It was a festive evening Friday at the 63nd Annual Black Tie Celebration where several Branson area citizens were surprised to be recognized for their contributions to the community. More than 500 members and guests of the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau attended “A Golden Celebration” reception and dinner at the Chateau on the Lake Resort, Spa & Convention Center. Many generous Chamber member sponsors made the elegant evening possible including the Golden Sponsor, Silver Dollar City in honor of the park’s 50th anniversary this year.

The event culminated with awards in seven categories plus a special recognition.

The Mary Award honors Mary Herschend and Mary Trimble, two women who played significant roles in the development of Branson and excelled in their service to others. This year, the award went to Dr. Charles Woodall who practices at St. John’s Branson West and Urgent Care Branson. He’s also on staff at Skaggs Regional Medical Center where he has been an emergency room physician for 12 years. He served as medical director for 13 years for the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District and for Southern Stone County 911 since 1999. He also has provided free sports physicals to Reed Spring school athletes for 25 years and was the football team doctor.

The Pioneer Award recognizes outstanding service to the community at least 15 years ago. It was in 1981 that Lee Westcott opened his first family entertainment center in Branson. He went on to develop five The Tracks Family Fun Parks, a significant family attraction. He provides summer work for numerous teachers and coaches, and developed scholarships for seasonal employees. He also built Peppercorns Restaurant and several motels in Branson. He also helped create the first Ozark Mountain Christmas.

The Ambassador Award acknowledges people who bring positive attention to Branson. This year’s recipient is Monna Stafford. For many years, she was the general manager of the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre and is currently general manager of BOTT Radio Network in Branson and Springfield. Stafford developed the Branson NOW radio program where she highlights businesses, entertainers and leaders in the community. Her program goes out on 13 signals on Saturday mornings. She also does public service announcements for local non-profit agencies.

The Beautification Award honors individuals who have enhanced the appearance of the community. This year, it goes to Hansen’s Tree Service in Reeds Spring. Hansen’s, which opened in the Branson area in 2006, employs certified arborists trained to properly trim trees. Products sold at their nursery are top quality. Businesses they’ve beautified with their work include Branson Landing. The company founded by Jeff Hansen in 1988 was the first to be certified by the Tree Care Industry Association. They also specialize in green waste recycling.

The Community Spirit Award goes to a person or organization whose efforts have benefited the community within the past two years. This year, Christopher Welch was honored. Welch chairs the 2010 Census project, working tirelessly to educate people in Taney and Stone counties about the local importance of an accurate count which can bring more public funds to communities. He also works with the Loaves and Fishes program, helping to feed families in need during the winter. And he spearheads the Point In Time project to locate and help people who are homeless.

The Care For Kids Award recognizes service to the community’s children. It went to Glenna and Larry Frazier who co-chaired a campaign that paid off the mortgage of the Branson unit of the Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks. Glenna taught in Branson schools for several years. Larry, while with White River Valley Electric Cooperative, helped create Operation Round-Up which provides grants to agencies which serve children. They’ve also established scholarships at Missouri State University for Branson High school graduates.

The Bob McDowell Humanitarian Award has previously only been awarded in 2006 when it was named for Bob McDowell for his rescue efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. On Friday, it was presented to Keith and Karen Jaspers. The couple owns four hotels including Days Inn, Red Roof Inn and Howard Johnson in Branson. In 1995, they started the Rainbow Network ministry in remote locations in Nicaragua, changing the lives of the poorest people through nutrition, healthcare, economic development, education and housing.

A Special Recognition Award went to Jack and Pete Herschend. Silver Dollar City, the theme park founded by the Herschend family, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The attraction has always anchored the tourism industry here. Both brothers continue to serve the community in many significant ways.

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