Just more than a year after building the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce into a dominant force for the business community in Maricopa, executive director Terri Kingery saw her successes celebrated as the chamber hosted its first-ever awards banquet Jan. 16.
Hosted at the Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino resort, the awards banquet toasted the past with a citizen’s award named after the recently deceased community leader Sonny Dunn while also honoring the present and the future, with awards for non-profit, volunteer and business of the year.
Honoring the past through the award names, said the night’s master of ceremonies, former Tribune reporter Aaron Thacker, really highlights what a special community Maricopa was and continues to be.
“The part that really got me was the Dunn award because it showed the depth of community,” said Thacker, now a teacher at both Mesa Community College and Maricopa Wells Middle School. “We think of it as this explosion in the past five years but it really has a rich tradition. We take for granted what this town used to be with orchards and farming.”
The big winner of the evening was Community of Hope Church Senior Pastor Rusty Akers, who won the Sonny Dunn Citizen of the Year award over Maricopa Police Chief Patrick Melvin and Parks, Recreation and Libraries Director Marty McDonald, while his church garnered the award for non-profit of the year. For Akers, who credited his wife Lisa and the members of his barely two-year-old church for making this happen, the awards were cause for both humility and reflection.
“Sonny and the Dunn family have been such a huge part of this city, its conception, its growth, and to be added to that legacy is just overwhelming. What the Dunn’s have accomplished resonates in me because of my own family roots in the town of Buckeye,” said Akers, who was a little stunned that night to win the citizen award. “I knew Chief Melvin and Marty McDonald were men above men and great leaders in the community.”
Akers church has helped with the creation of a community food bank and sent a missions team to work in the slums of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
“I just cast the vision, the people have carried it out,” he said. “They are truly servants of this community, and they desire nothing in return. They just want to help make Maricopa the best city it can be.”
The desire to make Maricopa a better place was also reflected in the standing ovation received by Volunteer of the Year winner Joyce Hollis, who told the crowd her passion for serving others was something ingrained in her at an early age by her family.
“It’s quite an honor, especially being named for and sponsored by two people I respect greatly for their contributions to Maricopa,” said Hollis of the award, which was named for fellow volunteer Renate Chamberlin and sponsored by Mayor Kelly Anderson.
It was about making those contributions to Maricopa that made the Business of the Year award come down to just two votes difference separating the winner, Kimberly Diedrich’s Home is Where the Hound Is, from DVD and Game Depot and Harrah’s.
“The fact that we have the caliber of business owners in this community is incredible,” she said. “I would have been just as happy if Al (Ingersoll) won because he does so much for the community.”
Said Ingersoll, the DVD and Game Depot owner, the businesses awarded by the chamber members and community voters showed it was more about what they give back.
“Being in our first year of business, it’s a lot further than I hoped to be,” said Ingersoll, who donated to local toy drives before Christmas as is a key organizer for the Ride for Kids event that benefits the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. “We were just hoping to survive, much less get awards... and the store has excelled.”
As for Kingery, who has taken the chamber from 88 active members in November 2006 to 256 today, she said the event was a reflection of how many business owners and community members are dedicated to making Maricopa succeed.
“It never ceases to amaze me how we can pack a room,” said Kingery, who was expected a room of 100, but sold tickets for 175. “It continues to show me how much faith the community puts in the chamber. I hope we can keep up the momentum.”
Kingery said there were discussion among the chamber board to add more categories to the four that were awarded and said categories for new business of the year and a customer service award could be included at future banquets.