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Chamber honors area businesses, community leaders

October 22, 2017 GMT

You don’t want to miss this

Texas A&M University President Michael Young was the keynote speaker at Thursday night’s Harlingen Chamber of Commerce annual awards ceremony and talked about the local future of A&M in the Valley as well as the school’s impact in Texas and beyond.

But, before he dove into his speech, he presented Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell with an Aggie shirt. Boswell, a University of Texas graduate, was a good sport, accepting the gift, but turned to the crowd and flashed the Longhorn sign, much to the delight of those in attendance.

HARLINGEN — More than 300 community leaders and business people filled the Texas State Technical College Cultural Arts Center Thursday night to honor their own and look forward to another year of activities and efforts by the Chamber of Commerce.

New chamber board chairman Josh Fields took the gavel from Mike Allex and talked about the importance of the organization and how it mixes with the rest of the community to make Harlingen the special city that it is.

“A successful chamber is not just a sign of a strong business community and economy, it is the voice of the community, the business community in Washington, Austin and wherever we are,” Fields said. “That voice is extremely important.”

Fields said that strength comes from its members.

Being 900 strong, fields said the chamber is well positioned to be that voice going forward and efforts will continue to move ahead for the community.

But, the awards were the highlight of the evening.

Ambassador of the Year

The first award given was for Ambassador of the Year, which ensures the chamber is represented and welcoming at events and in the community.

Longtime ambassador and Harlingen City Commissioner Victor Leal presented the award to Angie Gonzales.

She was an ambassador for years and then returned again three years ago as an active ambassador.

She wants to make sure everyone knows they are important, Leal said.

“I want her to understand we love her very much and enjoy having her with us,” he said.

HERITAGE AWARD -

Connie De La Garza

The biggest award of the night recognizes the lifetime achievements of what presenter Tudor Uhlhorn called a special individual in the community.

“Heritage award winners demonstrate a long history of financial support and personal commitment to the community, outstanding leadership and recognition identifying them as a role model, achievements and accomplishments that have touched a broad area and tireless dedication to the community and its future,” Uhlhorn said.

He followed that with a lengthy list of accomplishments and service to the community and beyond.

De La Garza was thankful and surprised by the honor.

“Thank you so very much,” he said on the stage after receiving the award. “I have breakfast this guy four days a week, this is an absolute surprise. But I want to say to you all, I have succeeded because of the people who live in Harlingen I want to thank you all for all you have done.”

Minutes earlier, Uhlhorn called De La Garza a man of honor and integrity who has given his life to the community and service.

“He always says, service in today’s society is a must if one is to succeed in life,” Uhlhorn said.

The following are just some of De La Garza’s service and accomplishments

* At 25, he was the first Hispanic department head in the city as the tax assessor.

* He received the Texas Outstanding Tax assessor award in 1968 – youngest Hispanic to receive that award.

* Involved in creation of TSTC in 1968

* Involved in expansion of VIA

* Served on TSTC state board

* In 1998 – mayor and re-elected in 2001. Served 6 years and helped create 6,000 jobs during that time.

* Worked tirelessly, for 12 years – for the Harlingen Crossings shopping center that became a reality in 2007, where Kohl’s is located.

* Dedicated Lions Cub member with numerous state and national honors

* Texas Lions HOF in 2001.

CHAMBER SMALL BUSINESS AWARD -

Janine Marie Photography

She was obviously overwhelmed as cameras were pointed at her this time.

Photographer Janine Marie Campbell received an honor Thursday night she didn’t seek — her photography company was named the recipient for the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Award.

But, immediate past chamber board chairman Mike Allex said the award was presented to Campbell not just because of her successful business, but also her other efforts in the community.

“Because aside from owning a successful small business, this recipient is involved in a multitude of civic, charitable, spiritual, professional and inspirational organizations,” Allex said before the award was presented. “When you see this recipient out in the community, it is almost as if her business efforts are secondary to volunteer efforts.”

However, her photography is also what people know and see.

“On the business side, she has limitless creativity which makes her great in her profession,” Allex said. “She is patient, listens to the needs of her clients. Her trade is personable and her services have a great impact that will last for generations. But, at the heart of her success is a desire to give back to her community.”

Just like someone who doesn’t seek the spotlight, Campbell turned her speech toward the chamber and reminded those in the audience what it is all about.

“When I moved to this town in 2006, I very quickly found downtown Harlingen and got acquainted with the Chamber,” she said. “As a small business owner, their resource that is the chamber and the people represented there are what was the catalyst to get me where I am today.”

She also thanked her husband, Jason.

“I would not be here without this man,” she said, looking at him standing just off the stage in the front of the room. “He is the backbone. He encourages me every day to keep at it. He encouraged me to keep doing it. I share this award with you, my love. Thank you for being you.”

In 2007, Janine Marie Photography was founded as an inspiration from her grandfather.

She also has started a youth program with high school students to “Dare to be different.” She also is the current president of the Harlingen Area Educational Foundation and started Pride of America, an ongoing effort to give honor to those who have served in the military.

Director’s Award -

Carlos Cuellar

Harlingen Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Gonzales described Cuellar as a friend who is always there when needed with advice and help.

“This award goes to someone who has helped build membership, built up the community and understands how important we are to the community,” Gonzales said.

Cuellar has given 16 years to Boy Scouts and has been the chairman of VIA and Chamber.

Currently with Edwards Jones as a financial advisor, Gonzales said Cuellar always is available when needed.

“We appreciate everything you do,” Gonzales said.

Former recipients of the award have been Bill DeBrooke, Tudor Uhlhorn and Linda Burke.