A capacity crowd braved heavy rains and generally dreary weather and filed into the Community Room of Phillips College's Fine Arts Center for the 77th annual Chamber of Chamber banquet Thursday night. Good food, some friendly chatter, lots of community kudos and the announcement of the citizen and business of the year award recipients were the order of the night.
Following welcoming remarks by outgoing Chamber President Becky Gattas, Doug Friedlander, Chamber executive director officially opened the evening's program with a review of the community's successes in 2012 and a brief presentation on the opportunities that lie ahead.
Among 2012's success stories were the renovation of Estevan Hall into a Civil War Helena tourism attraction, the renewal of the Farmer's Market tradition, the grand opening of Fort Curtis, increased steamboat visits to the Mississippi River community. Friedlander also noted the expansion of several established businesses including Three Rivers, Amerimax, BPS, Norac and the newcomer Enviro Tech.
A new welcome center is well under construction and the old Helena High School, once believed to be doomed forever to be an eyesore, is rising up the ashes to become a splendid new apartment complex for seniors. Friedlander went on to note the official opening of Freedom Park and the stabilization project on the old Cleburne Hotel.
“Helena-West Helena and Phillips County has a lot to be proud of,” commented Friedlander. “These accomplishments would compare favorably with the accomplishments of any other community in the country in 2012.”
“This community has a lot of potential,” he concluded.
During a segment of the program called celebrating emerging leaders, participants of the HEC Start-Up program, Phillips College's Leadership Development class and Leadership of Phillips County were introduced.
Cimone Hamiter, member of the Boys & Girls Club of Phillips County and recently named Arkansas Youth of the Year praised her association with the local B&GC.
“The Boys & Girls Club saved me from being just another statistic,” she stated proudly.
Shawn Payne, Phillips County extension agent-staff chair, presented the 2012 Farm Family of the Year plaque to the Chris Warren family.
The audience was kept on the edge of their seats as they awaited the announcement of the annual honors bestowed on the business and citizen of the year in Phillips County. BPS was selected Business of the Year for 2012 and Dr. Leslie Chin was named the county's 2012 Citizen of the Year.