A local realtor, a longtime law enforcement resident, an entrepreneur, seven educators and an athletic director were among those honored at the 27th annual Keene Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet on Oct. 28 at the Keene Community Center.

About 300 people attended the event, which recognizes local businesses and educators. Southwestern Adventist University food service Director Chef Sualua Tupolo catered the event, and Christian guitarist and comedian Kevin Williams performed.

Keene realtor and community volunteer Samantha Gillin was honored at Citizen of the Year.

Other honorees included: 

• Community Improvement Award: Cody Weiss and Blake and Jerry Fanning

• Community Service Award: Donnie Beeson

• Pioneer Award: Don Beeson

• Young Entrepreneur Award: Carlos Linares and Victor Prieto

• Phillip Sparks Helping Hands Award: Jason Hamilton and John McFarlin

• Educator of the Year Awards were also presented, accompanied by a $100 honorarium for each educator.

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.

Gillin has been involved in real estate for 30 years and started a real estate sales business in Keene in 2005. She has served on the Keene chamber board of directors and as president of the Type A board.

She donated protective vests and two AEDs to the Keene Police Department, donated recliner chairs and an ice machine to the Keene Fire Department, and many times has paid the water bill or rent for someone in need. She finds homes for abandoned dogs and during the early days of COVID assembled bags of hand sanitizer, personal care items and pet food for Meals-on-Wheels recipients.

She regularly attends Keene City Council meetings, is supportive of the fire and police department, always financially supports community events and continually attempts to find ways to improve life in Keene.

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.

Weiss was honored for developing Bristol Oaks in Keene, a residential community of 109 homes, while the father and son duo of Blake and Jerry Fanning were recognized for developing The Canyons, a residential community of 300-plus homes next to Keene High School.

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

Donnie Beeson was recognized for serving as a volunteer general contractor for the construction of a new pavilion at the city park. He also volunteered to install the lights at the park’s ball fields, served as commissioner of the youth sports program, serves on the Type B Business Development Corporation board and is president of the Keene ISD school board.

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. 

The award is selected by campus educators and administrators. One educator from the each of the three 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 High School — Amy Smith

• Keene Junior High School — Caroline Rodriguez

• Keene Elementary School — Tapley Shoup

• Keene Adventist Elementary School — Caroline Shockey

• Keene Adventist Junior High School — Ryan Weaver

• Chisholm Trail Academy — Johnathan Coker

• Southwestern Adventist University — Buster Swoopes

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

The award was presented to Beeson, who moved to Keene in 1969 to attend college and began working part-time for the police department. 

After serving in the Army for two years, he returned to Keene and started the ambulance service and served four years as police chief. 

He served 25 years as police chief at the University of Texas Health Science Center, then interim police chief in Keene. After that, he was elected to two four-year terms as county commissioner. He serves on the Type B board of directors. 

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

Linares and Prieto were recognized for opening Belenty’s Love Mexican Vegan Restaurant.

Phillip Sparks Helping Hands Award, honors an individual who provides continued assistance without seeking compensation or recognition.

Two individuals were honored this year. McFarlin, Keene High School athletic director, was recognized for starting Charge It Forward, a program that uses athletes to provide service in the Keene community by cleaning up property, mowing lawns, raking leaves and performing small repairs. 

Hamilton was recognized for volunteering to landscape at the new pavilion and the “Welcome to Keene” granite sign on U.S. 67. He serves as the Type B board of directors and is always lending a hand at community events.

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