PALMER— The Palmer Train Depot bustled with activity Friday, inside and out as people from the Palmer community ate free hot dogs and celebrated their neighbors during the 30th annual Palmer Pride Picnic, hosted by the city of Palmer, Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce and local businesses.

“Palmer’s just a great place and I know all of you already know that and all of you made a contribution to making Palmer great,” Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries said.

This free event is all about Palmer and the small town’s unique charm, celebrating its residents’ achievements, contributions and grassroots efforts.

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“It’s become a tradition to celebrate that fact that Palmer is a community of generous hearts and willing hands,” Palmer City Council member Linda Combs said prior the event.

Local farmers contributed fresh vegetables. Over 300 hot dogs were grilled up and served, according to Sherry Carrington, director of Connect Palmer. She said that she was pleasantly surprised by the good turnout despite the day’s downpour.

Inside the depot, DeVries presented several community awards, including the Citizen of the Year Award, to notable names around town.

People were recognized for their various feats ranging from beautiful yard nominations to the Golden Shovel Award, which acknowledges business owners for proficient sidewalk shoveling during the winter, ensuring Palmer is a “very walkable community.”

“There was a lot of feel-good. I think at the end of a long summer with a lot of road construction and changes, I think that was a well-timed event. Palmer Pride’s always fun,” Denise Statz said.

Statz won the 2019 Citizen of the Year award, after many decades contributing to Palmer from a business and philanthropic standpoint. She’s been involved with numerous events and activities around town, striving to unite the local owners and shoppers. When she approached the stage to receive the key to the city, DeVries smiled and gave her a long hug.

“There was a lot of love in that room… It was a warm event,” Statz said after the ceremony.

Statz was the longtime owner of Non Essentials, one of the core businesses in the downtown strip. She recently passed the torch to Denise Nelson, who recently purchased the iconic store, marking the end of an era and start of something new. Statz said that Nelson has been like a daughter to her for many years.

“It’s been a really lovely transition,” Statz said.

When Statz accepted the award, she teared up. This is where she raised her children. She said that she was grateful to be surrounded by multiple generations of friends and friendly faces around town.

“You have no idea how grateful I am to live in your town and to know you and your grandkids and your kids. There’s some people in here who are just phenomenal human beings and it’s the best. I can say this because I’ve been everywhere, this is the best of Alaska in my mind,” Statz said.

Throughout the event, the Palmer Community Foundation manned a booth with a big white piece of paper, collecting adjectives from attendees. They were asked to use a word to describe Palmer.

In the end, all the words will be used to create a word cloud illustration. It will be framed and the most frequently used words have be bigger fonts, according to Palmer Community Foundation advisory board member, Patricia Chesbro.

“It’s fun to see what people come up with,” Chesbro said.

People grabbed colorful markers and etched used words such as, “quaint,” “family,” “traditional,” “progressive,” and “walkable home.” The word “beautiful” was used most frequently.

“I often refer to Palmer as a wonderful tapestry … everyone in Palmer has something to offer,” Combs said.

Palmer’s sister city is in Saroma, Japan. During the event, DeVries acknowledged the last 40 years of cultural exchange between two small communities over 3,000 miles apart. Each year, students from each town send exchange students through the Sister City Program.

Next July, the city is sending a delegation of 20 people to Saroma to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the cities’ relationship. The 2019-2020 exchange students will be named after the school year begins, according to DeVries.

“It’s a good way for all of us to expand our horizons,” DeVries said.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com.

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