Chamber hands out the hardware at annual awards banquet

More than 100 people gathered Thursday evening in the Town and Country Club to recognize and honor several Miles City residents for their many contributions to the community.

The annual Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce Banquet and presentation of the 2016 Citizen of the Year Awards acknowledges the service the recipients rendered in the community with 70 percent for service in 2016 and 30 percent for service in previous years.

Master of ceremonies for the evening was John Laney, executive director of the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Laney opened the program by speaking about people who dream. “The people we are honoring tonight dream about a better life, a better Miles City and we need those types of people,” said Laney. “They are working to accomplish a goal. It’s not just important to keep dreaming. We should encourage the dreamers.”

Laney then introduced Nate Adams of Billings, the Montana field representative for Senator Steve Daines. who presented a special award that is listed in the Congressional Record of Honor to Kelly and Cindy Reid.

The Reids have volunteered their time and energy to numerous activities in Miles City. Cindy co-founded the local Wake Up and Lace Up nonprofit organization with the late Rosa Neese to provide financial assistance for eastern Montana residents who find themselves with unexpected expenses due to serious medical conditions. She also serves on the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, coaches many girls’ sports and has been a church pianist at Sacred Heart Church since 2005.

Kelly has been a Wake Up and Lace Up Board member since 2011. He has been involved in several different businesses for the past 34 years. In 1995, he formed Cowtown Promotions with several other local businessmen and through the years the group has put together several concerts bringing artists such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and more to Miles City. He is one of the original organizers of Miles City Little Guy Football and has participated for 28 years as a coach, board member and referee. In 2008 he was inducted into the Little Guy Football Hall of Fame. In 1994, he and his brother, Rick, co-founded the Montana North Dakota All Star Football Game. The Badlands Bowl was listed by “USA Today” as the No. 1 Montana Community Event in 1998 and was chosen by the Knights of Columbus as their No. 7 KC sponsored event in the U.S. in 1998. 

The Reids accepted the award and Cindy said that things happen because of an army of people behind the planners. “That’s what makes Miles City such a wonderful place to live,” she added. “It’s an honor to be up here.”

Laney then presented the local Citizens of the Year awards. The chamber added a new category this year, called the Meritorious Achievement Award to honor people who go the extra mile in their specific jobs. 

“We have struggled for years about what to do for people who do that little extra something that sets them apart from the rest, but it is done in the capacity of their job,” said Laney. “We gave an award to Mike Schult at last year’s Ag Banquet for all the extra work he put in on the 4-H pavilion. This is such a great project for our community and it was our way of saying thank you.”

He added: “We have another couple who do so much more than what they are compensated for at their place of employment. We have a facility in our community that draws thousands to town yearly. It is a place where we can celebrate our history and those who made it. It is a pillar in Montana tourism. The place I am speaking of is The Range Riders Museum and the couple is, of course, Gary and Bunny Miller. These two do so much to keep the museum what it is. They keep what was there going while finding time to make the place better. We appreciate what you do for the museum and for Miles City.”

The couple accepted the award and Bunny said: “We want to thank the chamber and the community. We have a tremendous board at the museum and we have RSVP volunteers and people in the community who come and help because they want to. Thank you all.”

Laney said that the Business of the Year Award is presented to any company in any business field that has shown significant contributions to, or outstanding success in, their industry.

This award was presented to a local business that was voted Retailer of the Year in both 2010 and 2015 by the Montana Lottery and the number one lottery retailer in Montana for six straight years.

“In 2007 Frank Ngo purchased the Short Stop and has never looked back,” said Laney. “Well, he may have looked back when a faulty tank caused a major fuel spill that put him in a bad business place. Unlike most, Frank didn’t run from this misfortune. Frank fought the fight and won, all while he was in the process of buying another gas station, Short Stop 2. Since that incident, Frank has purchased a third station, Frank’s Quick Stop, for three locally owned stations and a work force of almost 20 full-time employees. These are just the highlights of why we are so excited to introduce Frank and Xuan Hong Ngo, owners of this year’s business of the year, The Short Stop.” 

