SUNNYSIDE — Sitting among the brightly decorated tables with flowers and other spring delights were 15 unwitting recipients of the Spirit of Sunnyside Awards this past Saturday.

The person who seemed most surprised by the attention given her when named the Educator of the Year was “Miss Mary” Schlenker, director of United Methodist Preschool.

“I thought I was here for someone else!” she exclaimed in shock as she rose from her seat among the masses.

“I’m speechless!” she exclaimed on stage, eliciting the laughter of those who know her as a loquacious individual with seemingly boundless energy.

“The community made the preschool what it is,” Schlenker stated before the individual whom she thought she was supporting, Audrina Campos, was named Youth of the Year.

The youngster is known for her love of pageants, but she was recognized for her willingness to support the community.

“She’s always willing to step in and help,” Mayor Julia Hart said, reading from the nomination form.

There were several other deserving award winners named before teacher and her former student.

Ray Castro-Escobar was named Volunteer of the Year due to his willingness to “… put other people’s needs before his own.

“He participates in awareness advocacy for domestic abuse victims,” Hart said, noting he raised more than $900 earlier in the day via Lower Valley Crisis and Support Services’ annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event.

The Agricultural Person of the Year has only served as the high school’s ag teacher a couple of years, but is making an impact already, Hart said.

That person, Jared Ziegler, was quick to recite the FFA creed, stating the words hold true as a reminder “… of the values instilled in agriculture and our community.”

Varietal Beer Co. was named Business of the Year, and the award was accepted by one of its partners, Chad Roberts.

The company could have been located elsewhere, but the partners believed in establishing a presence in Sunnyside.

“It’s a welcoming and powerful place to be,” he said.

The Public Employee of the Month is Janeth Rangel, who serves as the city’s Public Works administrative assistant and deputy city clerk.

“Janeth consistently finds ways to help her coworkers, no matter how big her workload is,” Hart read from the nomination.

Cynthia Guajardo, the Business Person of the Year, was unable to attend.

The local Walmart manager was recognized for supporting community events sponsored by the Sunnyside Police Department, providing financial support, as well as volunteers.

The Beautification Award winner was Llanes Boutique, which is located in the 400 block of South Sixth Street.

Hart said the owners transformed what was formerly Audel’s Fashion and Music, and have “added a little sparkle to our town.”

Recognized for their heroism were Sunnyside Police officers Melissa Rivas-Heeren and Nathan Porter, as well as Sgt. Oliver Hernandez.

Rivas-Heeren and Porter have been recognized by other organizations for saving a woman who was shot last July.

Porter and Hernandez saved four people in a house fire on June 27, 2018, Hart said.

Accepting the Legacy Award on behalf of his parents, Frank and Charlot, was Tim Beard.

The Beard family is known throughout the rodeo circles and region for its rodeo stock.

Tina Peabody was recognized for her work for the local Special Olympics as the Non-profit of the Year.

She has been coaching the athletes involved in the program 28 years.

The Healthcare Person of the Year was Debra Roe-Johnson of Heartlinks Hospice and Palliative Care.

With 40 years in nursing, she started working for the hospice in 1990 and she was named clinical director in 2005.

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