ESSEX, Mo. - The Essex Area Development organization believes in giving credit where credit is due. They did just that at the recent EAD annual awards banquet.
Each year, the rural Stoddard County community honors those who work toward the betterment of the community or whose efforts have been influential to the local residents. Individuals, employees, an educator and others are recognized for their contributions within the city of Essex.
One of the most anticipated awards goes each year to an individual who continually supports the city through volunteerism and community service. This year's recipient of the Community Service Award was Merle Taylor, who was noted for being one of Essex and Richland Schools' "greatest and most vocal supporters."
Taylor, it was noted, was a Dexter Bearcat in her youth, but became and Essex Pirate and eventually a "full-fledged" Richland Rebel.
She has been a supporter of Richland Schools, the Essex United Methodist Church and other churches in the community, contributing both monetarily and through countless hours of hands-on "taking care of business." She is credited with spearheading building and grounds efforts at the Methodist Church and with efforts to maintain cemetery grounds in the area as well.
"If this were the Academy Awards," said EAD's Karen Galloway in making the presentation, "Merle would be the perfect candidate for a Lifetime Achievement Award."
The Small Business Award was presented to Tina Williamson, owner and operator of Head 2 Toe in Essex. Williamson was raised in Essex and now owns the salon which operates on Main Street downtown.
"We're proud that Tina chose to open her business in the town in which she was raised," Galloway said in presenting the award.
Lifelong Essex resident, Garry Hux, was selected as the Employee of the Year Award recipient. Hux was nominated by J.P. Ross Cotton Company,, where he has worked for the past 24 years.
Cited as an "extremely dedicated and conscientious employee," Hux was noted for working toward the betterment of the company throughout his tenure there.
"Great strides have been made under Garry's supervision," noted Mark Kelley who made the nomination. "He has completely redesigned and rebuilt the ginning operation going from ginning 3,000 bales of cotton to nearly 40,000 bales per year. He has also been a driving force in tripling the fertilizer portion of the business."
The Agribusiness Award went to Kenneth and Marsha Keller of Keller Farms. Both Kellers are Richland graduates, as are their three daughters.
"Kenneth and Marsha are continually very supportive of our schools and our community," Galloway noted in making the presentation to the couple.
The Kellers have consistently volunteered their time and talents to the Essex United Methodist Church where Kenneth has served as treasurer for many years and Marsha teaches Sunday School classes.
"Essex can be proud of the Keller family," Galloway noted.
Larry Gisi, veteran teacher at Richland Schools, was unable to attend the banquet, but was selected to receive the Educator of the Year Award. Members of Olive Branch General Baptist Church made the bid for Gisi, stating, "Larry has worked for the Richland R-1 Schools as a math teacher for over 45 years. He has a true love for the school, the students and the community of Essex."
Gisi currently works part-time for the district, and was credited with remaining "an integral part of the students' math education."
Students at Richland have consistently scored among the highest in Southeast Missouri on math testing, the nomination stated, largely in part to Gisi's techniques in the classroom.
The EAD also grants a Volunteerism Senior Service Award at their annual event. This year, Wayne and Glenda Tumbleson were selected as recipients. The couple moved to Essex eight years ago, having had ties to the community since the 1960s.
The two have served in several capacities within the Essex Baptist Church, Glenda as a music director and Wayne as Missions Chairman and grounds volunteer.
In 2011, the Tumblesons were instrumental in securing an organization called Campers on a Mission to visit Essex and make repairs to the home of a senior citizen. Through the influence of the Tumblesons, the group will be returning to the area this year to continue their work.
Sandy Kildow was the recipient of the Golden Heart Award.
"Sandy is always willing to help where there is a project to be done or someone is in need of a helping hand," Galloway noted. "She truly cares about the community and the people in it."
The Golden Heart Award is extended to a person who goes above and beyond in seeing about the needs of others.
"We could not think of a better candidate for this award than Sandy Kildow," her nomination read.
The Youth Services Award was presented to Richard Forshee, who is a member of the Harvest Assembly Youth Group and is involved in a number of extra-curricular activities at Richland Schools.
"Richard can be seen helping around the church - from carrying tables and chairs to helping with construction projects," it was noted during his presentation.
Forshee is also credited for his work through the SEMO Food Bank, and with having a ready smile, always willing to lend a hand.
Dawsey Horton, a Richland baseball player and member of Beta Club, also received the Youth Services Award.
He too is involved with the youth group at Harvest Assembly of God Church and has worked as well with the women's mission yard sale and the SEMO Food Bank.
"Dawsey has a tender heart," Galloway said, "and we're glad he is part of our community."
Two graduating seniors were awarded EAD Scholarships at the awards banquet. Brandon DeJournett and Paige McCormick were the EAD Committee's selections for this year's grants. Each received a $500 college scholarship.
Essex Area Development, Inc. operates on the motto, "Enriched from the Past, Awakening the Present and Designing the Future."