Hermiston Shines Light on Selfless Citizens at Annual DSA Banquet

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Pastor Chris Hankel, of New Hope Community Church, accepts the Community Champion Award at Hermiston’s Distinguished Service Awards banquet in the Hermiston Community Center. Hankel shares the award with Pastor Terry Height, of the Zeal Church. They helped get the I Love My City movement off the ground in 2016. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

A ground-breaking cowboy, a Stanfield stalwart and a desert oasis were among the winners Wednesday night at Hermiston’s 54th Distinguished Service Awards banquet.

Held at the Hermiston Community Center and presented by the Good Shepherd Community Health Foundation, the ceremony honored individuals whose service has positively impacted their community.

Umatilla County Commissioner Dan Dorran, last year’s Man of the Year, served as emcee for the evening.

“How do we make great greater?” asked Dorran. “The people we  honor here tonight have those answers.”

This year’s winners include Man of the Year David Bothum, Woman of the Year Cecili Longhorn, Business of the Year Bennett Botanical Gardens, First Responder of the Year Jerrad Little, Outstanding Young Citizen Giovanni Cisneros and Community Champion I Love My City.

Man of the Year: David Bothum

One of those nominating Bothum for Man of the Year referred to him as “a quiet exclamation point in all corners and the center of our town.”

Dennis Barnett, the 2009 Man of the Year, called Bothum “humble, kind, leads without seeking attention, honest and generous.” Barnett said “a handshake means everything” to Bothum.

David Bothum, of Hermiston, accepts the Man of the Year award at Hermiston’s Distinguished Service Awards banquet in the Hermiston Community Center. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

Another description of Bothum reads, “His heart beats Hermiston, his soul reflects Hermiston and his commitment is legendary.”

Bothum is best known for helping to create “a signature national event that represents Hermiston” – the Farm-City Pro Rodeo, one of the top 25 rodeos in North America.

Barnett said the rodeo got started in a “rundown facility and a small purse,” but has grown into one of the premier rodeos in the country.

“He used his relationship with the other cowboys in the PRCA and persuaded them to come to Hermiston,” Barnett said.

Described as an advocate and cheerleader for all of Hermiston, Bothum, owner of Bothum Construction in Hermiston, provides hand-crafted gaming tables for the Hermiston High Sports Boosters and other charities for their auctions. As one nomination letter stated, “When the community needs high-quality woodwork and craftsmanship projects around town, they reach out to David.”

Bothum is a longtime supporter of a variety of youth programs. He offers school clubs and groups the opportunity to raise money for their programs. Examples include getting the football players to put up and take down chairs at events and arranging for wrestlers to serve barbecue to hungry fans.

He has partnered with Elmer’s Irrigation to ensure every FFA and 4-H youth has a ticket to the rodeo. He also puts up $1,000 scholarships to the winning calf dressing team.

Bothum grew up in Silverton and began competing in rodeos at a young age. He broke into the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1973 at the age of 18. During his career, he finished in the top 15 of the world standings nine times, earning nine trips to the National Finals Rodeo. In 1982, he finished seventh in the world standings. Last year, Bothum was inducted into the St. Paul Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Bothum, and his wife Cyd, have two kids, Ryan and Mykael, and five grandchildren. His kids and grandchildren snuck onto the stage as Bothum was speaking. When he saw them, he paused and said, “Not fair,” before gathering himself to thank everyone who has played a part in making the Farm-City Pro Rodeo what it is today.

“A rodeo is like a child,” he said. “It takes a village to raise it. It’s the same with a rodeo. Thank you very much.”

Woman of the Year: Cecili Longhorn

Described as a “dynamic person” with a “special interest in her community,” Longhorn is involved in nearly every aspect of life in Stanfield.

She is a champion supporter of the schools’ academic and athletic programs, as well as classroom participation. She is known for connecting people and striving to help anyone in need. She has a knack for drawing people together and supporting community functions by getting people to volunteer.

Cecili Longhorn, of Stanfield, accepts the Woman of the Year award at Hermiston’s Distinguished Service Awards banquet in the Hermiston Community Center. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

Longhorn, who is the Stanfield librarian, encourages the community to visit the library – not just to read, but to interact with one another through games, projects and classes for youth and adults.

She serves on numerous committees and boards ranging from the Community Center Board, the Fourth of July Committee and the Stanfield School Board. She is also the Parks and Recreation administrator and volunteers for Project Graduation for the Stanfield senior class. She also serves on the Oregon Library Association and speaks at conferences on the importance of summer reading programs.

Called “a pioneer in her field,” Longhorn puts on summer lunch and reading programs with the help of volunteers and grant money. She also secured a grant to start a walking program to promote health and wellness.

Working with the Moose Lodge, Longhorn participates in the Christmas Giving Tree program to help families in need. Other events she is involved in include Trucks, Tractors and Trees in the park for Arbor Day, the Stanfield Fall Festival, the Haunted Library during Halloween and National Night Out.

“It’s an honor to be up here,” Longhorn said. “Giving back to your community is an amazing thing to be able to do.”

Business of the Year: Bennett Botanical Gardens

Kris and Doug Bennet “bring beauty to our city,” is one description of this year’s Business of the Year.

“They have a Midas touch where anything they are a part of becomes its best version,” is another.

Whether it is beautifying Main Street, teaching floral classes or providing landscaping knowledge to the Columbia Basin Student Homebuilders Program, the Bennetts have left their mark all over Hermiston.

State Rep. Greg Smith presented the award and highlighted the aesthetic beauty the Bennetts bring to Hermiston.

“When I’m in Salem, people always ask me, ‘What’s so great about Hermiston?’ I tell them it’s about the community. And this year’s Business of the Year exemplifies that.”

