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Chowchilla honors community

For The Madera Tribune

More than 100 people filled up Portuguese Hall for Chowchilla Chamber of Commerce’s annual Community Awards Dinner and Installation on January 14.


The Chowchilla Chamber of Commerce held its annual Community Awards Dinner and Installation on January 14 and honored eight different people/businesses that have helped make Chowchilla a better community.

The Heart of Chowchilla Award was presented in memory of Melvin “Corky” Gilliam, Mary Whatley and Nis Nissen.

The Heart of Chowchilla Award is presented to an individual who exemplifies lifelong dedication to Chowchilla and its residents.

Corky was pretty much known by the entire town. In 1952, during high school, he joined the Army at 17 and served fighting in Korea for three years. During his time serving, he received a Purple Heart. After serving, he milked cows for a while and switched his career to be a truck driver. He did this for 47 years, and later retired, allowing him to travel with his wife and see America.

He was proud to be a Chowchilla community member and volunteered for many groups throughout his life. Most notably, he was a Life member of the VFW Post 9896 and was working on his 65th year with them before he passed away.

Also, he was a past VFW Commander and past District Officer. He was a part of the American Legion Post 148 and a Lion’s Club Member for 50 years. As a Lion, he earned the Melvin Jones’ Fellowship Award and would attend the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting. He was even a Chowchilla Fair Volunteer for 60 years.

Whatley was involved in so many activities throughout the years, it would be hard to write about them all. Basically, if she saw a need and she could fill it, she did. Most of her work was done behind the scenes because she never wanted recognition for it. She only helped because, in her eyes, it was the Godly thing to do.

When her kids were young, she was a huge booster and supporter of youth and high school sports and cheer. She did everything from working in the concession stand, transporting kids to competitions, paying for uniforms for those that couldn’t afford them, providing hair supplies for cheerleaders, and donating money to the programs when needed. She also took in a few teens that needed a better home life and treated them as her own. She would buy school clothes and supplies for whoever needed it.

Whatley was also very involved in several churches in Chowchilla, Oakhurst and Merced. She donated endless hours, money, food, clothing and whatever else was needed. Just last Thanksgiving, even though she was battling cancer, she donated three complete Thanksgiving dinners to families in need. She also cooked lunch for the entire congregation every Sunday at her church for a few years.

Nissen was such a big fan of Chowchilla that his own nickname was even “Mr. Chowchilla.” As a boy, Nissen came every vacation to Chowchilla because his grandparents, Albert and Matty Perry, were here. In the early 1970’s, when he came back from Alaska and the Navy, he chose to settle in Chowchilla because he was drawn to the small-town friendliness and the rural environment where he was able to be close to nature and animals.

Nissen loved being a part of the Chowchilla community. In his later years, he was happy to help out in any way he could. He loved to open his office so folks could sit and watch the Chowchilla Parade in comfort.

He was an active person who loved animals and people. He was someone who saw the potential Chowchilla had and thus after working at a different office, he opened his own real-estate office to provide more opportunity to this small town. His office, Old West Realty, in its heyday, was the realtor of choice for a majority of the sales transactions in Chowchilla. He had numerous agents on his team and ran a property management service as well. His service to this town helped it grow and helped many be able to settle here.

Nissen was a part of many different groups including, the Chowchilla Masonic Lodge, Fraternal Order of Eastern Star, Member of the Merced Elks, Member of the Chowchilla Volunteer Fire Department, The Chowchilla Kiwana’s Club, Chowchilla Historical Society, and a past Worthy Parton of the Chowchilla lodge twice.

Diana Palmer was awarded with Chowchilla’s Outstanding Citizen of the Year.

The Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award is presented to an individual in recognition of many exemplarity years of service and dedication to the community of Chowchilla.

Palmer joined the City Council in 2018 and ever since day one, started to bring a better change to Chowchilla. During her time on the City Council, she most notably headed the Beautify Chowchilla project and this work did not go unnoticed. She helped to get trash picked up, repainted fences, signs, cleaned up playgrounds and picnic coverings, and spent her own time out there bringing people together for one goal. This work, and love for Chowchilla clearly makes her a great citizen of Chowchilla.

Her commitment to this town and its people is shown through her actions and passion to make it a better place. She has her financial and insurance agency. Her support to the Chamber and other clubs keeps this city what it is.

The Wrap Shak was awarded Chowchiila’s Progress Award.

The Progress award is given to an individual or business that saw the potential of a location and developed it into something new for the community of Chowchilla.

Sarah Rodriguez was given the Outstanding Business Person Award.

The Outstanding Business Person Award is presented to someone whose contributions to the community is on-going and their impact is significant to the Chowchilla community.

The Chamber of Commerce awarded the Chowchilla Union High School Administrators with its Educator of the Year Award.

The Educator of the Year Award is presented to an educator or education department, for their past and on-going work to benefitting the children of Chowchilla.

Firefighter Harry Turner was given the Community Support and Leadership Award.

The Community Support and Leadership Award is presented to an individual in recognition for their many exemplary years of service and dedication to the community of Chowchilla.

Turner started his journey as a volunteer fireman in 1980. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, uncle, and brother he became a third-generation fireman.

Then, in 1998, Turner became the paid Chief. He dedicated a commitment to this town as a businessman, fireman, father, and citizen and has served Chowchilla for many years.

As a father, he led by example and raised his own children to also become firemen. Turner was a big advocate for the construction of the current fire station.

The new Mountain Mike’s Pizza, owned by Alex Chouhan, was given the Choose Chowchilla Award.

The Choose Chowchilla Award is presented to an individual or business for choosing Chowchilla and pouring their time and energy into making this town better as a whole.

Chouhan opened the doors to his Chowchilla Mountain Mike’s in January, 2022, and ever since, his love for the town has been seen in its very own walls. Inside, one will find a beautiful map of the city, and the windows always painted in festive themes. Giving work to the local residents of our community while showing his love of this town through his business.

Chouhan discussed why he chose to come to our little town. He said it was so easy to love this place for its amazing people who have supported him since he opened. From the beautiful surrounding landscaping and hometown feeling, to the feeling that so many others like him feel when they come to visit or settle down in Chowchilla.

He also said he loves to work with the people to give back. Since he opened his doors, he has done many charitable works including giving out free pizza to the students at our schools.

Jose Sahagun of Big Valley Mortgage was awarded Chowchilla’s Business of the Year.

The Business of the Year Award is presented to a business that has been putting growth back into the community and has been benefitting the town as a whole. As well as, growing their business to keep Chowchilla growing economically.

Jose started his business in Madera, and later moved it to Chowchilla. During his time living in Chowchilla, he has impacted so many lives with his community support through volunteering, business endeavors, and personal outreach. His business takes pride on helping people and giving back to the community of Chowchilla.


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