Amid tears, cheers and standing ovations, Hermiston honored some of its most giving citizens at the 50th annual Distinguished Citizens Awards.
When it came time to accept their awards, however, most were reluctant to take any credit for themselves. Lou Lyons — Man of the Year — jokingly tried to duck backstage rather than make his way to the podium. Once he took the award, he thanked his employees at Elmer’s Irrigation, many of whom have been with him since he purchased the business 27 years ago.
“We’re here, we’re proud to support the community, and that’s what we intend to do,” he said.
Lyons came to Hermiston in 1989 to work with the business’s founder, Elmer Georgeson. Presenter Steve Frasier noted Lyons is a strong supporter of youth in the community, donating money and time to a long list of organizations. He provides 400 tickets each year for FFA students to see the Farm-City Pro Rodeo, sponsors the calf-dressing contest, purchases multiple 4-H and FFA animals at the auction each year, and donated much of the irrigation equipment used to support the Umatilla County Fair.
“I don’t know if any kid ever came in here that didn’t leave with something,” Frasier quoted one of Lyons’ employees.
He described photos and letters displayed at Lyons’ business from people who shared the impact Lyons had on them as a young person.
“They say if you fly the flag, you’d better walk the walk, and the flag he flies says, ‘I care about youth,’” Frasier said.
Awards at the banquet are always kept a secret ahead of time, but Woman of the Year Cindy Meyers was especially shocked. As a Hermiston Chamber of Commerce ambassador, she would normally be in the loop on who the chamber was giving awards to, but had been given a fake name.
“I’m speechless,” she said, wiping away tears as her family joined her on stage.
Presenter Bob Green, a fellow chamber ambassador, called Meyers a woman of integrity who was humble, resourceful, diligent, elegant, witty, thoughtful and many other traits that make her a role model. He highlighted her service in community organizations, such as Altrusa International, Agape House and Umatilla County Fire District #1’s board.
He also highlighted her professional successes as a vice president at Banner Bank. He said her excellent customer service was well known, and she had attended weddings and funerals of longtime customers with which she had formed bonds.
“As a banker the past 37 years she has excelled as one of the most accomplished bankers in the area, in the words of her peers,” Green said.
The Bob Severson Rotary Business of the Year went to Medelez Inc., a family owned, Hermiston-based trucking company.
Presenter Tammy Smith said they started in the early 1980s with just three pieces of equipment, and today have more than 150 trucks and more than 300 employees. Their business provides support along Hermiston’s supply chain, from farms like AgriNorthwest to processing plants like Lamb Weston to retailers like Safeway.
Beyond that, they have been major sponsors of projects such as Kennison Field, community events such as the Farm-City Pro Rodeo, and nonprofits such as Farmers Ending Hunger and the Agape House.
As the Medelez brothers took the stage to accept the award, Benny Medelez said they wouldn’t be successful without their employees, and the support community.
“We came here in 1974 because we thought Hermiston would be a good place to raise our families, and we were right,” he said.
The Merit of Honor Award went to Made to Thrive, a Hermiston nonprofit that helps at-risk youths participate in extracurricular activities. The organization pays fees, provides equipment and snacks, gives rides to practices, encourages parent involvement and sends mentors to cheer on students at their games and performances.
Made to Thrive was started by Kriss Dammeyer in 2014 and has since helped more than 1,500 children ages 4-18 in Umatilla County. Presenter Phil Hamm said Dammeyer has the foresight, energy and commitment to make a real difference in the community.
“She’s not afraid to shed light on the sadder parts of the community, but she’s always ready with a solution,” he said.
Hamm said she exemplifies what it means to love one’s neighbor, and read letters that explained how Dammeyer had changed students’ lives for the better.
“We have our heads down and just going, and sometimes we don’t take the time to reflect on the impact we are making,” Dammeyer said as she accepted the award.
Besides the awards presented by the chamber, Umatilla County Fire District #1 also presented their Fire Service Award to Jessica Marcum, the district’s community paramedic. Marcum visits patients in their homes to help prevent future ambulance rides and emergency room visits. Preventative actions she takes include measures such as auditing the home for fall risks, making sure the patient is taking their medications correctly and performing blood pressure checks and other tests.
Stanton said Marcum “truly embodies the word professionalism” and represents the district well.
“She has almost by herself grown the program to be one respected throughout the state,” he said.
Hermiston School District’s Educators of the Year were also recognized at the dinner. They were Marian Koenig (Highland Hills Elementary), Shelly Lillie (Desert View Elementary), Holly Moss (Rocky Heights Elementary), Shawna Yeager (Sunset Elementary), Amy Springstead (West Park Elementary), Melissa Purswell (Armand Larive Middle School), Daniel Allen (Sandstone Middle School), Tammy Fisher and Nicole Silver (Hermiston High School) and Pam Schaffeld in the district office.
Fisher was named the overall Educator of the Year, a choice superintendent Tricia Mooney said was a difficult one. However, she said Fisher’s “passionate, tireless efforts to engage all students in learning” had gained the admiration of all her colleagues.
Mooney was recognized as the district’s Administrator of the Year, and the district noted a long list of accomplishments in the past year, including completing a doctorate in education, being appointed to the Oregon Quality Education Commission and helping the district pass an $82.7 million bond.