Doug Bennett, of Bennett Botanical Gardens, accepts the Business of the Year award that he and his wife, Kris Bennett, received at Hermiston’s Distinguished Service Awards banquet in the Hermiston Community Center. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

The Bennetts design and fill planters along Main Street each season. Kris Bennett shares her knowledge by teaching classes on floral arrangements for the holidays. Doug Bennett donates his landscaping skills to the high school’s homebuilder program.

One admirer wrote, “Bennett Botanical Gardens has evolved into a cherished venue where employers express their gratitude through thankful dinners for their employees, couples celebrate their weddings and more.”

Their greenhouse hosts holiday classes for Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as serves as the backdrop for family reunions and other special occasions.

The gardens also serve as a sanctuary for those navigating difficult times in their lives. As one person wrote in nominating the Bennetts, “The open invitation extended by the Bennetts to members of the community, encouraging people to simply stop by, sit in the garden and gather their thoughts is truly invaluable.”

Doug Bennett said the inspiration for their desert oasis was to create a beautiful venue for their daughter’s wedding. It’s become much more over the years.

“It’s so rare to have your job also be your passion,” he said. “People ask when are we going to retire. Why would I retire? I have this.”

Community Champion: I Love My City

In 2016, the community of Hermiston was rocked by a murder-suicide which left three people dead and a fourth wounded. One of the victims was 14-year-old JJ Hurtado, a member of the Hermiston Assembly of God, now Zeal Church.

Terry Haight, pastor of Zeal Church, had an idea to help the community heal and spread the message that “God is still good, and he still loves us.” That idea led to the I Love My City movement.

About 70 volunteers got together to wash cars, pay for laundry service for others and offer prayer. The I Love My City event has grown to include downtown Hermiston clean-up events with multiple churches and more than 600 volunteers taking part.

One nomination letter read, “I have known Pastor Terry Haight for several years and can say without a shadow of a doubt that he loves people and looks for ways to bless others and to show them that God loves them right where they are. He will shy away from taking credit for organizing such an event that has impacted Hermiston in such a positive way. He will only give credit to God.”

Another nominating letter read, “He truly has a heart for seeing our city saved. I believe I Love My City has had obvious positive impacts on our city by showing Jesus’ love to all members of the community.”

Liz Marvin, executive director of the health foundation, said lives are being changed by the work done by I Love My City.

“Thank you for turning darkness to light,” she said.

And just as the nominating letter predicted, Haight thanked God for the difference being made in and around Hermiston.

“God continues to do new and amazing things in our community,” he said. “Thank you.”

First Responder of the Year: Jerrad Little

Little has been an Oregon State Police trooper for more than 15 years. In that role, he has served on the OSP Mobile Response Team, which required him to be deployed throughout the state to protect citizens, resources and the Constitution. He is a current member of the Explosives Unit.

Jerrad Little, of the Oregon State Police, accepts the First Responder of the Year award at Hermiston’s Distinguished Service Awards banquet in the Hermiston Community Center. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

Little is a mentor to the Pendleton Area Command, specifically the Hermiston worksite. He has been described as “dependable, trustworthy, selfless” and someone who “maintains a consistent positive attitude.”

Little is an active member within the Hermiston community. As a senior trooper, he attends many different community events where he demonstrates the capabilities of the Explosives Unit as well as promotes traffic safety.

He is also involved as a private citizen. As a member of the Hermiston Kiwanis Club, Little dedicates his personal time volunteering for several programs. He collects donations for Stuff the Bus, a food drive for the Backpack Elementary School Weekend Food Program. He also assists the Kiwanis Club Christmas tree fundraiser, setting up the fencing, unloading trees and chopping wood for other volunteers to burn during the tree sales. Little also volunteers with the Festival of Trees and participates in the I Love My City events by pulling weeds and cleaning trash along Highway 395.

“Wow,” said Little upon receiving the award. “I’m usuallly not speechless. There’s no place like this community. It’s an honor to live here and interact with the people.”

Outstanding Young Citizen: Giovanni Cisneros

With a 4.11 cumulative GPA, Giovanni was one of the top students in the Class of 2023. He took a rigorous course load at Hermiston High School and graduated with an Honors diploma. He also earned programs of study in Business Administration and Finance. He was recognized as the Outstanding Business Student of the Year in May 2023.

During his senior year, Gio was the human resources manager for Boomer’s, the student-run concessions stand at volleyball, basketball and wrestling. As HR manager, Gio was responsible for scheduling and training student organizations for 40-plus events. Midway through the year, he had to take on additional duties as the accountant for concessions when one of the other team members couldn’t meet their responsibilities.

Giovanni Cisneros accepts an Outstanding Young Citizen award March 20, 2024, at Hermiston’s Distinguished Service Awards banquet in the Hermiston Community Center. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

Boomer’s had more than $26,000 in sales, setting a record for the inside concessions. He and another manager added a product line of homemade pan pizzas to the menu.

One of his teachers recalled how Gio started out as a shy observer and developed into one of the best managers the school’s student businesses have had.

“His patience and joy in knowing the details of procedures and sharing that joy of precision with others made him shine,” his teacher wrote. “More impressive were the hours outside of class that he spent improving training manuals and developing tips for future managers. He truly took ownership of the business.”

He is attending college full-time online at Blue Mountain Community College in addition to working full-time at HHS as an ELL classroom assistant. Gio also tutors students who are struggling with math, particularly the upper-level classes. They state that he can explain the steps in a way that makes complex math problems seem simple.

“My job as an ELL assistant is not only fulfilling to myself, but to others, as well,” he said. “I hope to continue to give inspiration to others.”

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