Local businesses and individuals from all across Texoma were recognized as the best in their fields Saturday at the Best of Texoma Gala 2018. Presented by Texoma Marketing and Media Group and the Herald Democrat, Best of Texoma has been around for 16 years and recognized hundreds of local businesses from mom and pop operations to firms with hundreds of employees.

Saturday night’s event celebrated the announcement of the first place winners in more than 200 categories, with Miss Texas 2017 Margana Wood serving as master of ceremonies. More than 258,502 votes were counted to determine the winners.

“We’re honored to be here with a sold-out crowd of 750 business and community leaders and humbled to be able to help recognize their success,” Texoma Marketing and Media Group Senior Group Publisher Nate Rodriguez said Saturday night. “This event, the magazine and the contest would not be possible without the hard work of all the TMMG employees, the community members who voted and the businesses.”

Best of Texoma is a voter-driven contest where local consumers nominate the area’s best businesses in more than 200 categories and then vote on their favorites.

“We have a lot of great businesses in the community so it’s always exciting to see who the community chooses,” Rodriguez said. “The results are driven entirely by voters, so it’s a true reflection of the businesses that are standing out in their customers’ minds. All of those results, along with related content from our newsroom, are compiled into an annual magazine that we believe serves as an invaluable resource for local consumers and visitors throughout the year.”

Rodriguez said the Best of Texoma magazine should be a valuable guide for readers.

“Need to know where to eat or what to do on Friday night? Best of Texoma can tell you what the community loves,” he said. “Ultimately it’s just another way we serve our community by providing information they can’t get anywhere else.”

Rodriguez said Saturday’s gala was a chance for businesses and community leaders from across Texoma to come together and celebrate their hard work and success.

“Besides the magazine, the gala is another pillar in Best of Texoma,” Rodriguez said. “And because it is such a diverse group of individuals and businesses, it helps to unite the region and is a reminder that we are a single region and all benefit from each other’s success.”

The attendees arrived filled with anticipation to see who won in each category.

“I think it is absolutely thrilling to be nominated,” Chaplin Cherie Fry, with Heart to Heart Hospice, said. “We are so excited and proud for this moment.”

Fry said she wasn’t at last year’s event but was glad she went Saturday.

“We are having such a great time already just walking in the door,” Fry said.

The event also served as a chance to celebrate someone who exemplifies the best qualities of a local businessperson with the Annual Starr Community Award which honors Lydia Starr McPherson, the founder and first publisher of the Sherman Democrat.

This year’s Starr Award went to Gail Utter, as her efforts on behalf of mental health are the foundation for this year’s award. Utter led a group of people who came together as the Texoma Behavior Health Leadership Team to work with various nonprofits, law enforcement, court personnel, local business, hospitals and colleges to focus on three target areas, including jail diversion, access to care and destigmatization.

For Utter, providing good mental health options for those who need them is more than a cause. It is a passion that hits close to home. She has previously spoken about the devastating effects on the individual and the extended family that mental health disorder can cause. She is determined that the mental health support and delivery system must get better and be more responsive to the needs of everyone in the community.

With all of the awards going on and talk about businesses, some might forget Best of Texoma is important to the work done by the Herald Democrat.

“The contest, the magazine and the gala are a team effort and reflect the tireless work of the same team that brings you the Herald Democrat and numerous other community publications regularly,” Associate Publisher and Executive Editor Jonathan Cannon said. “Also, because it is such a successful brand of Texoma Marketing and Media Group, it helps fund our core mission of providing news and information to the community.”