Monrovia Chamber Announces Civic Award Recipients

Oak Crest Institute of Science will be presented with the Business Person of the Year Award by the Chamber. - Courtesy photo / Facebook, @OakCrestInstitute
Oak Crest Institute of Science will be presented with the Business Person of the Year Award by the Chamber. – Courtesy photo / Facebook, @OakCrestInstitute

By Susan Motander

The Monrovia Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce the Citizen of the Year and the Businessperson of Year as well as the award for service to the Chamber and the Military Service Award. All four are to be presented at the annual Chamber Installation Dinner on Jan. 18 at the Double Tree Hotel stating at 6 p.m. with a social hour. The dinner and award presentations will begin an hour later.

This year neither the Citizen of the Year nor the Business Person of the Year is an individual, but rather both are entities. The Iris Award for the Citizen of the Year is going to Monrovia Reads, the non-profit literacy foundation, and Oak Crest Institute of Science will receive the Monroe Award as Business Person of the Year. The Service to the Chamber will be presented to Richard Andrews. Donna Natalie will receive the Military Service Award.

Monrovia Reads was founded in 2000 when realtors complained to the city about their inability to sell homes in the community because of the poor scores students in the Monrovia Unified School District received on state tests. A joint committee with representatives of the city, MUSD, and the chamber brainstormed on the issue.

Joanne Spring, then the principal of Monroe School, was planning to retire at the end of that school year. As she tells the story, she “was volunteered” to head the new organization. With former Mayor Rob Hammond as the treasurer, Monrovia volunteer in chief Betty Sandford as secretary, and Joanne as president, the new non-profit foundation was started.

The original aim was to put books in the hands of children and in their homes. The group then procured a grant for a literacy bus that worked for years with pre-school children and their families. The group now has a literacy van in partnership with the city and the Library Foundation. The van goes once a week to each of the elementary schools in town.

Books alone were not enough to work on getting those test scores up, so the Pro-Active Tutoring (PAT) program was born. It started with 14 retired Maryknoll nuns and now involves paid community college tutors, and volunteer peer counselors from the high school. Under the leadership of another MUSD retiree, Duke Freyermuth, the PAT program has grown and, according to him, those pesky testy scores have risen every year since the PAT program began.

Literacy was not enough. Interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) was also needed among young people. In 2016 the Oak Crest Institute of Science moved to Monrovia and its impact has been astonishing. In addition to offering internships to local community college students, Oak Crest has started a Science and Technology Incubator Program to encourage hi-tech startup companies with innovative concepts. Last summer Oak Crest created a Junior Science Research Academy led by Monrovia high school-age students with younger students doing the research using all the hi-tech equipment of the Institute.

Oak Crest is not only doing cutting edge research itself, it is training others to do similar research and lighting a spark of interest in STEM within students. For all this service to the community, they are being recognized.

The newest award presented by the chamber is the Military Service Award. This year it is being presented to Donna Natalie. She is not only a woman soldier having joined the Army as a WAC in the 1950s, since then she has been active in both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) serving as officer in both organizations.

The Service to the Chamber Award was formerly known as the Dick Lord Award and this year is being presented to Richard Andrews. He has only been a Chamber ambassador for the last two years, but in that time has almost always attended every ribbon-cutting and event the Chamber holds. He always volunteers his time to assist the Chamber in setting up for events and then staying to work at the events.

Tickets for the Installation and Award Presentation Dinner and further information on the dinner can be obtained from the Monrovia Chamber of Commerce, 620 S. Myrtle Ave., Monrovia, (626) 358-1159 or on the internet at


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