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Community members honored at Othello Chamber banquet

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | March 2, 2022 1:00 AM

OTHELLO — Othello area residents gathered Friday for the Othello Chamber of Commerce’s banquet where several people were recognized for their contributions to the community.

“It was a good turnout. A really good turnout,” 2022 Chamber president Mat Garza said. “It exceeded my expectations.”

The theme for this year’s event was “Hometown Heroes.” The 2021 banquet was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the return of the in-person event drew a crowd that almost filled the tables at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church parish hall.

Master of ceremonies Chris Dorow said it was good to see a full house.

“It’s been a while,” Dorow said.

Dinner was cooked and served by Classic Grillin’ owner Tim Fought and his crew of volunteers. Brian Gentry was recognized as the Citizen of the Year and Time Out Pizza, owned by CJ and Carli Garza, as the Business of the Year at the event. Othello Police Department Sergeant Aaron Garza was named Civil Servant of the Year, and Wahitis Elementary School teacher Stephanie Garza was chosen as Teacher of the Year for kindergarten through fifth grades. Tonya Lewis received the Teacher of the Year award for grades 6-12.

Gentry and his wife Cynthia are the owners of the Brian Gentry Re/Max Northwest real estate agency in Othello. Anne Sperl, who with her husband Dave nominated Gentry for the award, said Gentry supports local projects, both for the Chamber and around the community. Sperl said she nominated him especially for his work on the city beautification committee.

Chamber officers notified each of the winners before the banquet, a process recorded and turned into a video by Abner Garza, IT director for the city of Othello. Gentry was a little shocked.

“No,” he said. “Really?”

Dorow said Time Out makes a good pizza.

“They are responsible for every one of my diet failures,” Dorow said.

The Garzas help sponsor a number of community events, from youth sports to the Othello Rodeo Association to the Chamber’s annual Christmas celebration, A Christmas Miracle on Main Street, among others. They also volunteer their time for community events.

Stephanie Garza was nominated by her former student Briceira Ramirez, who said Garza is committed to her students. She works to make school interesting and exciting for her students, and that makes her students eager to come to school and learn.

“I’m just super-honored,” Stephanie Garza said. “I love what I do.”

Lewis is a math teacher at Othello High School and has been teaching in Othello since 1991. High school principal Scott Swartz said she’s had a significant impact on the students in her classes and is committed to helping them succeed.

Lewis was notified of the award by 2023 Chamber president Thalia Lemus, one of her former students. At least four of her students are on the Chamber’s board of directors.

Aaron Garza is one of the OPD’s school resource officers – and is an OHS graduate.

“He serves the schools he attended,” OPD Chief Phil Schenck said.

Officer Garza helped revive the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program, which is returning to Othello schools this year. He’s been with the department for about 15 years and has worked patrol, as a detective and as a training officer.

”I don’t know what to say. I’m shocked,” officer Garza said. “Thank you. I don’t think that I deserve it, but thank you.”

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Wahitis Elementary teacher Stephanie Garza (right) received the K-5 Teacher of the Year award from 2022 Othello Chamber of Commerce banquet president Mat Garza (left) and 2023 president Thalia Lemus (center) during the Chamber’s annual banquet Friday.

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Othello High School teacher Tonya Lewis (right) was recognized as 6-12 Teacher of the Year at the Othello Chamber banquet Friday. The award was presented by 2022 Chamber president Mat Garza (left) and 2023 president Thalia Lemus (center).

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Othello Police Department Sergeant Aaron Garza (left) was recognized as the Civil Servant of the Year during the Othello Chamber of Commerce banquet Friday. Current Othello Chamber president Mat Garza (center) and 2023 president Thalia Lemus (right) presented the award.

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

CJ and Carli Garza (center), owners of Time Out Pizza in Othello, received the Business of the Year award at the Othello Chamber of Commerce banquet Friday. The award was presented by 2022 Chamber president Mat Garza (left) and 2023 president Thalia Lemus (right).

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Othello Citizen of the Year Brian Gentry (right) displays his award, presented by 2022 Chamber president Mat Garza (left) and 2023 president Thalia Lemus (center), during the annual Chamber banquet Friday.

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