Chamber hosts annual banquet, doles out awards

Beth Palmer was named 2020 “Citizen of the Year” at the recent Chamber Awards ceremony, for her work on food drives for area families.

Major awards presented at the annual Chamber Choice Awards Banquet included “Citizen of the Year,” the “Mary C. Williams Volunteer of the Year,” and “Business Person of the Year.”

‘Citizen of the Year’

The 2020 “Citizen of the Year Award” was presented by Carlina Villapando, publisher at the Kerrville Daily Times, sponsor of this award.

This year marks the 56th recipient of this award that honors the best of this community, given to a person who “has shaped the identity of our community.”

Villapando said this year has been tough on everyone, and added, “It’s also been a blessing as it has allowed us to slow down and reinforce how we show kindness to others around us.”

She was joined on stage by Gary Priour, retired director of the Hill Country Youth Ranch, and last year’s winner of this award.

Villapando said this year’s winner has made herself known for helping others in the community; and exhibited an ability to adapt quickly, showing leadership and innovation while sharing her vision of caring for neighbors.

She was described as a former Ingram ISD educator and coach before going into fulltime ministry and becoming outreach director at First United Methodist Church, and more recently working at Light on the Hill, Mt. Wesley.

“Since April,” Villapando said, “she has given food to 14,000 people. No one expected this year’s problem to grow so big or last so long. And she has helped distribute more than 350,000 pounds of food to more than 5,000 families.”

Beth Palmer was named as the 2020 Citizen of the Year.

“I was tricked into coming here,” she said, to laughter from the audience. “I thought a whole group of people were going to be honored like this.

“It’s an incredible honor,” she continued. “This is not just for me. It’s for a whole network of businesses in this city, and many unpaid servant-hearted neighbors. I’m so proud to be part of it. There’s no place that loves their neighbors better than Kerrville, Texas.”

Palmer received her large engraved plaque and congratulations from Priour and Villapando.

Business Person of the Year

This award was presented posthumously to Granger MacDonald, with a long history of family construction and housing businesses in the Kerrville area. His son Justin accepted the award on behalf of Granger’s family.

Bill Johnston, the 2019 honoree, representing his family’s Moore’s Furniture Store, described this year’s winner as remarkable, with a rare combination of the passion to “do right,” skills and knowledge, and the ability to employ thousands.

“He made his mark in and outside Kerrville and was named to the Texas Housing Hall of Fame. Granger MacDonald passed away last June, and our community is better because of Granger. He will be sorely missed and his legacy will live on.”

Justin said he and his family are proud of Granger’s legacy; and that Kerrville was always home to him, no matter where his business took him.

“He was honored to work here, and to give back to the community,” Justin said of his father.

Volunteers of the Year

Jody Tilmon, representing the 2019 winners at Christian Women’s Job Corps, made the announcement of winners for the  “Mary C. Williams Volunteers of the Year.”

Before she called Karen and Mike Burkett to the stage, Tilmon said, “The next award goes to two volunteers who saw a need five years ago for something most of us take for granted. When you or I need groceries, we hop in the car and drive to the grocery store. When we need to visit our doctor or pick up a prescription, we drive to the doctor’s office and the pharmacy.”

She said all those errands have driving in common, and that jumping in our cars is just something most people have done for years and don’t think about.

“But the two volunteers we are honor did think about it, that for many residents ‘jumping into the car’ was no longer an option, whether due to age, health or not owning a vehicle.”

She said this leaves them with a task of advance planning; relying on a friend or busy family member to take them.

“This couple decided to do something about it. They gathered a group of interested volunteers; led the effort to survey the community, conducted a needs assessment, researched the laws, and even visited similar programs in other communities, on their own time and own dollar,” she said. “They came to the conclusion Kerrville needed a low-cost way for older residents and non-drivers to get to their essential errands. They created Kerrville’s own nonprofit door-to-door transit system, an organization the community now embraces as Kerr Konnect.”

Kerr Konnect gave its first rides in October 2018; and the service has grown to serve more than 150 clients with 50 volunteers, averaging 250 rides per month.

“It all started with this couple, who saw the need, gathered the people and resources, worked three years to see it happen, and who continue to volunteer on behalf of the organization … You give Kerrville a Lift!”

Mike Burkett said, “From the beginning, we knew we needed the community input and participation. It’s been amazing to watch over five years. People came forward. It’s a testament to the community that we have the number of volunteers we do – amazing!”

Ambassador of the Year

The “Jack Fournier Ambassador of the Year Award” was presented to Albert Vasquez, who has served as a Chamber ambassador for a few years.

Weaver introduced Ruth Bauer as the 2019 winner of this award, who said each year the winner of this award is selected by the Chamber Ambassadors.

Bauer said this award is given to someone who has gone above and beyond the normal scope of a businessperson in the community through countless hours representing the Kerrville area as a Chamber Ambassador.

“He or she not only represents the Chamber in the community as an Ambassador, but is civically engaged in our community,” Bauer said. “The recipient this year has done just that in our community by helping better the lives of his coworkers and the individuals he works with on a daily basis. He has been an ambassador for a few years now, and does represent the Chamber everywhere he goes and in all he does.

“When asked to partake or do something, he is quickly checking his schedule to see if he can pitch in,” she said, and called him “a great Christian ambassador and the ‘sparkle’ of our ambassadors” as she called Vasquez to the stage.

“I don’t feel I deserve this,” Vasquez said. “But for the opportunities I’ve had to do a little bit, this is truly an honor.”

He spoke about his work at “little Brookdale” on Leslie Drive; and said this award was an honor and surprise. He also thanked his wife for letting him slip away to all those Chamber events.

Chamber Awaards Reception

The event was held Nov. 10 in the event hall at the Hill Country Youth Event Center, titled the Happy State Bank Event Hall after its new sponsoring business. Under precautions in the COVID-19 pandemic, Chamber officials under Interim President/CEO Kristan Weaver used six-person tables, socially distanced and nicely decorated in the hall, and limited attendance to a designated number of ticket-holders. Wine, cocktails and “heavy hors d’oeurves” were offered to attendees.

Event sponsors

Weaver recognized event sponsor Kerrville Hills Winery; and Brian Bowers accepted the thanks of the Chamber for Happy State Bank being the food sponsor for this year’s event.

Special thanks

Outgoing Chamber board President Tim Rye thanked current board members; recognized retiring board member Lisa Winters with an award of her own; introduced Brad Barnett as incoming new CEO; and passed his gavel to new Chamber board President Brian Bowers.

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