The Early Chamber carried well its theme, “Catch the Spirit,” at its annual awards banquet Tuesday.

But the chamber’s secondary theme might have been “down to business.” Approximately 250 members and guests gathered for the grilled pork chop dinner, casual in some respects, but fast-paced in its awards presentations.

Folks were fed, awards presented and thank-you’s were said in under two hours. And the Early Chamber board worked in a little fun and fund-raising with a door prize raffle too.

Community awards presented Tuesday night included Heartland Mall, business of the year, represented by Charlotte Parrack; Billie Dickerson, citizen of the year; and Early High School Spanish teacher Judith Ozuna, teacher of the year.

Parrack, who was honored as an individual as Early’s citizen of the year and Early Chamber member of the year in 2005, accepted the business award on behalf of the mall she manages with a simple “Thank you!”

“This business is very unselfish in its support of the events of Early and the Early Chamber,” Rick Kissko of American State Bank, the 2006 honoree, in making the presentation. He noted that the mall routinely hosts community events such as the Texas Pecan Festival.

Billie Dickerson, owner of Peddler's at Heartland Mall, was presented the citizen of the year award by the 2006 recipient, Nancy King.

“This award is given based on the unselfish things that they do, and this year’s recipient is an incredible example for a small business owner,” King said. “Even though her husband passed away shortly after the business opened, she has carried on and is a proud supporter of Early. She never has a complaint on anything or a negative comment about anything or anyone, and she works tirelessly behind the scenes.” Dickerson was especially praised for her mentoring work in the new Junior Ambassador program of the Early Chamber.

Ozuna was named teacher of the year in the annual presentation made by outgoing chamber President Ronda Baugus, assisted by Early Superintendent Brett Koch. The other three nominees for the award were Nancy Whiteley, primary school; Jayne Jones, elementary school; and Amy Reagan, middle school.

Ozuna has been teaching for nine years, Baugus said, the last five years in the Early Independent School District in high school Spanish. She received her bachelor of science degree from Howard Payne University, and is active in the Pecan Valley Kiwanis Club, having been named its 2005 Lay Kiwanian of the Year and honored for her work as Key Club sponsor.

“Every one of these teachers is worthy of this honor,” Baugus said.

The chamber presented three awards for service to the organization. Doug Scott, the chamber’s incoming president, was named member of the year. The award was presented by Parrack.

“He’s given not only of his time, but also of his ideas, enthusiasm and finances,” Parrack said.

Ralph Watts was named ambassador of the year, presented by last year’s honoree Evelyn Hutchings.

“He’s not only represented the chamber of commerce, but also the community and his business with devotion,” Hutchings said. “It’s not gone unnoticed.”

Stephen Hopkins, an Early High School graduate now attending the University of Texas at Austin, was named the first junior ambassador of the year, announced by Dickerson.

“In order to qualify for this honor, the honoree had to garner a certain amount of points,” Dickerson said. “Our thanks to Stephen for setting the bar to achieve this award so high.”

In her closing remarks, Baugus reflected on the banquet’s theme, “Catch the Spirit,” and said she is reminded of the school cheer, “We’ve got spirit, yes we do; we’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you?”

“We’re proud of the spirit we have in Early,” Baugus said. “Everyone here has caught the spirit, the spirit of Early and the accomplishments it has made. If it’s in your heart, it’s in your spirit.”