The Juneau Chamber of Commerce bestowed its highest accolade, the Citizen of the Year award, to a Vietnam veteran, former volunteer firefighter and former Assembly member, Merrill Sanford.
Chamber member Romer Derr presented the award to a surprised Sanford during the Chamber’s annual dinner at Centennial Hall Saturday evening.
“This leaves me a little bit speechless,” Sanford told the business leaders of the community in the audience, adding, “I am very humbled to get an award like this.”
Recognizing a Citizen of the Year has been a Chamber tradition since 1977. Each year a person is chosen by a panel of past Chamber presidents as a means of expressing the business community’s appreciation for extraordinary efforts and actions that have made Juneau a better place to live.
Sanford is a Southeast Alaskan who graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School and went on to join the U.S. Marine Corps where he completed a tour of duty in Vietnam. He returned to Juneau and worked for Ike’s Fuel. He felt the need to serve his community, Derr noted in his speech, so he went on to become a volunteer firefighter. Sanford worked his way up the ranks to become chief of the Glacier Valley Fire Department.
Following his retirement from the fire department, he joined the Juneau Planning Commission. He then was elected to the Assembly and was appointed deputy mayor during his last year or two there.
Outgoing Chamber President Tim McLeod praised Sanford for his commitment to his city, state and country.
“Thank you very much for all your years of public service,” McLeod said, as Sanford received a standing ovation.
“I don’t think I have been around anyone who genuinely cares more about his family, Juneau, the future of Southeast Alaska, our state and the good ol’ U.S. of A,” Sanford’s brother wrote in a letter Derr read aloud. “He has defined himself as a compassionate, honest and hard-working individual, and I am very proud to call him my brother.”
Sanford said he was especially surprised to be recognized by the business community since he had never identified himself as a businessman.
“The award is an accumulation of a lot of things that I’ve done throughout my life, and it’s a great honor from the business community to be able to receive this award, especially because I hadn’t been a business person. I’ve been a public servant.”
Upon receiving Citizen of the Year, he thanked his family and friends. Sanford lives in Juneau with his wife of 42 years, Patti, and he is the father of Norman, Wesley and Robert.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.