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Bert and Debbie Little named Warrenton citizens of the year

Debbie Little speak at the veterans memorial dedication in late August. (Peggy Yingst)
By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, February 7, 2019

Bert and Debbie Little were named Warrenton’s citizens of the year during last weekend’s Astoria-Warrenton Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet.

The couple were instrumental in finishing plans made decades ago to bring a veterans memorial to downtown. They spent time speaking to groups, raising funds and ensuring everyone was on the same page.

They didn’t let the momentum drop.

“The veteran’s memorial is perhaps the most obvious example of this couple’s dedication and heart for their community,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said in presenting the award. “They worked with the city of Warrenton and ODOT to get the project approved, raised funds and in-kind donations, transported pieces of the monument back and forth from the artist’s home in Seaside to the foundry in Damascus and collected names of area residents who served in the military to add those names to the memorial.

“They poured their souls into this project as a way to recognize all the men and women who have served our nation and our community.”

The 2018 Richard Ford Distinguished Service Award is named for a former city building inspector and fire chief who volunteered his time helping residents and was established by his family after he died.

About 230 people attended the annual banquet at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, which included awards for Astoria’s top citizens and an outstanding business.

The Littles were recognized not only for their dedication to the veterans memorial, but their service with the state and local VFW, where he is quartermaster and she is auxiliary president.

He serves on the board of the Warrenton Warming Center and the city’s Parks Advisory Committee.

She wrote the grant for the veterans memorial, runs the concession stand at Robinson Community Park and serves on the board of Warrenton Kids Inc. This year, Debbie Little and other auxiliary members took on the Community Thanksgiving meal at Warrenton Community Center.

“I knew Bert was getting the award because it was my job to get him there,” Debbie Little said. “I had no idea I was even nominated. We’re both surprised and honored.”

Seeing the fruits of their labor has been satisfying.

“To actually see that statue go up before some of the people who started it 25 years ago passed away, makes it all worth it,” she said.

The George Award, given to Astoria’s citizens of the year, was presented to retired school teacher Ray Merritt and restaurateur Jennifer Holen.

Merritt serves on the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association board and works tirelessly making street improvements, lighting upgrades and rehabilitating old buildings, Astoria Mayor Bruce Jones said in making the presentation.

Merritt records all Astoria City Council meetings and other events and uploads them to the Coast Community Radio website. He has spent three decades on the KMUN board and supervises planning for the annual Fisher Poets Gathering.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, who presented the award to Holen, described her as a huge advocate and champion of local support agencies. She’s on the staff of United Way of Clatsop County, volunteers for Iron Chef Goes Coastal and developed the Pacific Northwest Brew Cup.

The Chamber Ambassadors also presented an award to a local business that has gone above and beyond serving the local community, Lewis & Clark Golf & RV Park.

“As the Ambassadors, we get an up-close and personal view of the chamber membership,” Ambassador President Judy Curnow said. “Year after year, the business we’re honoring tonight has provided golf carts for chamber events … and hosts our annual barbecue each year.”

Bert Little stands, shovel at the ready, at the ground-breaking for the veterans memorial in early 2018.

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