BARSTOW - They delivered meals, displayed flags, donated their time and money to the community and on Saturday night, they were thanked for it.

More than 400 people packed the Cora Harper Fitness Center as the Barstow Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the 27th annual Community Recognition Awards and Installation Banquet.

Hermie James and Ed Hignet won Woman and Man of the Year honors and JoJo Cousino and David Booze were selected as winners of the Woman and Man of Continuous Service awards.

James, who donates her time with the United Way and Police Activities League, said her reason for volunteering is simple.

"It's such a privilege to be recognized," she said. "I volunteer because I believe in Barstow. I believe in the causes we're working for."

Small and Large Business of the Year winners Firestone Conversions and Valley Lumber & Truss were recognized not only for their performance as companies, but for their service to Barstow's residents.

This year's Up and Coming award recipient Jeff Eason Sr. said the 35 to 50 hours each week he volunteers at the Barstow Senior Center offered gratification enough.

"I've found that volunteering really fills that empty place in you heart," he said. "Seeing projects completed, expanding peoples' horizons, for me, it's just so rewarding."

Organizers of the chamber of commerce's annual sandcastle competition, rewarded as 2007's Event of the Year, said that they've been surprised by the growth of the event in recent years.

"We still have a little sand our shoes, if not in our hair, but it's worth it," said chamber Executive Director Jeri Justus. "It's not easy to convince people to come to the Mojave Desert to build sandcastles."

For Jane Laraman-Brockhurst, president of Main Street Murals, seeing her group recognized as Organization of the Year was a fitting end to a busy 2007.

"For Main Street Murals, it's such a great honor," she said. "Our program is all about preserving our cultural heritage for future generations. It's a great way of promoting community pride."

Saturday's event was also a change to honor former volunteers who have passed on.
The Tony Graham award was given in the memory Donna Zeller for her work with the Mojave Valley Volunteer Hospice and Elderhaven. Zeller died in November 2007.

"Whenever anybody needed anything she just gave, gave, gave," said Rachel Flores of Zeller. "Even up until her death she was worried about giving out those Thanksgiving baskets to others."

Selecting the awardees was a challenge, said Paul Courtney, 2005 winner of Man of Continuous Service, who along with other past recipients voted on this year's award nominees.

It's very difficult to single out certain individuals or organizations for this, he said. "For the winners the feeling is indescribable. Your heart is just beating so fast. I didn't realize how it really felt until they picked me. It's like, `They actually think I'm that special,'" he said.

The Barstow High School state-championship-winning boys cross country team and the community's youth football program were also recognized for their successes this past year.

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2007 Community Recognition Award Winners Marine of the Year: Lance Cpl. Michael Akimseu
Sailor of the Year: petty officer second class Ralph Vincent Solon
National Training Center NCO of the Year: Spc. Marizol Bennett
Airman of the Year: Staff Sgt. Greg D. Cornelison
Barstow High School Student of the Year: Nathan Silva
Central High School Student of the Year: Sasha Staggs
Silver Valley High School Student of the Year: Kylie Negin
Calico High School Student of the Year: Erica Romero
Best Event of the Year: Sandcastle Event
Small Business of the Year: Conversion Firestone
Large Business of the Year: Valley Lumber & Truss
Up & Coming: Jeff Eason Sr.
Organization of the Year: Main Street Murals
Woman of the Year: Hermie James
Man of the Year: Ed Hignet
Woman of Continuous Service: JoJo Cousino
Man of Continuous Service: David Booze
Tony Graham Award: Donna Zeller