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For Sam E. McDonald Jr., philanthropy has long accompanied financial success.

"I have always wanted to share," the founder of Wendy's of Montana said, explaining his support for a wide variety of charitable causes.

In recognition of his generosity, McDonald has received the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Billings Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau's annual Roche Jaune Awards for Business Excellence. Award winners will be honored with a reception today at the Yellowstone Art Museum.

Dave Thomas, the founder of the fast-food chain Wendy's, was adopted as an infant and was especially fond of charities that promote adoption. McDonald said Thomas' philanthropic spirit was inspirational and helped make Wendy's a great company. But McDonald was involved in charitable giving long before he formed Wendy's of Montana.

The Wendy's of Montana Foundation, formed in 2000, has given millions of dollars to many charities.

McDonald said he likes to focus his efforts on organizations that deal with children. Each year, the foundation contributes money to high schools in towns that have a Wendy's of Montana restaurant.

Other recipients of the Roche Jaune awards and reasons given by the chamber for their selection are:

Civic leadership award: Billings Association of Realtors Quality of Life Program, which believes home ownership encourages community responsibility and stability and that parks, open space and other assets contribute to the quality of life. Affordable housing, nearby employment opportunities and an economically viable commercial sector also contribute to the quality of life.

Business person of the year: Stella Ziegler, owner of Stella's Kitchen and Bakery. For more than 30 years Ziegler has operated a successful business that has been an important part of downtown Billings. She also has played a key role on boards, churches, schools and her favorite, downtown Billings, nominators said.

Ziegler is dedicated to her 40-plus employees and works to help them succeed no matter what walk of life they come from.

Health care excellence: Stacey Handley, director of St. Vincent Children's Healthcare, is dedicated to helping the Montana Pediatric Project, which is treating critically ill children. Previously, critically ill children had to travel to places such as Denver or Seattle.

Education excellence: Cindy Welch, a sixth-grade teacher at Meadowlark Elementary, was nominated because of her ability to open a student's mind to the world. She has led the Season of Giving campaign, in which students collect food and clothing for less fortunate families.

Salesperson's excellence: Kate Hamlin, Life Launch, Century 21, is not only one of the top producers in the five-state region for Century 21, she strives to nurture the Billings community and its residents. She supports organizations such as the Big Sky EDA/EDC, the Business Expansion and Retention Program, as well as the Billings Chamber of Comm-erce/Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Customer service excellence: Jan Otteson, consumer loan officer at Stockman Bank, "excels in everything she does, especially in customer service," said bank president Butch Bratsky. She volunteers for Family Service Inc., the United Way, the Geranium Festival, Habitat for Humanity and MSU Billings.

Tourism excellence: Michael Marsh, Recreational Action Sports Entertainment, found a way to attract the 70,000 motorcyclists who pass through the area each August on their way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. RASE's Warm Up event kicks off with the Annual Great American Championship Motorcycle Hill Climb and concludes with the American Motorcyclist Association Grand National Flat Track Professional Motorcycle Racing Series tour.

Employer of the year: Keith Cook, regional president of First Interstate Bank, helps set the bank apart as a business, employer and member of the community. Cook achieves this by treating employees with respect and by working closely with community organizations to help improve the quality of life in Billings.

Supervisor/manager of the year: David Hinson, St. Vincent Healthcare Home Oxygen Service, understands the importance of patient satisfaction. He encourages staff to continue training to improve skills and meet their personal goals.

Adult volunteer of the year: Evelyn Noennig, public-relations manager at Billings Gazette Communications, volunteers hundreds of personal hours annually to help make Billings an even better place. As one nominator said, "If you've ever borrowed a library book, participated in the Jeans Day program, supported Partners in Education, run in the Montana Women's Run, toured ZooMontana, experienced Relay for Life or attended the MSU Billings Wine and Food Festival - you've likely run into her." She works with about 120 nonprofit agencies.

Youth volunteer of the year: Jessica Leuthold, 18, has dedicated time as a Youth Board volunteer on the National Anti-Drug and Alcohol Campaign, as well as years of service to Faith Chapel and St. Vincent Healthcare. She is an election judge for Yellowstone County and graduated early from high school and is well on her way to earning a degree at MSU Billings. After a significant bicycle accident, she has also spent time advocating the wearing of a helmet.

If you go

The Roche Jaune Awards for Business Excellence 2008 will be presented today at the Yellowstone Art Museum.

The event begins with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m., followed by the recognition program at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $25 per person. Call 245-4111 or e-mail info@billingschamber.com.

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