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Chamber Banquet honors local volunteers, businesses - brings out crowd

By: Katherine Trowbridge

Conversations filled the room as just shy of 190 people gathered for the annual Greater Connell Area Chamber of Commerce Banquet on Thursday, February 9. Guests were greeted by tables decorated by area businesses and filled with a variety of goodies to take home. The evening kicked off with the Miss Connell contestants, who introduced themselves and the upcoming 2023 program before assisting the tables of guests with drinks, clearing plates, and handing out desert. Outgoing Miss Connell Kylie Glendenning Kierra Lagunas and Emmalee Millage shared special memories of their time representing our community and sharing tips for the upcoming contestants.

Guests enjoyed a dinner of pork tenderloin, shrimp, potatoes, rolls, and salad with a choice of cake for desert; catered by Classy Country Catering. Chamber President Bevon Davis gave an outlook on the 2023 chamber bringing up his “hit man” Grayson Davis who shared some jokes with the audience, bringing laughter from around the room.

A highlight of each year’s banquet is the presentation of awards and this year did not disappoint with six outstanding recipients. Awards were presented to Business(es) of the Year - Pizza Station, Steele Enterprises, and Burger Factory. Senior of the Year - Judy Schubert, Educator of the Year - Shelley Hawk, Woman of the Year - Danell Naef, and Man of the Year - Steven Tomren.

Pizza Station owners, old and new, were honored as the chamber recognized this Business of the Year for 2022.

In 1999 Vicky and Lee Barrow, while floating around the idea of opening a business in Connell, realized there had never been a pizza place here. They purchased a building, renovated the space and opened the first pizzeria. The building, most notably known as the old Napa, turned out to be what Vicky referred to as her fourth child. In May of 2000 the Pizza Station opened its doors and was greeted with great enthusiasm. The Barrows worked to provide great food and welcoming space for all.

Tyra started working for the Barrows in 2019, being from the area and raising her own family here. She drove school bus for 15 years and worked at Basin City Elementary for six. But she and her husband Corey were looking for a change of pace. Knowing Lee and Vicky were considering selling, the idea of owning the Pizza Station. . . a year of managing the Pizza Station, learning the day in and out, mastering pizza making, and trying a few new things - It was time to move in and move out. The Barrows sold the Pizza Station to Tyra September of 2022. Lee and Vicky are excited that the tradition they began will continue, and wish the Gilberts success.

The Barrows were always happy to contribute back to the community by volunteering, providing employment, and donating to many fund raisers and community events over the years. They are proud of what they built and will always cherish the memories and relationships they have established. Tyra may have added some “fun” new things to the menu but rest assured the Pizza station is alive and will continue - The Derailer is here to stay.

Tim, one of 13 children of Marion and Dorothy Steele, came to Connell in 5th grade. He graduated from CHS and went on to join the team at Lamb Weston, working his way up to be the lead mechanic. As technology became popular and more sophisticated, Tim bought himself a computer. He found he enjoyed working on them. As friends and family discovered he could fix them, his phone would ring. He figured, he could start a business - so, in 2003, Steele Enterprises Computer Sales and Repair would open. Tim continued to do his full time job, while working part time at his business. The work was too much for one man, in 2004 his son, Tyson, came to work alongside him. Together the two self-taught computer wizs served the community and local businesses at affordable prices. Growing their business, as technology advanced, to add in cell phone repairs. After five years of part-time business, Steele retired Lamb Weston (32 yrs) and ventured in full-time.

He advanced his business once again in 2012 when he bought the Liquor Store from the Tumbleweed.

Tyson recently left the business to work for the city of Connell and Tim works both sides of the business. Serving and seeing people at his business are the things that keep Tim going everyday. In June he suffered a stroke but he quickly recovered, pushing himself to rehabilitate so he could serve his customers.

As a business owner, Tim is known for being approachable and friendly while being proficient with computers and has always been proud to be an affordable local option.

Burger Factory has been in business for many years, opened in 1980 by the Yager family - a favorite local spot to grab the famous Eagle Burger.

