The Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture has announced its annual awardees, including the man and woman of the year.

Nita Gizdich was on her ranch Tuesday morning, and as usual she was working. 

Although sweeping the driveway leading to her iconic pie shop was a mundane task, a surprise awaited her. 

Shaz Roth, CEO of the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, was there to present her with the organization’s lifetime achievement award, which is bestowed annually to people who have made indelible impacts on the community.

Gizdich has been a farmer her entire life, a career and lifestyle handed down from her father who immigrated  from Croatia. While her farm is known internationally for its apples and pie–and as a destination for autumn apple-picking excursions–it also has become an educational field trip destination for myriads of schoolchildren.

The farm has been running since 1934, when Gizdich’s father-in-law bought the land for $1,400. 

“You’ve done a lifetime of giving and a lifetime of making the Pajaro Valley a wonderful place,” Roth told Gizdich after surprising her with the news.

She said the award felt “wonderful,” and then offered a slice of pie to everyone.

The chamber also named Sally-Christine Rodgers as woman of the year, and Matt Ryan as man of the year.

Watsonville Community Band is organization of the year, and the annual Veterans Day Parade is event of the year.

All the awardees will be honored on July 27 at the chamber’s annual shindig in the Croscetti Hall at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.

“We want to recognize the people, organizations and businesses that make the Pajaro Valley a great place to work, live and play,” Roth said. “We want to recognize those that sometimes go unsung.”

Woman of the Year

Sally-Christine Rodgers has worked in Marine conservation for decades, and along with her husband Randy Repass—the founder of West Marine,—has supported many local environmental and community efforts.

Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian Shaz Roth (right), CEO of the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture informs Sally Christine Rodgers that she has been named the Woman of the Year.

 Tired of litter and illegal dumping, Rodgers brought together a coalition of agencies called the Trash Talkers, which created the Pitch-In Initiative.

That includes promoting a clean environment through Pitch-In signs at parks, on trails, beaches and farmland, cameras to deter and seek prosecution on illegal dumping, working with schools and organizations to educate the community about eliminating litter, and organizing monthly cleanups. 

The group will host the county’s first all-Santa Cruz County Cleanup Day on May 11.  “The Goal is to Make Santa Cruz the Cleanest County in the State,” Roth said.

Man of the year

Matt Ryan started with Watsonville Fire Department as a reserve firefighter, and retired three decades later in 2020 as a captain.

Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian MASTER CHEF  Retired Watsonville Fire Capt. Matt Ryan is shown with his dog, Rip, at Watsonville Fire Station 1. He was named Man of the Year by the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.

While such a career is a notable achievement on its own, it is his community service that earned him this year’s honor, with a list of activities too voluminous to list in this story.

This includes volunteering with Caravan for Kids (Taking kids with cancer to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital) and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes. He has also served as U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots Co-Chair.

As a skilled cook and barbecue master, Ryan also cooks for the opening day picnic at the Santa Cruz County Fair, in addition to other events.

He puts on the Santa Cruz County Junior Livestock Buyer Dinner, and volunteers with the Knights of Columbus.

In addition, he Provides PTSD counseling for emergency workers with the Central Coast Critical Incident Team.

Soon after he was surprised at Fire Station 1 with his award, Ryan said he felt “overwhelmed.”

“I don’t know what to say right now,” he said. “I feel like crying right now.”

Business of the Year

Staff of Life Natural Foods opened its Watsonville branch in 2021 in the East Lake Village shopping center at 906 E Lake Ave.

Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian Shaz Roth (from right), CEO of the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, presents the Business of the Year Award to Gary Bascou (co-owner of Staff of Life Natural FoodsMarket, Jason Bazarnick and Peggy Bascou Thursday at East Lake Village Shopping Center.

Since its inception, the company has not only brought a new store to Watsonville but has also brought with it a vision of fostering healthier lifestyles and better access to quality food options for the residents of South County,” Roth said.

Co-owner, Gary Bascou, added, “Receiving the Business of the Year award from the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce is an incredible honor for Staff of Life. It feels special because it is from the community and other members of the Pajaro Valley Chamber.”

Staff of Life has made it a routine to give back to the community with ongoing support for Second Harvest Food Bank, Loaves and Fishes, the Pajaro Community Health Trust, Grey Bears and others.  

“We will cherish this award and look forward to many more years of serving our community,” Bascou said.

As a local family-owned and operated business for over five decades, our mission has been to bring healthy and organic food to our community at a great value.  It would not be possible without our wonderful employees and the support of our customers and community.

Event of the Year 

The annual Veterans Day Parade draws hundreds of people to watch as people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces march from St. Patrick’s Church to the Veterans Memorial Building or the Henry J. Mello Center, where the ceremony takes place.

VTarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian Veterans march along East Lake Avenue in the Walk of Honor as part of Veterans Day events in Watsonville. Shown in the front row are Edgar Villalobos (from left), Ignacio Mata, Michael Jordan and Ernie Perez.

The event typically includes U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corps and antique fire engines.

Organization of the Year

The Watsonville Community Band held its first rehearsal in the Watsonville High School Band room on Feb. 23, 1947.

Tarmo Hannula/Pajaronian file The Watsonville Community Band is shown marching n the Fourth of July parade in Watsonville.

The first performance during that year’s Fourth of July parade was a springboard that has allowed the band to become a cornerstone of the Watsonville community.

It has since played throughout the U.S. and in 10 countries worldwide.

The band also offers Watsonville Youth Band, which gives musical education to young people who want to learn to play an instrument.

The Youth Band joins the adult band on the Spring and Winter Concerts at the Henry Mello Center in Watsonville.

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


  1. FYI The Watsonville Band started as the Sciots band connected to the Watsonville Masonic Lodge located on Main Street. The lodge was permanently damaged in the 1989 earthquake and merged then into a Lodge in Soquel

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