MILTON-FREEWATER -- Eleven area residents were honored Thursday night for their extensive volunteer and community work at the 62nd annual awards banquet of the Milton-Freewater Area Chamber of Commerce.Lara Goodrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The banquet's theme, "Western Stars: Let's Round 'Em Up," was on full display, as guests gathered in the festively decorated Milton-Freewater Community Center dressed in cowboy hats and flannel shirts. The evening's events began with a silent auction, which featured items donated from local businesses to benefit the Chamber.
The master of ceremonies, Sam Tucker, invited socializing guests to make their way to their tables, each decorated by a local business. He welcomed special guests and thanked the evening's premier sponsor, Wildhorse Resort and Casino.
Tucker then led the audience in a game of Western trivia, allowing tables that correctly answered trivia questions to make their way to the buffet, catered by Rhonda's Catering Service.
As guests finished dinner, Chamber President Mike Watkins announced his choices for the President's Awards and explained the evening's Western theme.
"'Western' is not only a direction on a map," Watkins said. "But (it's) an attitude, a way of life. To me it means a pioneer spirit, a can-do attitude, a willingness to help others...one who leads by example, who organizes and gathers, and who has a subtle toughness...And a 'star' is a person who excels or performs brilliantly in a given activity."
Watkins described the evening's first winner as "truly a Western Star."
"I can think of 60 people I'd like to give (this) award to...I really appreciate everybody's help," Watkins said. "It's hard to pick one person...but I narrowed it down."
Susan Dohrmann accepted the President's Award for her 25 years of service on the Chamber.
"I feel very blessed to have lived in this community...and to raise my family here," Dohrmann said. "I love what I do, and...I just want to make things better."
Watkins awarded the Friend of Milton-Freewater Award to District 57 state Rep. Greg Smith for his advocacy on behalf of the community and investment in crucial projects, such as keeping the armory open and repairing Milton-Freewater's streets.
"I'm a politician that's speechless," Smith joked as he accepted the award. "Milton-Freewater is a community worth investing in, and I thank you."
Watkins then introduced the members of the Chamber Board of Directors and thanked them for their "time and effort to make Milton-Freewater a better community."
A live auction followed for larger items, and bidding on silent auction items continued.
Aaron Duff, the vocational agriculture teacher and Future Farmers of America advisor at McLoughlin High School, presented the Youth Awards.
"I hope young people from (this area) come back and become leader(s)," Duff said. "(Tonight's recipient) is a leader now and in the future."
Ashley Doherty, the first Youth Award recipient, serves on the state superintendent's student advisory board, has earned her state FFA degree, and is a member of the National Honor Society. Growing up in Milton-Freewater has helped her pursue her goals and reach out to others.
"With the support of everyone here...(this) is a great place to live and grow up," she said.
Duff called the second Youth Award winner, Alicia Munk, a "future teacher" anyone can count on.
"If you need help, this is somebody who comes and helps no matter what," Duff said of Munk, who also expressed a deep passion for and commitment to Milton-Freewater.
"I hope someday to have a family here myself and be as involved," she said.
Munk is also active in FFA and was a member of the Milton-Freewater Posse Court.
Mike Lusk then presented the Golden Pioneers Award, first to the "lady pioneer" of the year, Bonnie Owen. He told stories of her hard work through the years as a mother and a business partner to her late husband, Bud. Owen has been an active member of the community her whole life, and aging has not slowed her down.
"Not one to sit in her rocker during retirement, you will often times find this charming lady at our Senior Center, where she has served on the Board of Directors." Lusk said.
The male Golden Pioneer Award recipient, Larry Hetterley also exemplified dedication to community.
"He is a leading man in many scenes throughout our community," Lusk said. "This gentleman takes the lead in helping the downtrodden."
Among other things, Hetterley has been a member of the Milton-Freewater Elks for 30 years, has chaired the Veterans Parade and is "heavily involved" in the Meadwood Springs Speech and Hearing Camp in Weston.
"I appreciate working for our community, our veterans and our service people serving overseas," Hetterley said. "It's a great community, and I see why tonight so many people are giving with their hearts."
Michelle Thacker presented the Junior Citizen Award to Ila Kralman, a respiratory therapist, whom Thacker described as a true leader, for her various acts of volunteerism, from chaperoning elementary school field trips to supporting 4-H and the Junior Show. Thacker borrowed words from educator Duff when describing Kralman's leadership in the community.
"'An (ideal) citizen of Milton-Freewater is someone that gives their all, expects nothing in return, and keeps going in hard times,'" she said of Kralman.
Kralman, who moved to Milton-Freewater in 1990, said she is glad to volunteer and grateful for the home she has found as a "transplant" to the community.
"I love doing all the volunteering I am blessed to be able to do," she said. "A lot of people forget that I wasn't born and raised around here...(so) I also thank everyone for acceptance."
A previous award presenter became a recipient when Gary Hendricks named Aaron Duff Educator of the Year. Hendricks said Duff possesses all of the qualities of effective and influential teaching: enthusiasm, leadership and respect of students.
"He shows students they can succeed and overcome obstacles," he said. "They have a future, and they (learn) that from the example shown in class."
"I've been here six years, and I've learned a lot as a teacher," a surprised Duff said as he accepted the honor. "I am by far the luckiest (agriculture) teacher in Oregon and possibly in the country. That's because I come from a great community."
Ron Brown presented the Agri-Business Award to Frank Millar, who has worked in a variety of agricultural fields, and has spent the last 28 years at Wilbur-Ellis in management and sales. He is also involved in the local Elks chapter and is "active in local and regional agricultural teaching opportunities."
"He loves being out in his truck learning about each farmer's needs...and how he can best serve them," Brown said of Millar.
"Certainly many distinguishable individuals (have) won this award," Millar said. "It's an honor to accept this award tonight."
Nancy Wolfe presented the Woman of the Year Award to Blanche Mason, who has a long track-record of community service, and "teaches lessons of love and unselfishness" daily.
"She finds out what is needed and gets it done," Wolfe said. "Nothing is too large or small for her attention and service...The Woman of the Year has done more than her part to make Milton-Freewater a better place to live."
Mason has been personally involved in the Red Cross, the Frazier Farmstead Museum and has worked through her Philanthropic Education Organization to help girls receive scholarships and grants for continuing education.
Wolfe also quoted nomination letters from the children in Mason's Sunday school classes.
"She really likes kids and they really like her," the letters read. "She has impacted our lives for all of our lives."
Mason accepted humbly accepted the award.
"Thank you for this honor," she said. "All the things I've done I've really enjoyed doing, and I hope I'll have many more years to do them."
Jack Shelton awarded Man of the Year to Attorney Andy Millar, who is an active volunteer at the Milton-Freewater Senior Center, Oregon Hunter Safety Program, FFA and the Elks Club, to name a few.
"Call on him, and he'll be there for you," Shelton said of Millar. "This man is always willing to commit himself to family friends and community."
"I love to volunteer," Millar said. "Volunteerism is the foundation of our community spirit...and I really enjoy giving back. (This) is quite a humbling award."
The final award for the evening was a "People's Choice" award for the best table decorations by a sponsor, which was awarded to Outwest Catering of Pendleton for its festive and elaborate western table theme.