Mike and Rhonda Erstad both grew up in Connell and chose to stay here to raise their family. They have a deep rooted love for this community and its people.

The Erstad’s felt the need to jump in, when the Burger Factory closed, opening it back up in 2012 after some remodeling. The Burger Factory has been “with” their family for a long time; with three generations of family working there since it first opened. In addition to Mike and Rhonda, their own kids Jill, Alex, and Richard, Mike’s sister (who helped the Yager’s open), and Rhonda’s mom have all shared memories behind the counter working for the Burger Factory.

The standard of high quality food has always been the most important thing to serve to their customers in every meal.

Rhonda stated, “Our mission has always been no one goes hungry regardless of their circumstances or ability to pay.” That statement was put into action a few years ago when the big fire came to the coast edges of town threatening CBHA and the trailer court. They kept the grill hot, serving the fire fighters who had been out there for over 15 hours. Burger Factory has been avid support of all first responders through donations and providing meals when needed.

Also close to their hearts is the Ridge Dogs program and the many youth programs in our communities. You can see the Burger Factory on the back of kids’ jerseys running on the fields in the fall and spring. “Our Children are our future,” as Rhonda says. Others did it when her kids played and she is passing it on - pulling on those deep roots in Connell and love of Community.

Our 2022 Senior of the Year was born in Portland, OR and grew up in Camas, WA. She moved to this area on December 26, 1981, with her husband, Gerry and three children - Gary, Jennifer, and Steven. Gerry was farming with his parents, while the kids and Judy were “living the dream!”

Amidst all of this farming, Judy began her working career with the North Franklin School District in Sept. 1982. She worked as a para in first grade. In 1986, she was hired on as Secretary at Connell High School but lasted only one year before moving to Connell Elementary as their secretary. She really enjoyed her years as secretary at the elementary, finishing her years at Basin City Elementary in 2010. She retired from the school district only to be hired as an Administrative Assistant for the Franklin County Hospital District, in 2011 serving six years and adding more friends to her repertoire.

She has been very active in her church serving on the church board, helping in missions, making several work and witness trips to Honduras, serving as the Benevolence coordinator, delivering groceries, flowers, cards, words of encouragement, and checking in on families who need it.

It was mentioned by a community member that “Judy’s most generous gifts are most often unseen, except for the recipient. In my husbands’s final days, she would call and ask what was needed for the day - groceries, medications normally but bringing flowers, a friendly hug and sitting in prayer - it was all needed and she helped us get through a hard season in our family’s life.”

Schubert was also active in heading up the Operation Christmas Child program for the church and surrounding communities.

Schubert considers her greatest accomplishments her three children. All three graduated from CHS, two graduated from college. Gary now works for Hanford and Jennifer is a teacher at Mesa Elementary where “mom and dad are always willing to come and volunteer.”

Schubert takes those moments to make people feel they are appreciated and cared for.

Schubert stated, “I just want to thank you tonight for your kinds words.”

Our 2002 Educator of the Year began her journey in 1991 with a drive north, looking for a school at which she could apply for a teaching job. She fell in love with a little red school house in Mesa and inquired about open positions. This is where Shelley Hawk started her employment in the North Franklin School District as a second grade teacher.

After teaching first and second grade for six years, she opened a private preschool at her home that she ran for six years. Once her own children were a bit older, she returned to Mesa Elementary but this time to Kindergarten. Hawk taught under five principals - Hailey, Bob Misener, Marci Cox, Obadiah DeWeber, and Cara Morrill.

In 2012 she got to experience what few teachers do . . . She taught her first second generation student and has had the pleasure of teaching multiple students of families for two generations now.

Now in retirement, after a 31 year run of teaching her little people, as she says. Hawk enjoys coming into classrooms as the “fun sub” where every student is a friend and ready to open the door to learning with her. She has discovered that she likes teaching multiple grade levels and that the big kids can be great as well.

A sign in her classroom sums up her feelings about teaching very accurately, “Some of my best friends are children” which she has shown through all the great activities she did as a teacher - dressing up on Thanksgiving, parading through the school, acting out stories, and making sure Mrs. Egbert was scheduled for art each month.

