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Annual Chamber Banquet honored many, made for a fun evening with a full house

February 15, 2023

By: Katherine Trowbridge

From dinner, Back 40 BBQ and Wild Olives, to the conversations around the packed room and the many awards presented - it was truly a night of community provided by the Greater Connell Area Chamber of Commerce. Miss Connell Sariah Hales introduced this year's contestants and the theme “Colors of India”.  She was joined by Kennedee Nielson and Heidi Bybee who spoke of future plans after high school and what an honor it was to represent this community. Hales said the program taught her to “be better, not bitter” and that is advice we can all live by.

Several local leaders addressed the crowd including Connell Mayor Lee Barrow, Franklin County Administrator Mike Gonzalez, and Franklin County Commissioner Stephen Bauman. Mayor Barrow congratulated all the award recipients. Gonzalez stated, “I love living in Franklin County. This is one of my favorite towns in all of Washington State. . . Its roots to the railroad, the warmth of the people, how people truly come together - make it a wonderful place.” 

Bauman expressed thanks to James Gimenez and his crew at Back 40 BBQ for the “amazing food”. Bauman grew up just south of Basin City and shared a little about how he got on the commission adding that he is running for Position 1. 

It was then time to get into the many awards of the evening - beginning with the Senior of the Year. Pastor Gregg Griffin stated our senior still likes to work wherever needed at church, working on the property, driving the van, helping neighbors, helping out on the farm, mowing the lawn. Our Senior of the Year was born in Leavenworth, WA, graduating high school in Battleground, WA. He worked for his uncle, painting, until he enlisted in the Air Force (AF). He served in Texas at Lackland AF base and then at San Antonio (plumbing training). He was sent to Clark AF base in the Philippines, where he served from 1968 to 1970. He came back to WA serving at Radar Hill in Othello until his departure from the AF in 1972. After serving, he returned to Battleground and later moved to Mesa, then to Connell. He worked on farms, for a feedlot, and spent 24 years at the N. Franklin School District as grounds maintenance. He still subs today. 

Griffin said, “He loves his family, his friends and he loves to barbecue and enjoy good times together. You can see him around town in his big green Chevy pickup truck. You can tell it is his, because there's nowhere to sit except for him. Give a round of appreciation for our senior of the year, Richard Schubert.”

Schubert simply stated, “Thank you everyone for this opportunity.” 

Businesses of the Year had the opportunity to introduce themselves beginning with B&R Aerial Crop Care. Chris Eskildsen stated, “I am honored.” He went on to share that his family moved here in February of 1975, going on to explain how his mom cried for the first two weeks “but then the town kinda grows on you after a while and you don’t want to leave, because you got friends that are like family”. Eskildsen stated what a special place it is here and that while many people tend to migrate south to Pasco in retirement, he is going to stay here as long as he possibly can. B&R Crop Care serves our agricultural community with crop dusting services. Eskildsen said, "Thank you, thank you very much for the honor.” 

KaTrina Kunkel introduced our Woman of the Year beginning by stating, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Tara Lisa Proctor.” 

Kunkel went on to share that she was born in 1979 in Walla Walla, Washington. Both her parents were employed at the Department of Corrections.  Shortly after her birth, her family moved to Monroe, Washington to assist with the newest prison that was built at the time.  At  age 21 she was hired into the Monroe Correctional Complex and so her own prison journey began. Soon after, she had her oldest son Christian. 

She moved to the Tri-Cities where she worked with the police department, probation, and jails. She transferred to the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell. Like many before her, when she first arrived she declared, “I can not live here” and as Kunkel shared… she’s still here.  “Shortly after moving to Connell, she fell in love with the charm… the people, the opportunity to raise her son in a safe place…” Connell also brought her another son, this time with special needs, a new husband, Shane, and a host of friends. The community's support and an amazing special needs preschool made her fall in love even more. 

Kunkel said , “If you could pick one word for her life, it would be resilience, the capacity to withstand or to recover from difficulties. She also understands that helping others helps her become a better person and she encourages you to reach out a hand to help the person behind you.” Kunkel continued stating she would give her shirt off her back, buy you groceries, or be there for you in the middle of the night. 

Proctor encouraged, “Remember to support your law enforcement, remember to support your fire department, your postal workers. The mother that can't feed her kids - that's the thing that leaves a  legacy .”

Miss Connell Ladies posing with Rowley Hawkins Fruit Pies as Chantel (Booker) Kimball leads the auction portion of the evening.

