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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Robert Rehfeld, left, Max Mertz, center, and George Elgee walk to the podium after being named Citizens of the Year by the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at their annual dinner at Centennial Hall on Friday.

Elgee, Rehfeld and Mertz: Chamber citizens of the year

Lifetime achievement awarded posthumously to Romer Derr

Posted: December 2, 2012 - 9:17am
Laraine Derr receives the Lifetime Achievement Award for her husband, Romer Derr, from Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford during the Juneau Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner at Centennial Hall on Friday. Derr died Jan. 26, 2012.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Laraine Derr receives the Lifetime Achievement Award for her husband, Romer Derr, from Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford during the Juneau Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner at Centennial Hall on Friday. Derr died Jan. 26, 2012.

Holiday cheer was on full display at the 2012 Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner, The Magic of Christmas.

More than 200 business leaders and chamber members and families converged on Centennial Hall Friday night to share in food catered by the Hangar on the Warf, award prizes, enjoy entertainment — sometimes becoming part of the entertainment — and raise funds for Juneau’s own 2012 Alaska Outstanding Chamber of the Year.

Centennial Hall’s main room was split into two sides of silent auction items. Many thousands of calories of hand made desserts lined the south wall while sundry items from an Apple iPad mini to a $400 Coach bag to the very popular, and now limited, basket of Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies.

Mayor Merrill Sanford said he had his eye on the torso-sized gold ore bearing rock from Kensington Mine while his wife Patty Sanford said she was taken by a custom made quilt from Laraine L. Derr.

Four local organizations donated lavishly decorated Christmas trees for auction. Coeur d’Alene Mines Alaska, Elgee Rehfeld Mertz LLC, Holly’s Hallmark and Alaska Brewing Company. 

“It’s all constructed out of beer,” Nancy Woizeschke Alaska Brewing “Pack Leader” said. “And love.”

Trees auctioned from between $700 and $2,600. Proceeds from the auction helped fund the chamber. The trees, and hundreds of dollars worth of gifts underneath, will be donated to Juneau families in need.

For the first time since 1977, three people were awarded Citizen of the Year: George Elgee, Bob Rehfeld and Max Mertz of the accounting firm Elgee, Rehfeld Mertz LLC.

“These guys set the example,” Max Mertz said of his partners. “I just followed along.” After the diner Mertz, who was awarded the Jay A. Ofsthun Distinguished Service Award earlier this year, said he and his associates and employees donate their time and energy not for the accolades, but because the love Juneau. “It’s a cliché,” Mertz said. “I know.”

Mayor Sanford presented the chamber’s lifetime achievement award. The award went to the man who had presented the Mayor with his Citizen of the Year award in 2011, long-time Alaskan Romer Derr. Derr was an outspoken member of the community and gave much of his time with Juneau’s fire department, Sanford said. He is also known as the person who rang the bell when Alaska became a state in 1959. He was a business owner and worked at his business, Harri Plumbing and Heating, as a plumber. He also sold cars and patrolled the city as a Police Officer. 

Derr was a strong supporter of the Chamber of Commerce and presided over the organization several times in his 75 years. He passed away in early 2012.

“He had strong convictions,” Sanford said of Derr. “He held himself and other to high standards. He was that kind of guy.”

Derr was also no-nonsense, Laraine Derr wife of Romer said. After Sanford recounted a few stories from Romer’s past, Loraine walked up to the podium.

“Romer would say ‘cut the bull----, Merrill,’” Laraine Derr said. And promptly ended the speech to laughter from the crowd.

Derr said that Juneau and Alaska meant everything to her husband.

“It was his life,” Derr said. “He lived it, he collected it.”

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com. 

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