Hawk stated, “I’m very honored and appreciative.”

2022 Woman of the Year Danell Naef grew up in Walla Walla and settled in Basin City in 1996 with her husband Matt to raise their family. The couple has worked, made friends, and loved the small rural community where they have raised their six children.

Naef has been involved in many activities over the years. While being a mom, she helped in the classroom and on the field by coaching several elementary soccer teams, serving as a Basin City Math Team Coach, and as the Bob Cat Den treasurer. As her kids moved up, she enjoyed working in the concession stands with other parents and helping with cross country meets.

Along with Krista Salisbury, Danell helped organize the Basin City 4th of July Parade for 13 years. Following all the fun of the parade, you can see the Naef family, among several other families, walking with sacks, cleaning up the discarded candy wrappers off the roadway. While not a glorious job, it shows the pride they have for their small community.

In 2012, Danell, Shandece Mauia, and Kersten Taylor Ellsworth organized the Basin City Turkey Trot, a 5k run/walk for all the families in the community. The Naef family have continued to do so, celebrating its 10th anniversary last year.

Naef also serves within her church including serving the children, teaching primary, and has also worked with the young women both as a teacher and camp director.

Aside from being a mom and wife, Naef works outside the home too. She has worked in the front office at Frontier Seed for 10 years.

In 2020, Naef showed her activism on behalf of all children - collecting signatures, getting information out to the community, and traveling to Olympia in regards to Senate Bill 5395 (sex Ed bill).

In October of that same year, she worked to help a local family that had lost their home, belongings, and pet to a fire. Collecting items to help the family back on their feet.

She also has begun subbing for the school district.

Words used to describe Naef are Amazing and Giving.

Naef was overrun with emotion as she accepted her award sharing, “I’m so grateful. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” She added that it hasn’t been just her, every time she asks - several people step up to help along side her. “There’s so many more.”

Our 2022 Man of the Year represents all aspects of the N. Franklin Community - growing up in Kahlotus, moving to the Tri-Cties, living in Eltlopia, before settling down in Connell.

Steven Tomren was introduced to Holly Martin, a former student of NFSD and an employee at Ed Poe Agency, in 2008 and they married in 2009. In 2017, with a third child on the way, they moved to Connell to establish their family’s roots. Shortly after, Tomren joined the volunteer firefighters. By the end of 2018, he had led the efforts to work with the Department of Natural Resources to convert military trucks into fire trucks for a low cost to the community. The DNR program has agencies from around the northwest seeking tips and information. Tomren serves on Fire District 1 and the Connell Fire Department.

Outside of the Fire Department, he works for Connell Sand and Gravel where he wears many hats. He also spends countless hours streamlining the youth sports program - founding the Connell Junior Eagles (a 501c3) in 2021. By the end of 2022 the Jr. Eagles ran youth football and cheer, boys and girls basketball, and the tee ball, baseball, and softball programs. Seeing the need, he has recently taken an interest in repairing the ball fields at Pioneer Park.

Steven and Holly are extremely dedicated to developing principles and values through these youth programs. It is overwhelmingly apparent that his commitment has made an impact on many in this community as was stated and emphasized many times in the nominations received. One stating, “He is investing so many hours away from his own family to help provide more for ours. He won’t want it, but he deserves this honor.”

Tomren isn’t shy about stating what he feels strongly about and has been active in city council and planning commission meetings. He also serves on the Connell/N. Franklin Development Association, is a member of the Connell Community Club, and the North Franklin Eagles Nest.

Tomren hopes to make this community a great place for not only his children but everyone around him too.

Tomren stated, “Holly and I moved here for community...I’m thankful, I’m appreciative.”

The banquet concluded with an auction featuring a variety of goodie bundles from spa days to breakfast on the farm and even game day goodies. Bundles included gift cards to area businesses including Viva La Glam and Massage by Anna, coffee from 4Beans Coffee Roasters, and eggs from the Mercer Chicken Farm. Proceeds went to support 2023 chamber events including Fall Festival, Harvest Wine and Brew, and more. Be sure to tune into the Franklin County Graphic for updates on all the 2023 chamber events.

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