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Awards banquet draws biggest crowd ever

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Tom Lathen and wife Kathy express joyful surprise when he was announced as the recipient of the business person of the year award.

"This is a good community. We're not perfect, but we strive to be better."

That sentiment, made by health care person of the year Sandra Linde, was reflected often during a sold-out Spirit of Sunnyside Awards Banquet held this past Saturday night.

The event, organized by the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, was held in the Johnson Concentrate building at 310 E. Edison Ave., and drew a record 257 participants.

Another award presented during the Hawaiian-themed event was volunteer of the year, presented to Tony and Brenda Veiga for their work with the Yakima Valley Dairy Women and the Miss Sunnyside programs.

"Sunnyside has been good to us and we want to give back to the community," Brenda Veiga said in appreciation for the award.

The awards were surprises to all the recipients, and that at times brought emotions to the surface.

That was the case for Paula McCracken, a Harrison Middle School math teacher, who received the educator of the year award for work both in the classroom and with the Sunnyside Gang Reduction Initiative group.

"I do it for my kids," said a tearful McCracken, while praising the support of staff and administration at the school.

Sunnyside Community Hospital's Tom Lathen was honored as the city's business person of the year for his work as a physician recruiter for the hospital, his community involvement and his work with Rotaplast.

"I'm proud to say I'm from Sunnyside," Lathen said upon receiving the award.

Other awards presented Saturday night included Fashion Corner for its customer service and special efforts it makes for high school proms in the Yakima Valley.

Karen Erickson and Melange earned the beautification award for work done on the store's site near the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Yakima Valley Highway. In accepting the award, Erickson said more improvements are planned in the future on the land around her store.

The public official/employee of the year award was presented to Jay Hester with the Port of Sunnyside for his work with the port towards economic development and for his efforts as president of the Daybreak Rotary and as a member of the local car club.

A former Miss Sunnyside, Joyanna Bardell, received the youth award for mentoring middle school girls and her activities with the homeless shelter, a harvest party for senior citizens and a blood drive. The SHS senior did all of that while at the same time maintaining an A average in school.

The pioneer award was presented to Keith Dorsey. In making the presentation Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci praised Dorsey for his work on behalf of the valley.

"Even now he still does almost all of the work on the Outlook vineyard by himself," Restucci said of Dorsey, who was born in Outlook in 1924.

Dorsey was also praised for his efforts on behalf of the First Christian Church in Sunnyside, as well as being a former PTA president for Outlook Elementary School.

Dorsey, Restucci noted, has been involved in the Sunnyside Pioneer Association and serves on the executive committee of the local Republican club.

Dorsey also received high praise for his dedication to scouting, including 20 years as a scout master. He also served as the district's delegate on the Grand Columbia Council for scouting.

The awards ceremony included a new honor for 2011, hero of the year. The honor was presented to Severiano "Chico" Rodriguez for his many years as a police officer with the Sunnyside Police Department.

Jim Rivard, Rodriguez's sergeant for many years, accepted the award for him since he was absent. He recalled how children in the school hallways would run to Rodriguez and hug him.

In comments made before the presentation, Restucci said Rodriguez is "a hero to many kids and adults." The mayor added, "He brings a positive spirit to our community."

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