In accepting his award, Frank said: “Thank you. I’m honored. Ten years ago we moved to Miles City. I packed my wife and kids and the years went by and we worked and we’ve received much local support. Thank you.” 

In presenting the award for Individual of the Year, Laney said the definition for the award was any individual, not necessarily in an ownership capacity, who has made significant contributions to, or outstanding success in, their profession or field.

“This is an interesting category because it is so wide open in scope,” said Laney. “This year’s individual is ahead of his time in the field he is in. He is a driver in the sense that he directs a group of people with no authority or funding. He keeps them to a time schedule and is also able to commit them to a time schedule. He brings the public and private sector together and creates a sense of harmony and a sense of urgency, all at the same time, and somehow gets things done. He helped with a water project, a sewer project, brought the powers to the table on zoning and planning, he pushed the marketing of the jail project and is currently chairing the West End Improvement Project that will return part of the Tongue River Herd to Miles City.” 

Laney presented the Individual of the Year Award to Dr. Lew Vadheim, who accepted saying: “It’s always puzzled me why people come to our meetings. I feel like I’m being Tom Sayer. I go to watch and people do the work. We came to Miles City 40 years ago. My wife was from Miles City. We said we’d give it a year, and then two, and then we had kids and they went to school, and we’re still here. We’re here because of you; because you’re awesome.”

Laney explained that the Volunteer of the Year Award is presented to any individual who has made a significant non-compensated contribution to an organization or group in the Miles City trade area. 

When presenting the award to Karl Drga, Laney said Drga has put in countless hours helping the youth of our community. He has been involved with the Little Guy Football Program for well over 10 years at every level from referee, ad salesman, banquet organizer and this year as chairman, which means he does all the above and then some.

“His work with our youth doesn’t stop there,” said Laney. “He is actively involved with 4-H, FFA, the Miles City Education Foundation and Sacred Heart School. He doesn’t limit himself to volunteering for kids. He is also on The Bucking Horse Sale Board of Governors and the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce Ag Council.”

In accepting his award, Drga also thanked his wife, Ashli, saying: “She’s right there beside me. There are way more deserving people out there than I am, but thank you.”

Laney defined the Senior Volunteer of the Year Award recipient as being any retired person who has made significant contributions to a business, profession or organization in the Miles City trade area.

In presenting the award to Delores Lathrop, Laney said: “Since joining RSVP (Retired and Seniors Volunteer Program) in 2001, this year’s recipient has volunteered at 19 different locations in Miles City. She has volunteered at six locations in 2016. Some of the many places include the Holy Rosary Healthcare Gift Shop, COPS, the Range Riders Museum, the WaterWorks Art Museum and Miles City Youth Baseball games — all of this with a smile on her face.”

As she accepted her award, Lathrop said: “I do do a lot of volunteering and I love every bit of it. Thank you for this award. I’m very excited and thankful to have this.”

Finally, Laney said the award committee felt that there was a local group worthy of receiving the 2016 Harvey Wolke Award. He explained that this award is not given annually, but instead is presented only when an individual or group is cited for outstanding community betterment, civic vision and the ability to motivate and guide the community in these efforts.

“This year’s recipient started out as a group of guys getting together for lunch on Wednesdays and has grown into an organization that must have meetings to keep track of what all they are doing in town,” said Laney. “The group has invested more than $240,000 into improving our community, including dugouts, a golf course and their latest project, Ryno’s Bandshell constructed in Riverside Park in memory of founding member Ryan Watts. Respectfully know as the “Black License Plate Guys,” we are proud to present the Harvey Wolke Award to Milestown Community Improvement, Inc.”

Several members of the group were present at the banquet and came up to receive their award from Laney. 

In accepting the award, the group’s spokesperson Brandon Janshen, said: “We appreciate this award. Thank you very much.” He added that the group is planning more projects in the future.

Following the presentations, Laney ended the program by saying: “What gets done in this community is amazing. Remember, we’re what makes our community, so let’s make it even better that it is now.”