A retired longtime educator turned stargazer, two doctors, eight educators and an athletic director were among those honored at the 29th annual Keene Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet Oct. 27 at the Keene Community Center.

The event, which recognizes local businesses and educators, was attended by 300 people who enjoyed a meal prepared by Southwestern Adventist University food service director Chef Sualua Tupolo and a non-stop routine of laughter presented by Christian storyteller and musician Tim Lovelace.

Keene resident Jerry Becker, former educator and current volunteer manager at the Thomsen Observatory on the SWAU campus, was honored at Citizen of the Year.

Other honorees included: 

• Community Improvement Award: Keene Adventist Elementary School

• Community Service Award: Keene Adventist Church

• Pioneer Award: Ellis Hainey

• Young Entrepreneur Award: Dr. Dakota Argyle and Dr. Brock Bennion

The Citizen of the Year Award recognizes an individual who has been a model citizen and given dedicated and extensive service to individuals, organizations and the community on a continued basis.

Becker, a former teacher in Keene’s public and private school systems, has counseled, guided and motivated scores and scores of students who now, as adults, look upon him as they would their father. 

Following his retirement from education and in addition to his passion for sailing the Intercostal Waterway, Becker became interested in stargazing at the Thomsen Observatory. He organized fundraising campaigns to improve equipment and the grounds, and was eventually named Observatory Manager. Now, stargazers from throughout the Southwest visit Keene to marvel at the heavens at the Thomsen Observatory.

The Community Improvement Award honors businesses for contributing to the beautification of the city through new buildings and/or well-manicured grounds and landscaping, thus presenting a positive image and improving the quality of life in Keene.

On Oct. 23, Keene Adventist Elementary School cut the ribbon to officially open its new gymnasium, which was paid for by donations from alumni and the community. The new gym eliminates the need for physical education classes to be held in a small gym-type facility inside the lower grade building

The Community Service Award is given to an individual and/or organization who has given extensive and continued service to the community.

The award was presented to the Keene Adventist Church for its many services to the community, including the Keene Community Food Bank, the Kids Eat Free backpack program in conjunction with Keene ISD, a clothing outlet for needy families, senior health programs, a program that provides a car shuttle anywhere within 10 miles of Keene for those who need to be transported to a doctors visit or grocery store, family campouts, countless Bible studies, and water giveaways in needy areas, all organized by volunteers and attended by hundreds.

The Educator of the Year Award honors one who demonstrates excellence in the classroom and goes the extra mile by being involved in the lives of students outside the classroom. This award is selected by campus educators and administrators. One educator from the each of the four public schools and one from the each of the four private schools are honored each year. The award is accompanied by a cash honorarium of $100. The honorees were:

Keene Adventist Elementary School, Steve Bradley

Keene Adventist Middle School, Bonnie Knoll

Chisholm Trail Academy, Jon Dickerson

Southwestern Adventist University, Paulino Santos-Andino

Keene Elementary School, Donnel Shaw

Summit Leadership Academy, Breanna Evatt

Keene Junior High School, Lydia Melton

Keene High School, Sarah Keene

The Pioneer Award recognizes an individual or organization whose long-ago contributions and influence helped make Keene what it is today.

Hainey, who has served Southwestern Adventist University for 35 years, prefers to remain in the shadows but his 6-foot 8-inch height won’t allow it. Although an engineer in the plant engineering department, he is all over campus, sculpting the grounds, redesigning, improving.

He volunteers on multiple committees for city events, serving on the Celebration Planning Committee for the July 4 activities, serving on the planning committees for Keene’s July 4 parade and Christmas Light Parade & Fireworks Show, and is instrumental in the success of the annual business Expo and health fair. He is, simply, so good at his job and so willing to help, that he is almost taken for granted, which is a compliment.

The Young Entrepreneur Award is presented to a young business person who has made a commitment to Keene.

What for 34 years was Rusk Family Dental, then five years as Mertz Family Dental, is now Old Betsy Dental as Doctors Dakota Argyle and Brock Bennion are the third owners/operators of a business that has been in Keene 40 years. They immediately gave it a new name on the outside and, inside, new carpet, fresh paint, TV’s all over, modern equipment, and a railroad theme, even their logo is tooth brush disguised to look like a train.

They immediately were involved in the community, joining the Keene Chamber of Commerce, entering parades, attending Chamber luncheons, and making a positive impact in our town.

In the photo, Jerry Becker, volunteer operations manager at the Thomsen Observatory on the campus of Southwestern Adventist University, receives the Citizen of the Year Award at the Keene Chamber of Commerce annual banquet Oct. 27 at Keene Community Center. With Becker is Samantha Gillin, the 2021 winner who presented the award. Photo courtesy Daniil Glotov, Southwestern Adventist University.