both positive and negative that effect their ability to achieve their ‘American Dream.’ Through our wonderfully positive relationships with local government leaders we are kept up to speed on decisions being made within our City, County and State that will undoubtedly affect our business community.” 

He added, “There are over 160 PEOPLE that care about the success of this City, sitting in this room tonight and I ask every one of you to please continue to challenge each other. To our local government leaders in the house, Supervisor Gaspar, Mayor Mac, Council Member Masson . . . Challenge those of us in the business community to do more and participate. Call us out when we aren’t living up to the standards we have set for ourselves as local business leaders here in Escondido. 

“For those of you that run a business or simply live in this beautiful community, challenge the leaders you have elected to make decisions that are in our community’s best interest and please remember just how important it is that as a group we positively disagree with each other,” he said.

Pound concluded, “Disagreeing with each other is what will push the conversations necessary for our city to be as great as we all want it to be . .  take a second and look around this room, this room is a great example of what is one of Escondido’s best qualities… it’s diverse…young, old, male, female, Caucasian, African America , Hispanic, Asian, European … this diversity, these superficial things that make us different are the very things that makes this City  GREAT. We all come from so many different backgrounds that through positive and constructive conversations, the leaders in this room can continue to take the appropriate steps to push the necessary change we need to make in order to continue our Economic growth here in Escondido.”


Award Photos by Brian Campbell Photography

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