By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

Harker Heights is one of the newest cities in Texas, but at its Chamber of Commerce's 20th anniversary banquet Monday night, about 500 people gathered in the Killeen Civic and Conference Center to celebrate its history and establish a tradition with the establishment of the Kern-Cox Founders Award after a video of the city's growth from two hog farms into a municipality of 27,500 people.

Chamber leaders gave the first Kern-Cox Award to the families of P.R. Cox and Harley Kern, the two men counted the most instrumental in starting the city with businesses of hogs fed with waste from Camp Hood before it became Fort Hood after World War II. Kern died in 1958 at the age of 54, and the city was named for him at its incorporation by 48 voters two years later.

Officials placed the stage on the floor in the middle of the audience instead of conducting ceremonies from the front. Participants and honorees sat in the audience when they were not actually on stage.

The chamber was originally a committee within the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce. Its first banquet was a front-lawn brisket-and-beans affair hosted by now-State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock and others.

Each subsequent Kern-Cox Award will be given annually to a person a committee judges to have contributed the most to the city through the year.

The Harker Heights Public Safety Commission continued earlier traditions by presenting the Firefighter-Emergency Medical Technician of the Year award to Megan Leighman, who joined the fire department on Feb. 1, 2004, and the Police Officer of the Year award to Sonja Clay, a German native who has been an area resident since 1997 and a Heights police officer since Oct. 10, 2003.

Leighman's superiors cited her as one of the most knowledgeable firefighters in the city and for leadership in the suppression of a large grass fire earlier this year. Clay was named for mentoring younger officers and especially for following the progress of a woman who had become ill and refused treatment but who later was found to be critically ill when she finally got attention.

Heights City Manager Steve Carpenter received a special award on behalf of all city employees for the city's reception and sheltering of 117 Hurricane Ike evacuees earlier this year. The Large Business of the Year award went to Wal-Mart No. 3319, received by store director Patrick Starns. Outgoing Chamber board chairman Randy Sutton received the Small Business of the Year award on behalf of First State Bank in Harker Heights, where he is president. Davidson George and Eric Shephard shared the award as Ambassador of the Year.

Ted Smith, president of the Ted Smith Law Firm, received the president's gavel from Sutton. He will lead a team including Richard Kitterman, chair-elect; Randy Sutton; past chair; J.C. Schoel, treasurer; and directors Lois Anderson, Patsy Derr, Cheryl DeWine, Aileen Evans, Joyce Hodson, Wesley King, Steve Menczer, Eva Keagle, Patrick Starns, Jim Wright and Gary Young.

"We're starting with a planning meeting this Saturday," Smith said, "and design our plans from there."

Shephard, who is Vive les Arts' artisitic director, acting as master of ceremonies, introduced a company of singers to provide entertainment.

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