'The Best of Good Citizens': Verdon and Jerri Graves named Citizens of the Year; Swatsell, Berry, Russell and Hager also honored
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Verdon Graves addresses the crowd at the Thursday, Feb. 5, Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce banquet after he and wife Jerri (left) were named the 2003 Citizens of the Year. The Graves were praised by presenter and 2002 Citizen of the Year Mary Bonham for their tireless work and commitment to the community.
-Staff photo by Ricky Russell

Feb. 13, 2004 -- A husband and wife team described as role models for the community were honored as Citizens of the Year Thursday evening as the highlight of the 78th Annual Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce Membership Banquet.

The evening also saw the presentation of Caregiver of the Year, Woman of the Year, Agriculturalist of the Year and Community Pride awards.

Mary Bonham, recipient of last year's Citizen of the Year award, presented the 2003 Citizen of the Year Award to Verdon and Jerry Graves in recognition of their dedication to Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County.

"This husband and wife team has been a role model for local youth and adults alike," Mrs. Bonham said. "Whether providing home-grown tomatoes to the local Meals on Wheels organization, providing transportation for citizens to medical appointments or mowing someone's lawn, this couple goes about their volunteering quietly, giving selflessly of their time and talents."

The Graves were also cited for their tireless work at Hopkins County Heritage Park and Museum, involvement in Boy and Girl Scouts programs, service in their church and in the Community Players Theater Group.

Bonham said Verdon and Jerry Graves are among the best of good citizens.

"Good citizenship is a day-to-day affair that cannot be quantified. It is not a casual or sometimes thing, but a continuing force that underpins our society," she said. "It is the quiet citizen who builds the kind of community that provides security, prosperity and peace for the rest of us - the quiet citizen who is a good citizen. Verdon and Jerry Graves have bestowed on this community the blessings of being the best of good citizens."

The Citizen of the Year award is sponsored annually by Echo Publishing Company.

Polly Swatsell was named as recipient of the Woman of the Year Award, presented annually by Beta Sigma Phi. Swatsell was honored for her positive approach to everything she does and for giving 110 percent to any project she is involved in.

In making the presentation, Jimmie McIntire said the things Polly does for others is out of the goodness of her heart and not for recognition.

"She doesn't know the word 'No,'" McIntire said. "When anyone needs help in any way, she is always there. Her husband refers to her as being employed at several non-paying jobs and said if the job pays money, she won't accept it."

The Woman of the Year's list of activities is both long and distinguished and includes Meal-a-Day activities, a member of Hopkins County Memorial Hospital's advisory board, Chamber of Commerce director and volunteering with the Cattle Barons' Ball, as well as having time to read for elementary students at Como-Pickton school.

The Educator of the Year Award, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, was presented to Becky Berry by Sulphur Springs High School student Whitney Gideon.

"I was asked to present this award tonight to a person who has devoted a tremendous amount of time to being an educator, not only to kids, but to adults as well." Gideon said. "This person was and is an inspiration. As a student, I remember looking forward to seeing her every day. Now that I look back, I consider myself very lucky to have had an abundance of good educators, but this one was very special."

Gideon said she would hope other students would have the opportunity to enjoy the personal touch given by Becky Berry as an educator.

Gary Spraggins, representing Hopkins County Professional Agriculture Workers, presented the Agriculturist of the Year Award to Jim Russell in recognition of his efforts in agriculture since retiring as head basketball coach at Sulphur Springs High School.

Russell was recognized for his 25 years in the sprig and hay business in the county. His business also extends to a number of other states.

The annual Community Pride Awards, sponsored by the 1994 Adult Leadership Class, were presented by Judge Robert Newsom of the 8th Judicial District.

The first of the two awards was presented to Hopkins County Memorial Hospital Volunteer Auxiliary.

Newsom said the auxiliary fully met all the criteria for the award, logging more than 7,000 hours of volunteer service to patrons and employees of the hospital as well as donating more than $33,000 to the hospital for scholarships, remodeling projects in the hospital, much-needed equipment for the Rehab Department and support for the Lights of Life campaign.

Wanda Galyean, president of the auxiliary, accepted the award on behalf of the volunteers.

The second Community Pride Award was presented to Wal-Mart in recognition for support of many activities in the community, as well as the more than $50,000 in donations and grants to many groups and organizations active in the community.

Store manager Stan Francis accepted the award on behalf of the more than 336 employees of the store.

Large Industry of the Year honors were presented to Morningstar by Jeff Byrum.

A division of Dean Foods Inc., Morningstar employs more than 165 people in its 150,000 square foot Sulphur Springs facility, and its distribution facility ships more than 230 million pounds of dairy and non-dairy products each year. Products shipped from Morningstar include such familiar brand names as Land O' Lakes, International Delight and Hershey's Chocolate Milk, along with private label products for Great Value, Oak Farms, Meadow Gold and Le Carb.

In introducing Morningstar Plant Manager Joe Wallace, Byrum recognized the company's commitment to the community.

"This industry is committed to its employees, the community it does business in, and is very giving to local organizations and charitable groups year after year," Byrum said.

The Small Industry of the Year award was presented to a local business that has no peer in the world, Raven Industries.

Raven Industries produces giant balloons for research facilities for countries around the world as well as NASA. The company also holds the record for the world's largest balloon - 70 million cubic feet - and for the highest altitude ever achieved by a balloon - 170,000 feet. Raven also produced the giant helium-inflated rainbow used in the closing ceremonies of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany.

"The success of the company has been reflected in its commitment to the community," said presenter Sarah Gibbs. "Raven has been involved in Relay for Life, Cattle Baron's Ball, MDA Lockup, youth sports leagues and numerous educational activities. Raven is committed to promotion of science and technology education in local schools and universities."

The Small Business Award was presented to Gena, David and Gene Watson of Coldwell Banker Watson Company in recognition of its successes in the community and involvement in almost every aspect of the community, from coloring contests to Empty Stocking to board membership on the Sulphur Springs-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation.

Lynda Hager received the biggest surprise of the evening as incoming Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Craig Roberts presented her with the Vision Award for her almost total dedication to the community.

Hagar was also recognized for her work in organizing this year's banquet, which set a new record for attendance with almost 800 people.

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