Undoubtedly, the best moment during Saturday’s 43rd annual Celebrate St. Clair Banquet came during an exchange between emcee Jason Alexander of Budget Lodging and St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack, who was recognized by the local Chamber of Commerce as the recipient of the 2013 Outstanding Public Service Award.
Through various awards, the banquet at the St. Clair Elks Lodge honors individuals who are making a difference in the community. Saturday’s event recognized those accomplishments from the 2013 calendar year.
When introducing Hammack as the winner of the award before specifically mentioning his name, Alexander, of Sullivan, shared a story about Hammack and a woman who stopped by for a visit when Alexander first operated a business in town.
“He and his daughter came to visit just to welcome and spend some time with me,” Alexander said. “I thought, ‘Here is a man who I would like to model my personal behavior after.’
“I was really impressed.”
When Hammack came to the podium to accept the award, presented to him “in recognition of exemplary service to the community,” his reply was simple, yet direct.
“She was my wife,” he said.
Hammack then took his seat as the audience roared with laughter.
Hammack was one of seven individuals and one business recognized by the Chamber for the 2013 calendar year. The St. Clair Police Department and fire and ambulance districts also handed out their employee of the year awards.
The honorees were Hammack, Jay Rice as Citizen of the Year, Lori Gratzer as Volunteer of the Year, Ben Martin as Educator of the Year, Suzy Haverstick as Youth Mentor of the Year, the Rev. Cliff Day as Spiritual Leader of the Year and St. Clair High School’s Laura Bardot as Student of the Year.
Mobil Gas Mart was named the Business of the Year.
John Sikes, Jason Hatley and Jennifer Goodson were honored by the local police, fire and ambulance as their employees of the year, respectively.
As the 2013 Chamber board president, Bob Triphahn was given a service award.
Nomination forms were obtained by The Missourian on the individuals who were honored by the Chamber on Saturday. They included comments written about the recipients recognized and why they were nominated. The Chamber did not provide comments about the winners or the qualifications for the specific awards during the banquet.
Hammack’s nomination stated that he “continually serves our city well through his job. He is fair and honest as well as a hardworking man who cares about our community and its people.
“He is a true and dedicated public servant.”
Citizen of the Year
Rice’s nominations included from his daughter, Jamie Keen, and Dottie Nelson, last year’s recipient who was in charge of a group of former citizens of the year in selecting the 2013 winner.
The award presentation had the flavor of a lifetime achievement award as opposed to what was accomplished specifically in 2013. The Citizen of the Year Award traditionally is considered the highest honor the Chamber annually bestows.
“When I was growing up, I can always remember people telling me how my dad was a kind, caring and community-minded person,” Keen said. “Now that I’ve grown up, I can see exactly what they were talking about.
“I’m not even sure where to start on the list of things he has done for this community, mostly anonymous and not wanting recognition for any of it.
“From coaching sports teams when I was younger to helping empower the youth in this town to do things far beyond their wildest imaginations, he has given back so much of what this town has been able to give him.”
Nelson said that Rice is “very active in Lions Club” and that he “volunteers many hours for the city.”
She also said he has brought a lot of new families to town by building houses and that he is a member of the Farmers & Merchants Bank board of directors. Nelson is employed by FMB.
When Rice was introduced, Alexander reminded the audience that the recipient was born and raised in St. Clair.
“He grew up here,” Alexander said of Rice. “And he has been involved in the community year after year.”
Rice was one of three award winners who commented after receiving their awards.
“It was a privilege to be raised here,” he said. “It was luck to be born here.
“It is a privilege to be raised in a community where everyone knows your name. ... I’m happy to be here.”
Besides Hammack’s quick comment and Rice’s brief speech, Martin also said a few words after winning the Teacher of the Year Award for the second time.
He thanked Jesus Christ and his parents, and gave glory to Him and them for making him who he is today.
Martin was nominated by several people, all of whom described him as a dedicated teacher and person. In introducing him as the winner, Alexander said, “I’m impressed with the message you’re sending to our young people.”
Comments from the nomination forms included phrases like, “His devotion is evident,” “He encourages students to have a better life through education and is a true role model by example” and “He excels in teaching both in and out of the classroom.”
The Educator of the Year Award recognizes the recipient who shows excellence in teaching and his or her contribution to the spirit of lifelong learning in the St. Clair community and beyond.
Gratzer, the volunteer of the year, has been instrumental in the success of the city’s annual Main Street Festival. The award is in recognition of an individual who gives of himself or herself freely in support of the goals of the St. Clair community.
“Lori has spent 20 years working on multiple nonprofit organizations and donating her time to help with community organizations,” her nomination form read.
The Youth Mentor of the Year Award is in recognition of dedicated leadership and support to the youth of the community. The criteria includes having a distinguished record of being a positive mentor.
Haverstick has been that mentor for the Friends For Change young women’s group, which is spearheading the amphitheater project planned for Evergreen Park later this year.
“Suzy has been an excellent mentor to the young girls in our community,” a nomination form read. “She has gone above and beyond in her efforts to help them accomplish their goal.”
“Suzy has a way of helping you through your problems and encouraging you to be the best you can be,” another nomination stated. “She is awesome, simply.”
Day, the pastor of First Baptist Church, “has a lot of passion for the community and its spiritual needs,” his nomination read.
The award recognizes an individual for outstanding community service through spiritual leadership. The nominees are not required to be ordained ministers. However, their accomplishments should contribute to the spiritual well-being of the citizens of the community.
The Outstanding Youth Award is presented to a student who excels in the areas of community service and academic achievement and exhibits superb leadership skills.
Bardot, a senior at St. Clair High School, “exemplifies all of the positive characteristics our community should want in today’s youth,” one of her nominations read. “She truly represents St. Clair High School as an outstanding student, person and youth and is a young woman of great character and leadership.”
Mobil Gas Mart earned Business of the Year honors for “always donating, lending a hand and saving the day when last-minute things are needed,” Gratzer’s nominated form stated.
According to the Chamber, the award was created to recognize a business which has demonstrated outstanding dedication to the Chamber and support of the St. Clair community.