Eric Schwartz Commentary: Calling for Nominations for The Chronicle’s People of the Year


At the end of every year, The Chronicle takes a look back and selects a Person of the Year, an individual in the area who has stepped beyond their official duties to help the community and enact positive change. 

Last year, the honor went to local attorney and Centralia City Councilor Peter Abbarno for his prolific volunteering. Before that, it was Bethel Church Pastor Kyle Rasmussen. Over the years, the designation has also gone to Dale Pullin, Dr. John Henricksen, the founders of Raise for Rowyn, the prosecutors and law enforcement officers behind the cracking of a cold case, Gail Shaw, Connie Bode, Orin Smith and Donna Karvia (I hope I didn’t miss anyone). 

That is one impressive list. Individually, they all made our communities better. Without their collective contributions, it’s absolutely fair to say Lewis County would look completely different today — and not in a good way. 

This year, we’ll add another name to the list. Actually, we’ll add several. That’s because in addition to our annual Person of the Year feature, we will also be including a People of the Year section to celebrate more of our friends and neighbors who have made life better for residents through charitable efforts, volunteering, innovating or otherwise going above and beyond the duties of their day to day profession or calling. 

So why expand the field? Because in a year like 2020, more people have risen to the occasion than ever before when it comes to helping others. Sure, by many measures, the year has been something of a dumpster fire. But as those proverbial flames have burned away at our established norms, many more people are deserving of praise for their efforts to douse the blaze with kindness and generosity. 

Eligibility is absolutely wide open, and we’ll rely heavily on nominations from readers when it comes to selecting the final slate of honorees. One will still be chosen as the Person of the Year based on input from the public and deliberations here at Chronicle World Headquarters. 

You can use the list of past recipients above as a tool in making your recommendations, as they all share common qualities in addition to their unique contributions. 

My nominations would look something like this: 

• Debbie Campbell — The executive director of the United Way of Lewis County is an absolute force for good. Her organization views every community challenge as one it can tackle, whether it’s poverty, illiteracy or meals for homebound seniors. It’s kind of surprising she hasn’t been chosen for the award already. 

• Cole Meckle — The past of Gather Church in Centralia has led his congregation and broader enterprises on a powerful path of compassion that has led to constant and meaningful help for the homeless, the hungry and the addicted. 

• Dr. Rachel Wood — Lewis County’s soon-to-be retired health officer has been at the tip of the spear in the county’s efforts to combat COVID-19. She has faced criticism for her decisions when it comes to restrictions on school and sports, but she’s undoubtedly done what she thinks is best for the health of county residents, even if it won’t win her any popularity contests. In a worldwide pandemic, the health officer makes my list of nominees. 

• Alicia Bull — The executive director of the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce has been resolute in assisting the business community at a time when it needs it most. From collecting personal protective equipment for frontline workers to leading the launch of the Business Recovery Center, she and her organization answered the call in a big way. 

These are just examples I hope will help generate more ideas from you, the readers. 

We’ll accept nominations through the end of November. You can submit your choices via email to, or by mail to ATTN: Eric Schwartz, 321 N. Pearl St., Centralia. 

Tell us why you are nominating the individual and include the reasons why you believe they are a Person of the Year. Your input will be included with the publication should the individual be selected. 

It’s been a tough year, but let’s join together in honoring those who have made it a little easier. 


Eric Schwartz is regional executive editor for Lafromboise Communications, which publishes The Chronicle, The Reflector and Nisqually Valley News. He can be reached at 



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