A large crowd once again gathered in Mustang Cafeteria on Monday night, February 24, for the 63rd Annual Chamber of Commerce Banquet.
Emceed by Criminal District Attorney Bill Helwig the theme this year was “West Texas Strong.”
The highlight of the night was the feature speaker Sheriff J.B. Smith who was continuously elected Sheriff of Smith County Texas from 1976 to 2012. He kept the audience on the edge of their seats with his many stories about the years he spent in law enforcement.
After the presentation of the flags Helwig led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Church of Christ minister Skip Rodgers led the singing of the National Anthem followed by the Invocation.
Serandipitea out of Plains catered the meal this year where they served both pork and chicken, green beans, mash potatoes and a dessert.
Helwig then introduced the retiring directors which included Robbie Underhill and Susan Leach. New incoming directors include Nona Banks, Brad Irons, and Jose Ruiz.
Retiring student directors are Riley Calk and Anna Fletcher. They will be replaced by new student directors Marley Jordan, Julio Quintero, and Valarie Yanez.
The highlight of the banquet is always the presentation of the Special Awards. The coveted awards included Ambassador of the Year to Mark Sherman, the President’s Award presented to Skip Odgers, Professional of the Year award was presented to Karen Tovar Director of all EMS services, Business of the Year went to Denver City Motor Parts and the Cook Family, and Citizen of the Year went to former DCISD Superintendent Dag Azam. Making that presentation was current Superintendent Gary Davis.
The awards were followed by the featured speaker J. B. Smith who served as Sheriff in Smith county from 1976 to 2012 making him one of the longest serving sheriffs in Texas history. He was elected by his peers to serve as President of the Sheriffs Association of Texas 2002-2012. J.B. retired on January 1st, 2013. He managed a department of 350 personnel and over 1000 prisoners.
Smith is a graduate of The University of Texas at Tyler with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice. He is also a graduate of the National FBI Academy.
As sheriff for over 3 decades he was responsible for the investigation of 146 murder cases, hundreds of sexual assaults, child molestation’s, aggravated assaults and countless burglaries and thefts. When you add numerous family violence cases involving children it can cause depression in the strongest of men including him.
To compensate for the everyday trauma, the sheriff started looking for positive things that produce humor. That attitude adjustment evolved over 20 years into a “Laughter is Lawful” program that has been presented hundreds of times from New York to L.A. He is booked by speaker bureaus from Boston MA, Tulsa OK, and Texas.
As a Vietnam veteran and sought-after humorous speaker, the sheriff was contracted in 2011 by the Dept of Defense to be the keynote speaker for the Navy Seals returning from war zones. This expanded into programs for Marine Special Forces as well. These programs spanned four years and is one of the highlights of his speaking career.
Helwig wrapped up the program with his concluding remarks thanking those who attended. Several door prizes were also awarded to those who had the lucky ticket numbers. Over 400 guests were in attendance this year once again making it a huge success.
“Like other past banquets, we felt like this was one was another big success,” stated Chamber Manager Marilyn McCurley. “We had so much help from so many people all the way from those who helped set up the Mustang cafeteria to the cooks, servers, and the cleanup crews. A special thanks to Serandipitea for another delicious meal. It was a wonderful evening for all to enjoy some good old West Texas hospitality.”
Plans are already underway for the 2021 64th Annual Chamber Banquet.