That and the fact only one person at the
Announcing the last of the year's STAR Awards, Burch -- the chamber's 2015 Citizen of the Year honoree -- was quick to note Keenon is someone who's very proud of his family, of his job as manager of government affairs for
This year's other award recipients included two Business of the Year honorees,
An ambassador for community beautification (literally: Keenon was the state's first Keep Texas Beautiful Ambassador), the dedicated volunteer is -- among numerous leadership positions over the years -- the current president of
For example, "He chairs the annual 'Make
From past service with
Leading and working alongside other volunteers, Keenon has served numerous groups of people, young and old, in and around Kilgore since moving here, where he married his wife, Melynda, in 1990. The couple have two daughters, Hayley and Cassidy; a son and daughter-in-law, Dakota and Cammie; and a granddaughter,
"Gene is a part of what makes our city and community so great," Burch said.
The STAR Awards (Success. Tradition. Achievement. Relationship.) are intended to "honor and recognize outstanding individuals and businesses that make Kilgore the best place to live, work and play," according to the chamber's 2016-2017 board chairman,
The chamber's ambassadors, Nichols noted, act as the organization's goodwill-greeters and volunteer liaisons to current and prospective members. Cockerham and her fellow ambassadors earn points for calling on members, welcoming new businesses and new members, growing the membership roster and assisting the chamber staff at local functions in community outreach.
A Kilgore News Herald Advertising Representative, Cockerham exemplifies a servant leader, Nichols said.
"She is always available to lend a hand to the chamber, represents our organization at almost every function, communicates with our members," he added, "and always has a smile on her face and a very contagious laugh."
For 2016's Volunteer of the Year, the chamber recognized the Mobbs family and their pivotal role in the Stars & Scars Mud Run, taking a piece of land and re-crafting it into a challenge course for the chamber event.
Business of the year was split into two categories for 2016, recognizing one operation of less than 25 employees and another with a staff of 25-plus.
The Business of the Year awards reflect outstanding businesses, Nichols said, "that have achieved success through growth or have implemented growth plans in employment, revenue, products or service, overcome obstacles, achieved benchmarks and recognition for their achievements, implemented outstanding corporate leadership or support and encourages employee growth and achievement."
For the smaller category, the chamber's Star Award went to
The agency has been a fixture of the community for many years, Nichols said.
"The company has 10 employees, and they all live in
In the last five years, Nichols noted,
"That's real dollars in
Among larger businesses, the chamber honored
Some of ASH's accomplishments, Nichols noted, include partnering with
"Two years ago a change in administration took place to correct a very poor state survey that almost cost the company their license to operation," Nichols noted. "During the past two years, a loss of 80 percent of personnel took place.
"However, new personnel has been hired, the state survey was cleared and the company is back in a position of respect and competency in the medical community."
Capping Monday's banquet at the
"This award recognizes individuals who support Keep Texas Beautiful's mission statement of empowering and educating Texans to take responsibility for enhancing their environment," Burch noted. It's a passion for Keenon: "Over the years, he has spoken about responsible solid waste management to hundreds of people at schools,
Keenon established Kilgore's Adopt a Street program, she added, and "was the first person to tout the new 'Don't Mess With Texas' logo and had it permanently tattooed on his arm." He's been recognized by the
"Gene started with
According to Keenon, "If you haven't noticed, I love this town," working alongside others and taking action with a spirit of "If I don't do it, who's going to do it?"
It's about taking care of his home and the people who live here.
"I want my kids to stay in
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