More than 150 community members, business owners, officials and more attended the annual Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce Awards on Saturday, March 23. Five awards were given to outstanding individuals for their volunteer work, leadership, agricultural influence, energy efficiency and selfless deeds.
The event proved to be worthy of a 1920s flashback as men and women dressed to the nines in flapper dresses, pin-striped gangster suits, boas and bow ties. Perry Lewis, proprietor of Geeks on Grand in Mancos, was the evening officiator. Throughout the evening, Lewis introduced the award presenters and handed out door prizes.
The final of the five awards honored the woman whose hard work and organizational skills helped pass a ballot issue to fund a new high school. Suzy Meyer, Cortez Journal publisher, presented the award for the Journal's Citizen of the Year to Becky Brunk.
Brunk, along with Orly Lucero, helped educate the community on the need to pass Ballot Issue 3B in order to retain a Building Excellent Schools Today grant that will pay more than half the cost of building the school. On election night, the question had passed by more than 2,000 votes, and the new high school is planned to open in the fall of 2015.
"This feat was due in large part to Becky's leadership," Meyer said in her introduction.
As Brunk climbed the stairs to receive her award, the audience gave the startled winner a rousing ovation.
"This is unexpected," Brunk said.
Brunk said she was appreciative of all the great people who were involved, as it was not an easy effort.
"It's great to see the community move forward and tie the past together with the future for our kids."
The first award of the evening was Dolores State Bank's Unsung Hero award, given to Rose Jergens of the NEST Child Advocacy Center by Ed Merritt of the Dolores State Bank. Jergens has worked center for more than four years, continuously improving community efforts to maintain the safety of children and families.
Dennis Story, representing the Four Corners Character Council, announced the Volunteer of the Year.
"This town can be summed up with one word - Orly (Lucero)," Story said in his speech.
Lucero is a former Cortez mayor, a Chamber Ambassador and an all-around do-gooder who co-chaired, with Brunk, the 3B committee. He can be seen all over town promoting and socializing at Chamber affairs, honoring businesses with community awards and devoting his time for the benefit of the town.
"I can't do anything without this community," Lucero said to the crowd. "I love you all."
As the awards went forward, people continued to "gamble" at roulette, craps and blackjack tables, dine on hors d'oeuvres and mingle with friends. The awards were broken up into sections because a few winners were not present.
The staff of the Farm Bistro, winners of the Dad and Daughter Agribusiness of the Year award, were busy preparing their evening dishes for their new dinner menu, implemented a few months ago. Dena Guttridge, executive director of the Chamber, sent someone over to retrieve the hard working owners, Rusty and Laurie Hall.
The Halls initially started The Farm as an outlet for their own farm, Seven Meadows, which provides some of the food used by the restaurant. They buy from at least 25 other local artisans every month and employ eight to 10 local people. With their daughter now taking over Seven Meadows, the couple plan to expand their restaurant operation to "keep thing fresh and local."
The award was given to the Halls by Chamber board member Doug Yearout, of C.A.R.E. (Cleaning and Restoration Experts). The award was sponsored by an anonymous father and daughter agricultural business.
The Empire Electric Green Business of the Year award was presented by Bobbe Jones of Empire Electric. Winners Doug and Karen Muscanell, of Muscanell Millworks, were not present at the ceremony. Muscanell employee Bobby Comisky accepted the award on their behalf.
"I don't know if I can give a better speech than that," he said after Jones finished her introduction.
Jones identified the many energy savings that Muscanell Millworks has been working to achieve including replacing light fixtures with T-8 fluorescents that provide better lighting and less energy use. They also produce "Woodchucks" fire logs from 100 percent hardwood grindings and shavings with no additives for both residential and industrial heating.
Comisky confirmed all the work the company has done and added they hope to continue to focus on energy efficiency and provide local businesses with products - like a possible job of laying the hardwood floors in the grand ballroom of the Millennium Center for the Performing Arts.
The event, which was held at the new Millennium Center in downtown Cortez, was still going strong long after the awards were handed out. The blackjack tables were packed with celebrity dealers: Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell, Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde, Montezuma County Commissioner Keenan Ertel, former commissioner Dwayne Findley and others. With a ticket purchase to the event, people received $200 in chips to use at the tables. Raffle tickets were available for purchase for door prizes from KSJD, Four States Tiress, along with larger prizes like an iPad mini, a Sony digital camera and a Coach travel bag.