Members of the Denison Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated the successes of Denison businesses over the past year Tuesday at the Chamber’s annual banquet. The event, now in its 106th year, allows members of the community the chance to recognize area businesses for their contributions.


This year’s awards recognized the contributions to local events, including the annual Memorial Day, Christmas parades, fundraisers for the Chamber and members of the board who helped during what proved to be a difficult year for the Denison Chamber.


“This is all about celebrating the hard work of our chamber members who helped make our community grow,” interim Chamber President Shelle Cassell said. “I think everyone is excited about how much more involved the Chamber can become in the community.”


This year’s ceremony saw many changes to the annual event, Cassell said. Instead of holding the banquet during the evening as it historically had, the event was a luncheon so area business owners could attend during their lunch break. The event was also moved from the Denison Country Club to Park Avenue Church of Christ.


The awards themselves were also expanded this year to include recognition for board member of the year. The business of the year award was also split into two separate awards for large and small businesses.


“The incoming chairman felt it was important to honor the contributions of the board this year,” Cassell said.


The board member of the year award was presented to Bob Taylor for his efforts in Chamber fundraisers and networking events. For the past 10 years, Taylor has organized and led the Shoot for the Chamber clay shoot, one of the Chamber’s larger fundraisers. Taylor has also been active with the Chamber’s weekly Plug In Texoma networking events, she added.


“He is engaged in the community, and brings back information and trends to the Chamber,” Cassell said.


The large business of the year award was presented to the Denison Walmart and its Store Manager Russell Wilthers. Cassell said Wilthers has attended almost every ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening the chamber has held. His store has also been active within the community and local causes, she said.


Small business of the year was award to Bratcher Funeral Home — Dignity Memorial for its ongoing efforts with Chamber-organized parades and events. Manager Mykel Litterell has also worked in revitalizing Downtown Denison Inc. this past year, Cassell added.


“It feels pretty darn good,” Litterell said, referring to the recognition from the Chamber.


Litterell and Bratcher served as judges for the Denison Christmas parade and also helped with its Memorial Day parade this year, he said.


“I think if you own a business or are involved in the community, it is important to be a part of the local Chamber,” Litterell said.


The awards ceremony was capped off with the chamber’s annual newcomer of the year award, which was presented to Chateau Ranch and Jan Dempsey. The boutique opened its doors at the corner of Main and Armstrong about 10 months ago.


Since opening, Dempsey said she has been a part of the Denison Arts Council and efforts to bring back the Denison wine festival.


“I think Denison is growing and always looking forward and progressing,” she said. “I want to be a part of that growth.”


In addition to the business awards, a special set of awards was presented to Chamber leadership who helped contribute to the successes of the chamber in the last year. In late 2016, long-time Chamber President Anna McKinney retired after nearly 40 years of service amid internal investigations into the chamber’s finances.


Chamber Board Chairman Jason Taylor gave a special recognition to Cassell, who has served as interim Chamber president since November. Taylor said Cassell was approached about serving as president during a board meeting soon after her retirement from Grayson College.


“She did things I could have never asked her to do,” he said. “I wish her the best in her retirement.”


During Tuesday’s banquet, Ken Higdon was named as the new president of the Denison Chamber. This will allow Cassell to return to retirement on Oct. 31, nearly one year after taking the helm of the Chamber.


For her part, Cassell said she planned to spend more time with her family after leaving the presidency. Cassell will once again return to her previous position as a member of the Chamber board of directors.


“When I retired from Grayson College, I was open to what fell in my lap,” she said. “The circumstances may not have been perfect, but the community, staff and board have shined.”


Similarly, Taylor honored outgoing board Chairman Elaine Burkhalter for her leadership during this period of transition.


“As she came in as board chair, things were discovered and the tribulations began,” he said, describing Burkhalter’s leadership as strong and with class.