Man & Woman of the Year

By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun

On the night after the Golden Globe Awards, the Kern River Valley Chamber of Commerce bestowed its own cherished awards on the local man and woman giving the best performance in volunteer roles.

The 31st annual Man & Woman of the Year Awards Dinner honored Mike Brownell and Darlene Wolowiec at Paradise Cove Lodge on January 8 with a large and enthusiastic crowd of admirers and family members. In keeping with their regal status, Brownell was given a crown to wear, and Wolowiec a tiara and sash.

First District Supervisor Mick Gleason presented each with a Certificate of Recognition and praised them for their accomplishments. He described Brownell as “a big man with a big heart who is all about serving,” especially local veterans. And Gleason said of Wolowiec, “She is engaged in every aspect of this community, is friendly, gregarious, and everyone just wants to be around her.”

Framed certificates were presented by Christian Chacon of Assemblyman Devon Mathis’ office, who said he is astounded by their accomplishments. When awarding the namesake Man & Woman of the Year plaques to the honorees, Chamber President Marsha Smith expressed the gratitude of the entire community by saying, “We thank you for your selflessness, dedication, and devotion.”

Especially appreciated by dinner attendees were the slide presentations and speakers who gave entertaining descriptions of the lives and accomplishments of each honoree.

As an active member in the American Legion Riders, Mike Brownell is known for his service projects for local veterans which arrange for weekly visits to lonely or ill veterans and check in on those who are isolated. He has also been instrumental in fundraising efforts for veterans adversely affected by the Erskine Fire, in revitalizing Tank Park in Lake Isabella, and for helping reopen the county courthouse in the Kern River Valley.

Presenter Daures Stephens said Brownell is a leader who has the ability to inspire others, promotes self confidence which enables others to do great things, and has a very positive attitude. “You are a great man and a great leader, and we thank you for being with us in the American Legion Riders,” Stephens said to Brownell.

Darlene Wolowiec has been an active volunteer in innumerable local organizations for a decade, including the Kern River Valley Woman’s Club, Elks Lodge, Habitat Club, Kern River Valley Historical Society, Rotary Club, and the Hospital Foundation, among others. Presenter Jeanette Rogers-Erickson said when Wolowiec first moved to the valley, no one could believe how “bubbly, breathless, energetic, and enthusiastic” she was, and those qualities turned out to be long-lasting.

Wolowiec commits time and energy to whatever needs to be done for each organization, such as fundraising, organizing fashion shows, feeding fish for fishing derbies, buying goods for non-profit gift shops, decorating for events, and regularly cleaning trash from five miles of roadway. In fact, said Rogers-Erickson with a smile, “It’s fair to say that her husband Dick has been trying to get her off the streets for years!”

Both Brownell and Wolowiec expressed their gratitude to the KRV Chamber of Commerce for being recognized with Man & Woman of the Year Awards. Wolowiec also thanked her husband for his support and all the people who never said no to helping her with her community projects. “I love this valley and love all of you, and thank you for this wonderful honor,” she said.

Brownell thanked his family “for always being my inspiration.” He also gave credit to all those who work together as a team to meet the challenges of our community. “Accolades always go to leaders,” he said, “but they should go to ALL the folks who put their boots on the ground and get things done.” As an example of Stephens’ prior comment about his positive attitude, Brownell ended by saying, “We hear and read so much negative news, but there are so many more good people than bad, and the people in this room are certainly an indication of that.”