Hometown Heroes

Hometown Hero honorees are, from left, Leslie “Googles” Cole (represented by his son, Russel), John Strothman, Craig Griffin, Yvonne Jaggard, Gary Smith, Betty Hattman, Donna Townsend, Luis Puron. Not pictured are Rev. Charlie Schuler and Ramona LeBlanc.

Outgoing Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board Jatin Bhakta turned over the reins to incoming Chairman Blake McDavid at the Chamber’s 70th annual Changing of the Gavel Banquet Thursday, June 6.

In addition to the six major awards given each year, an additional 10 individuals received recognition receiving Hometown Hero awards.

Big six annual awards

Jennifer Day was named Citizen of the Year. Last year’s Citizen of the Year, Rick McLester, said Day is the “model for behind the scenes work who has a real love for her community.” He noted her countless hours of service, most recently her efforts establishing the Rockport Cultural Arts District, and spearheading the effort for new street signs in the district. She is a founding executive board member for the History Center for Aransas County and has contributed in many ways to the Rockport Center for the Arts and the Education Foundation. Day said, “I’m so humbled to have received this award (when so many people deserve it).”

Nancy Bolting was named Business Builder of the Year and Chamber Member of the Year. Last year’s Business Builder of the Year, Candy Fletcher, said Bolting stepped up and showed a lot of leadership in the business community. Bolting said one of her goals is to see the chamber and small businesses do well. Last year’s Chamber Member of the Year, Paula Dean, said Bolting is an individual who is not afraid to say no when it’s required, but always says yes when asked. “If I were to name all the wonderful things she has done, we’d be here all night.”

Robert Mitchell was named Bay Blazer of the Year. Last year’s winner, Candy Fletcher, said, “He is the most consistent, and incredible supporter of the Chamber.”

Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s Pam Farley, last year’s Small Business of the Year honoree, introduced Melvin and Jan Moore of Moore Than Feed as this year’s Small Business of the Year. M. Moore, after accepting the award with his wife, Jan, said, “We were not real active this past year because we were a little too busy, but we’re going to try to do better this year.”

Rockport-Fulton Good Samaritans (RFGS) was named Non-profit of the Year. It was noted by First Baptist Church Pastor Scott Jones, whose church received the honor last year, said the organization’s service to the community since 1990 is irreplaceable, adding, “After Hurricane Harvey, their work became even more important.” The Justin Watts Foundation provided industrial freezers for the RFGS, and the group continues to provide food for needy Aransas County residents, and helps with clothing, vision, dental, utilities, and medical help, based on specific guidelines. Jane Doss accepted the award on RFGS’s behalf.

Hometown Hero awards

Rick McLester and Karen Mella, previous Citizen of the Year winners, presented the 10 Hometown Hero awards. The individuals selected went over and above the call of duty serving and making great things happen for the betterment of everyone, and never sought recognition.

This year’s honorees are:

• Luis Puron - for securing funds and empowering people to bring about the upcoming $8.5 million Rockport Center for the Arts Complex.

• Donna Townsend - for stepping up to lead in many diverse service areas always giving selflessly of herself while running three businesses.

• Betty Hattman - for literally weathering the storm and always being there to help the Chamber while running her business.

• Gary Smith - for service of more than 62 years as a volunteer firefighter. At 84 years of age, he remains in the top 10 in terms of number of responses to fires.

• Yvonne Jaggard - for her service for more than 30 years to help develop local youth into incredible award winning choirs for the school district.

• Rev. Charlie Schuler for his devoted service to the people of the community through the First Presbyterian Church and the Aransas County Ministerial Alliance.

• Leslie “Googles” Cole - for his dedication and focus for the Town of Fulton and his help in bringing Fulton Oysterfest to what it is today, now in its 40th year.

• John Strothman - for his leadership, talent and abilities to manage projects far greater than what he was originally hired to do.

• Ramona LeBlanc - for her kind and supportive spirit to get her business open quickly, help employees, and help the community with service when and where she could.

• Craig Griffin - for his devotion and dedication to doing things right for the community, running his three businesses, and continuing to stay the course.

Leadership awards

Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills, Rockport Mayor Pat Rios, and Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick were recognized for their continued leadership as our communities continue the recovery process in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Retiring directors

Chamber board members who retired this year are Melanie Head, Eric Heller, Cindy Duck, and Betty Hattman.

A special Chamber tab was inserted in the Saturday, June 8 edition and features all current board members.

New chairman

Before giving the gavel to McDavid, Bhakta thanked his family for their support this past year.

“It has been a epic moment in my life,” he said. “It’s the quality of the membership that shines as spotlight on this great organization.”

He thanked the local government entities for their support and partnership.

“It’s not the wrongs among us, but the right within us that continues to move us forward,” said Bhakta.

He thanked Chamber President/CEO Diane Probst for her tireless pursuit and unwavering attitude that defines the chamber.

“We as a board make the decisions, but it’s your surgical implementation that sees it through. You have led this chamber and communities through difficult times and your strength and leadership were at the forefront,” he said.

McDavid thanked Bhakta for his “strong and steady leadership” during the past year.

“He believes in what he does and his commitments are ones you can count on,” said McDavid. “He is incredibly smart and intuitive.”

McDavid’s theme for the upcoming year is “This is Home – Building Business, Building Community.”

He said, “It reaffirms the feeling of our love for this community. Great things are happening right new before our eyes.

“This is the time to remember the past and celebrate our accomplishments, while looking to the future.

“It is our home, and it is our leadership that will continue to develop this community. We need to guide it and grow it to the best of our abilities.”

He then challenged everyone to get involved.

In a surprise move at the end of the banquet, Townsend called Probst to the podium and presented her with a cake on a beautiful one-of-a-kind cake stand. She noted everyone in the Chamber has a part in making the cake, but Probst provides its firm foundation.

More than $8,000 was raised through live and silent auctions to benefit the Chamber and its programs.

The Rockport-Fulton Camber Foundation held a “Wine Pull” fundraiser and raised $750 for scholarships, which are awarded to students who have participated in the Chamber’s Youth Leadership Program.

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