The theme of the Harker Heights Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center and City of Harker Heights 29th Annual Awards Banquet held Monday was “Hats Off to You!”

More than 450 people gathered at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center to join in tipping their hats by way of giving eight awards presented by the chamber and two from the City of Harker Heights Public Safety Commission.

Jim McKinnon, who has served for the past three years as chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors, thanked his fellow directors, the staff, the ambassadors and all the volunteers for their outstanding contributions of time and energy.

The guest speaker was District 24 state Sen, Dawn Buckingham.

In her remarks, Buckingham, R-Lakeway, commended the city of Harker Heights for three recent accomplishments. Those included praise for the Chamber of Commerce Food, Wine and Brew Fest and its commendation from the Texas Department of Agriculture; and the designation of Harker Heights as a Texas Film Friendly Community by the Texas Film Commission. Buckingham announced the Chamber Tourism and Convention Bureau had created a $4.3 million economic impact during 2017.

“There are more great things to come because you embody the best of Texas!” Buckingham said.

The awards presentation began with Police Officer of the Year for 2017-18, Yesmarie Borgus Figueroa.

Driver/Operator Martin Mercado was honored as Firefighter/Paramedic for 2017-18.

The prestigious Kern-Cox Founders award went to Jimmie Don Aycock, former Republican state representative in Texas House District 54.

The award is named after city founders Pickney R. Kern and Harley Cox and is given to an individual who has made substantial contributions to the growth of the city.

Another prestigious award is the Citizen of the Year Award, in honor of the late Linda Neault, recognizes residents who have been extraordinary in their service to the community.

The recipient of the 2017 Citizen of the Year was Pat Christ.

Lillian Halabi, owner of Lily’s Cakes and winner of “Cake Wars” on the Food Network, was the recipient of the Small Business of the Year Award.

This award is given to a small business of fewer than 25 employees that has demonstrated excellence in business practices.

The Large Business Award went to Roger Beazley Mazda of Killeen.

This award is presented to a large business that has demonstrated excellent customer satisfaction, employee benefits and training, community involvement and overall excellence.

The Outstanding Community Partner Award was given to American Legion Post 573. Raymond Cote, commander of the post, accepted the award on behalf of the post.

It is presented to individuals, businesses or corporations for their community service and collaboration with the Harker Heights Chamber.

Joe DeCroce, customer relations representative for Crawford-Bowers Funeral Homes, received the Chamber Ambassador of the Year Award.

As part of the Chamber’s Ambassador Program, the winner of this award exemplifies volunteerism, regular attendance at chamber events such as ribbon cuttings, networking events and more.

One of two new awards added this year is Volunteer of the Year. This year’s recipient was Lawrence “Mack” McCullar.

McCullar, a veteran, is widely known for his contributions to the Chamber and dedication to its ongoing efforts. He is also the Rider President of the Wreath Riders who assist in all funerals held at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.

Another new award introduced at this year’s banquet was the Tourism Partner Award. The first organization to receive this honor was H-E-B.

The future winners of this award will be a business that has demonstrated a superior ability to satisfy visitor’s expectations through their services and/or products while promoting Harker Heights as a tourism destination.

The banquet concluded with Dr. Jim Anderson joining Jim McKinnon on the stage for the passing of the chamber board gavel.

Anderson, who will be chairman for the next three years, said, “I’m grateful and proud for all that’s been accomplished through the chamber’s staff, ambassadors and volunteers but it has been Jim’s leadership that has paved the way!”

The planning of the banquet was under the direction of The Harker Heights Chamber staff consisting of: Gina Pence — president and CEO; Mary Shabunia — VP for business development; Alexa Matthews — business development; Andrea Womack — business development; Dustin Baker — business development; and Jean Knowles — event coordinator in conjunction with Terri Stermer, Travis Knight, Randy Sutton and Jim McKinnon.

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