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The ninth annual Valley of the Flowers Peace Prize was awarded to Keith McLellan in front of a large crowd gathered at the Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ in Vandenberg Village on Saturday afternoon.

McLellan was chosen from 11 Lompoc Valley candidates who were nominated for having contributed to peace and understanding in the community. 

Last year's recipient, Lompoc Library Director Sarah Bleyl, handed the prize to McLellan's son, Keagan, in his father's absence. 

McLellan, a chaplain for the Lompoc police and fire departments and Red Cross liaison, was the sixth nominee for this year's award. 

He served hundreds of hours in the Red Cross shelter during the Thomas fire and Montecito mudslides and in Lompoc as the police and fire chaplain. He also brought peace and comfort to families of homicide and suicide victims. 

McLellan established a group in Lompoc called Prepare2Care that trains people in disaster preparedness. 

"Peace sounds like such a nice word -- calm and serene -- but we understand that peacemaking is incredibly difficult; it's hard work, and it's about building bridges between people," said Rev. Jane Quandt at the start of the ceremony.

Quandt added, peace is a lot of work and reminded attendees that "[it] is not just the absence of war, but the presence of justice."

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"Those who strive justice for all are peacemakers, and we give thanks to all who gave part of that work," she said. "We honor you all today, and we thank all of you for being present on behalf of the community." 

While McLellan couldn't accept the award himself, his son received the 2-foot-tall, 24-pound prize. 

As he was handed the sculpture, Keagan reflected on the importance of his father's contributions during a speech that looked back on his father's roles of contribution.

"My father has been so humble his whole life. He taught myself and my brothers humility," he said. "He's helped countless lives and spent so much time giving so much, which says so much about who he is -- from Prepare to Care and Red Cross services.

"I wish he'd retire sometimes, but he gives so much energy," Keagan continued. "I wish he was here himself so I can tell him how proud I am of him."

The hourlong ceremony also included a performance by the Jazz Divine Quartet, with Paul Barthel on trumpet, Terry Handy on the bass, Geoff Moran on the drums and Becky McClaflin on piano. At the conclusion of the program, the group led the audience in singing "Let There Be peace on Earth." 

The seven prize winners who preceded Bleyl were Conrad Gonzales of the Boys and Girls Club; Shannon Rose Chavez of the North County Rape Crisis Center; Robert Almanza of Victory Outreach; The Rev. Douglas Conley of the New Life Christian Center; Lauren Pressman, community activist and former Cabrillo High School counselor; Catalina McIssac, founder and CEO of Art Peace Imagine; and the Rev. Ron Wiley, pastor of the Grace Temple Missionary Baptist Church.

Nominees for 2019 were Grocery Outlet co-owners Alix and Aaron Crocker; artist and muralist Vicki Andersen; Hancock College Trustee Jeff Hall; YMCA board member Lucy Thoms-Harrington; the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians; Girl Scout leader Penelope Toll; Lompoc Police Officer Mauricio Calderon; Lompoc school board appointee Gloria Grijalva; local volunteer Dave Baker; retired school psychologist Barry Marks; and McClellan.

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Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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