Our second business awardee is Rowley & Hawkins Fruit Farm, out of Basin City, which featured a variety of their products at the banquet. Grandpa Rowley moved here in the 1980’s beginning the venture and they have been growing fruit ever since. Alan Hawkins (third generation) shared, “We are mostly known for growing tart cherries and a lot of peaches and apples and sweet cherries and all the really yummy fruit.” Not only do they grow cherries and other tree fruits, they also process them there on their farm, and have branched out to include a smoothie store in Kennewick known as “Fresh Picks.” Everything they grow is available at their farm office or at their store. Hawkins expressed, “We’re very grateful for all the local support we have here. . . We are grateful for this community and grateful to be part of it and for all the support we receive.”

Our Educator of the Year had her Mesa Elementary cheering section… Tricia Clary has taught fourth grade for over 15 years at the school. Jennifer Nielson shared about the extent of her care, concern, and giving above and beyond merely educating her students. Neilson stated how this extends district wide where she heads up the Reading is a Ticket program with countless students earning Silverwood tickets for reading. Back at Mesa, she serves as the after school school enrichment coordinator, allowing kids to experience learning opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. She is also a member of the school’s safety committee working with the Watermasters to have a safe place for kids to go to in an emergency. She envisioned an outdoor classroom and with the help of the parent group it is a vital part of education at Mesa.

Neilson stated, “Tricia does all the selfless things that society has come to expect from awesome teachers. She spends many extra hours in her classroom supplements a small classroom budget with her own personal finances and cares deeply for her students. She holds them to high standards and then gives them the support that they need to reach them. Science lessons are particularly her favorite.” Clary leads the salmon in the classroom, squid and salmon  dissection, and providing her students these opportunities led her to receive the Washington State Conservation Teacher of the Year in 2017.

Nielson continued, “Tricia is always thinking outside of the box, and she will try anything to help her students succeed,” sharing how she brought in standing desks, morning yoga, and more. Beyond the classroom, Clary along with her husband and their metal art business, give scholarships to former students and provides for local families through the sale of her Holiday Hope Trees. 

Clary said, “This is not a me award, I have an amazing group of people behind me…” highlighting her husband, those who’ve ever been in her classroom and her coworkers.

Our third Business of the Year is Ed Poe Agency. Eric Mauseth stated “This is an honor.” He highlighted their 75 years of history which was begun by Ed Poe and built upon by Bob

Vanderbuilt who passed it onto all those who operate the business today. Ed Poe serves our community members and businesses with their insurance needs.

Mauseth stated, “This is a great community…” sharing about how the N. Franklin communities blend and come together for the right cause. He then passed it onto Bob Vanderbilt who stated, “It’s amazing to me how this community has always been close.” Fun facts shared by Bob - he taught 4th grade at Basin City and those kids still come into the office. He also shared that in 1983, at a chamber banquet, he was Man of the Year. 

The awards portion concluded with our Man of the Year who is also an educator, leader, highly decorated military Veteran, and community volunteer. Jim Jacobs has many talents from enjoying taco bell, to playing guitar. Bevon Davis shared, “His musical taste spans the decades.” He collects antique radios (fun fact). 

He began teaching in the area in 1996 at the Juvenile Offender Basic Training Camp (Camp Outlook). Davis said they went to high school together as Mr. Jacobs served as Library supervisor and District Technology Director for CHS. He taught multiple subjects while cross training in principal internship at CHS. He then became Principal at Mesa Elementary and Palouse Junction High School in 2000.  From 2002-2003, he was also principal at Camp Outlook. He transferred to Basin City Elementary in 2007. Davis stated, “With a fortified background in principaling throughout the district, a thorough military history, and adequate experience in juvenile detention, he was ready for the final boss of principal duties in North Franklin School District, becoming the warden of Olds Junior High School. Before his arrival, it was a hive of scum villainy… But no more. After his time there, the only situational complaint left unsolved at the junior is the overabundant combination of colognes and perfumes affecting the air quality.” 

He became NFSD Superintendent in 2018 and “he occupies the office well respected and is no stranger to every corner of the school district”. His professional certifications and educational credentials are as dense as one would expect from him, Davis said as he listed many. Davis also highlighted Jacob’s military resume. “From 1988 to 2005 he's been from the backwoods of Georgia to areas of Egypt …and watched as Iraq got a total makeover…it is modest to say that he is highly decorated.” 

Davis continued, “In addition to the accolades already mentioned...” sharing he has served as a trustee and deacon in the Eltopia United Church of Christ, elected in 2005 as a FCFD5 commissioner and currently serves as Chairman of the Board, and is a member of VFW Post 5785. He lives in Eltopia with his wife Amy where they raised their two girls. 

Jim Jacobs thanked his wife, Amy, and stated, “I am a teacher by trade.” He went on to state that the true “Lead Men and Women of the Year are the educators I get to be in the boat with… thank you, all, for rowing the boat with me.” 

Entertainment for the evening included door prizes, jokes and puns brought by Chamber President Bevon Davis along with the auctioneering talents of Chantel (Booker) Kimball.

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