Bob Wolff, whose passion for water issues helped bring the Animas-La Plata Project to fruition and secured a sustainable water supply for Durango, was named Citizen of the Year on Wednesday at Durango Rocks!
The ceremony, held virtually for the first time this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is the annual Durango Chamber of Commerce award ceremony.
Wolff arrived in Durango in the mid-1970s, and for the past two decades has served on citizen advisory boards that have influenced the region’s development.
Wolff, who sometimes refers to himself as a “citizen volunteer,” served on the 1997 Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, Animas Airpark Board and the La Plata County Planning Commission.
Almost three decades ago, after encouragement from Fred Kroeger, then-owner of Kroegers Hardware, Wolff developed a passion for water issues in Southwest Colorado and at the state level.
“Twenty-seven years ago, Fred Kroeger said, ‘Bob, you should be on the Durango Water Commission,’” he said at the ceremony. “I got hooked on volunteering for the water community.”
He served multiple years on the city of Durango’s Water Commission, and dedicated more than a decade to obtaining a secure and sustainable water supply for Durango and the region.
He served on the board of directors for the Animas La Plata Water Conservancy District, bringing the Animas-La Plata Project to fruition.
Under Wolff’s leadership of the A-LP Conservancy District, in 2009 as Lake Nighthorse began filling, A-LP provided matching funds to obtain grants to develop the Lake Nighthorse Recreation Master Plan.
After development of Lake Nighthorse in 2018, the city of Durango was able to secure a long-term water supply from the project and A-LP was able to secure a water supply for use in rural domestic water systems in Southwest La Plata County.
Wolff was appointed by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper and reappointed by Gov. Jared Polis to serve on the Board of the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority.
In January, La Plata County commissioners named water attorney Amy Novak Huff to replace Wolff on the board of directors of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.
For three years, Wolff served as president of the board, a volunteer position. His workload had increased in 2019 and 2020 as he helped fill in while the district searched for a new general manager.
The district, when fully staffed, has only two employees: a general manager and a programs coordinator.
Business of the YearFirst Southwest Bank was named Business of the Year.
It is a locally owned bank with branches in southern and Southwest Colorado.
It’s the only bank in Southwest Colorado and the Four Corners designated as a Community Development Financial Institution, an institution helping underserved communities in rural Colorado.
Through its partnership with the First Southwest Community Fund, the bank is able to provide loans and grants to businesses and entrepreneurs that often cannot qualify for traditional bank loans.
Together with the First Southwest Community Fund, First Southwest Bank has supported nearly 500 businesses, and invested $6.9 million in grants and loans.
The bank and the related fund are credited with retaining more than 1,800 existing jobs, and created 113 new jobs.
First Southwest Bank processed more than 800 Paycheck Protection Program applications in the first round of funding during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bank was named the Small Business Administration’s Community/Rural Lender of the Year.
“We’re so fortunate to live here in Durango. We can embrace that spirit and spread that spirit,” said Kent Curtis, First Southwest Bank CEO, while accepting the award.
Small Business of the YearHoneyville & Honey House Distillery were awarded Small Business of the Year.
Honeyville is a third-generation beekeeping and honey bottling company founded in 1918. It is currently owned by Danny, Sherre and Kevin Culhane.
In 2012, they opened the Honey House Distillery.
The business developed a Federal Drug Administration-approved hand sanitizer after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.
The business then donated thousands of gallons of its medical-grade hand sanitizer to local law enforcement and first responders as well as to the neighboring Navajo Nation at a time when products like sanitizers and toilet paper were hard to find.
Danny Culhane, who came up with the idea of making a hand sanitizer, said the business was looking for ways to help during the pandemic.
“That was one thing we could do to help the community,” he said.
Bill Mashaw Volunteer of the YearDave Woodruff was named Bill Mashaw Volunteer of the Year.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Durango restaurants and the Southwest Colorado Disaster Assistance Taskforce depended on Woodruff to provide critical, up-to-date information.
Information about public health restrictions helped restaurants cope with the pandemic, and information at times was changing daily, sometimes hourly. His communications with local restaurateurs helped them make critical business decisions as they worked to stay afloat.
“It’s good to know the hard work during the pandemic didn’t go unnoticed,” Woodruff told Jack Llewellyn, chamber director when presented the award.
Nonprofit of the YearRegion 9 Economic Development District was named Nonprofit of the Year.
Region 9 serves communities, businesses and business-support organizations through locally driven economic-development planning and provides hundreds of hours a year in technical assistance, business coaching and business-development assistance.
The group’s loan fund helps businesses that might not otherwise get funding from traditional means.
Since inception, Region 9 has made over $18 million in loans in La Plata County alone, and $1 million in the last year.
The Durango Chamber of Commerce estimates the loans have created almost 1,800 new jobs and retained many more.
Region 9’s business loan program is touted as one of the largest rural loan-generating programs in the state.
In the past year, Region 9 created an emergency loan fund that provided loans to nine La Plata County-based businesses totaling $95,000 and saved 50 jobs during the pandemic.
Laura Lewis Marchino, Region 9 executive director, said, “This is an honor. We couldn’t have done it without our team.”
Morley Ballantine AwardKaren Midkiff was awarded the Morley Ballantine Award, which is named after longtime owner, editor and chairman of the board of The Durango Herald.
Midkiff moved to Durango in 1979, and has been a prominent member of the health care community ever since.
She opened the first office in Southwest Colorado for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
In 1985, she was hired as the director of marketing and public relations for Mercy Regional Medical Center, and in 2000, she accepted a leadership position in helping to build the Mercy Health Foundation.
Midkiff has been instrumental in developing partnerships with local businesses and nonprofits.
She went from raising a few thousand dollars for a much-needed ambulance – the hospital didn’t have one at the time – to spearheading an effort to raise $11.5 million to build a new hospital.
She’s also helped raise $3.4 million to build a breast care center, and $4.3 million for the Hospice Residence at Mercy.
“Wow, this is an honor, especially given the women who have won this award before,” Midkiff said.
Ed Morlan Entrepreneur of the YearErin Neer, founder and owner of MUNIRevs, was named Ed Morlan Entrepreneur of the Year.
As a former finance director for a town in Colorado, Neer realized that the way sales taxes were collected was archaic. Businesses were still manually calculating and submitting paper coupons to remit their taxes. After remittance, municipal employees then had to handle that mail, key in the data and make a deposit to the bank.
Neer created MUNIRevs software to automate the process of collecting, paying and recording sales taxes.
Neer also realized a similar need existed for businesses to comply with taxes on hotel rooms and vacation rentals.
MUNIRevs pioneered software, LODGINGRevs, that is also considered the industry standard in dealing with lodgers taxes.
LODGINGRevs provides vacation rental tax compliance to communities in Colorado, Texas, Hawaii, Montana and Washington, D.C.
Neer frequently leads workshops for small businesses to provide information about sales tax compliance and helps them navigate changing laws.
“It’s our team,” Neer said. “We have 50 members who serve our clients each and every day.”
H H H Here are the other award winners from 2021 Durango Rocks!:
Spirit of Durango Award: Ore House Restaurant.Leadership La Plata Barbara Conrad Award: Karen Thompson.Outstanding Contribution to the Chamber: Rita Simon.Young Professional of the Year: Liz Demko.Diplomat of the Year: Tom Loch.[email protected]