Milton-Freewater residents honored at banquet for service

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Organizers of the 63rd annual awards banquet here Thursday dubbed their community the "City of Champions" in a celebration that honored local residents at the top of their game.

About 15 community residents were lauded Thursday night in front of a sold-out crowd at the Community Building for the Milton-Freewater Area Chamber of Commerce's awards banquet.

The event recognized a Man and Woman of the Year, Agri-business recipient, Golden Pioneers, Junior Citizen, educator, youth and a recipient of the President's Award. This year also introduced a Community Service Award. Recipients were:

Man of the Year: Mike Humbert. The award was presented by Andy Millar. Humbert, a husband and fathers of six is shareholder in Humbert Refuse & Recycling with his siblings and parents. Born and raised in Milton-Freewater, he was described by Millar as a "mega-volunteer." Humbert has been a volunteer for the Milton-Freewater Junior Show since 2000 and has served in several offices for the organization that has had an upgraded water and electrical system and increased maintenance. He is in his second five-year term as a trustee for the community's Elks Club and helps with its numerous fundraisers.

He is also involved in his company's canned food drive, which takes place during the business's Customer Appreciation Days in May. The food is divided between the Milton-Freewater Breadbasket and Athena Food Bank. Known as a person to call when help is needed, Humbert has also been involved in chili benefits, toy drives, rebuilding the drive-in theater fence and much more. "Whenever you run into him, he is either working on a service project or promoting a fundraiser for a good cause and always has a big smile on his face," Millar said.

Woman of the Year: Debbie Lee. The award was presented by Blanche Mason. Lee, the associate vice president of Blue Mountain Community College, runs the Milton-Freewater campus where enrollment has doubled during her tenure. For 28 years she served as director of distance education for Eastern Oregon University, where she is still emeritus professor. Unafraid to tackle projects of any size -- from the renovation of her century-old home to venturing into the gourmet food business -- Lee is tireless in her devotion to education and the community.

She has been involved in the National Distance Education Association, Gourmet Food Club, Jaycees, Horizon Project, 4-H, Umatilla County Historical Society, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Wheat Growers League and many more. "Certainly this strong, healthy and growing root system that this extraordinary woman has established will continue to nourish us all," Mason said.

President's Award: Merri Anne Huber. The award was presented by 2011 Chamber President Rob Johnson. It is presented to a person who goes above and beyond in helping Chamber events runs moothly.

"She is quick to assist even if she is a guest and not an organizer at the event," Johnson said of Huber. "She often works behind the scenes keeping everyone smiling while on task."

Agri-Business Award: Hank Svehaug. The award was presented by Frank Millar. Known as an asset to the agricultural world far beyond Milton-Freewater, Svehaug was born in Portland and spent his early years in Norway before returning to the U.S. when World War II began. After his discharge from the U.S. Navy, he and his wife moved to Milton-Freewater, where he became plant engineer for the Umatilla Canning Company. He began working for Key Equipment -- now known as Key Technology -- is sales and engineering. He designed more than 25 agricultural machines while working for the company. After leaving there he went on to Pringle Irrigation before starting his own manufacturing firm, Key Dollar Company, in 1982.

He has designed tractor cabs and charcoal filters and subsequently sold off both divisions of his company. Svehaug is currently marketing his innovative two-stage separators in the dairy industry.

Junior Citizen of the Year: Sharee LaRue-Wright. The award was presented by Ila Kralman. Born into a large family and raised in Milton-Freewater she is co-owner of The Valley Herald has spent years serving as horse superintendent for the Milton-Freewater Junior Horse Show and helping behind the scenes with various events for 4-H. She is a school board member, teaches barrel racing, promotes rodeos around the Northwest, has been a member of the Pioneer Posse, spearheaded a benefit auction for a family in need, petitioned the city to put up Christmas decorations and paint light poles, creates websites free for nonprofit and service groups and advocates for special-needs students.

Educator of the Year: Karen Hendricks. The award was presented by Aaron Duff, who described Hendricks as having a "profound impact" on the community and in its schools. She developed the Leidall Learning Lab, which resulted in the creation of Ferndale Elementary's Science Club. She is renowned for engaging students in learning and challenging them to think outside the fox.

Youth of the Year: Brandon Kralman. The award was presented by Aaron Duff. A Greater Oregon League scholar athlete, Kralman was district wrestling champion in 2010, has twice been chosen as Mr. Pioneer and has received his State Farmer Degree in FFA. He was the chapter's vice president and has logged more than 30 community service activities a year for the last five years.

"So in simple words, this is a young person that we tell our children to look up to and strive to be like," Duff said.

Golden Pioneers: Marvin and Margaret Timmons and John Kelly. The awards were presented by Larry Hetterley. The Timmons have spent decades volunteering with youth -- 50 years at the Umatilla County Fair; 40 years at the Southeastern Washington Fair, and 50 years with the Milton-Freewater Junior Show.

Both members of the McLoughlin High School FFA Alumni Association, they received honorary chapter farmers awards.

"My son joined their 4-H group when he was in the fourth grade," Hetterley said. "He is now 42 years old and told me they always had the welcome mat out for the kids in their home and always made them feel so very welcome." Married 60 years, the couple have five children, 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. He operated Marv's Glass Shop and retired in 1990 after 33 years.

Kelly started his own television business in 1955 and in addition to running that operation 11 years also farmed for many more. He's served with the Elks, Lions and on the Pea Festival Float and Parade Committee. He received the Junior Citizen and Boss of the Year award, was active in 4-H and FFA and served on the school board. Together with his wife for 63 years, he is a father of two, grandfather of four, great-grandfather of six and great-great-grandfather of one.

Milton-Freewater Community Service Award: The M-F Water Control District board. The award was presented by the night's master of ceremonies and City Manager Linda Hall. The one-time special award was created to honor Manford Anliker, Sam Hopkins-Hubbard, Roger Cosner, Brad Humbert and Vern Rodighiero for their work on the water board.

"These men have put community literally above self," Hall said. "When the community was in need these five champions stepped up to serve without a moment's hesitation -- they put their personal and professional livelihoods at stake, they have dedicated their personal time, efforts, energy and funding to taking on a battle that any oddsmaker in Vegas would have qualified as a losing bet."

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