Danny Hawkes named Citizen of the year

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A man who has spent most of his life serving his community and his country has been named the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: The Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce honored Danny Hawkes, center, as its Citizen of the year. Also pictured is Anna Duran, president of the chamber, left, and Rhona Baca Espinoza, executive director, right.

During Saturday’s annual chamber gala, Danny Hawkes, who, in November, retired after serving 15 years as magistrate in Belen, was visibly surprised when gala emcee Ronnie Torres introduced him as the chamber’s citizen of the year.

“What is a leader? To me a true leader is someone who some might call a hero, is someone with strong character, integrity, with a relentless persona — someone who people turn to for guidance and to find answers to everyday problems …,” Torres said of Hawkes. “(He’s) a person with the integrity to make decisions on behalf of others, and be fair knowing that their lives could be affected so deeply.”

Along with serving as a judge, Hawkes served as a police officer for 21 years, including as sheriff of Valencia County, was a Los Lunas Board of Education member as well as serving with the New Mexico Air National Guard. During his time with the military, he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“From protecting the community to serving our country, this man has proven to step up, and to strengthen and improve the quality of life for the people of Valencia County,” Torres said. “He has truly served our city, county, state and our community. He embodies the definition of a true leader.”

After making his way up to the stage, Hawkes said he was grateful for the honor, joking that he held the entire audience in contempt for keeping the award secret from him.

“My motto has always been to improve the quality of life for the people of Valencia County,” Hawkes said. “I love Valencia County. I’ve always wished to do things for Valencia County.

“I love my family, I have 10 kids and my wife, Mary Alice, has always been my rock,” he said. “I thank you all very, very much from the bottom of my heart and I will continue to serve Valencia County as long as I live. I’m honored to be from Valencia County … I’ve been able to meet so many good people.”

The chamber named the Blue Star Mothers of Valencia its Service Club or Volunteer Group of the Year. While the national organization was formed in 1942, when a group of 300 mothers of service men met and decided to establish a permanent organization, a local group was organized in 2007 by a small group of mothers whose sons were fighting in Iraq.

The Valencia County chapter is the third largest of six chapters in the state. One of their most important activities is to show their appreciation to military men and women stationed overseas by sending care packages and cards of encouragement.

“Members of Blue Star Mothers are mothers, grandmothers, foster and adoptive mothers, step-mothers and legal guardians of sons and daughters who are currently serving or who have honorably served in the United States Armed Forces,” Torres said when announcing the award. “Whenever our military men and women head overseas, Blue Star Mothers are there, and they’re there to shower them with love when they return.”

Barbara Carlberg, president of the Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County, said the local organization is “truly honored” to receive the recognition, but reminded the audience that they couldn’t do what they do without the support of Valencia County residents and businesses.

“Blue Star mothers are passionate about what they do to assist our military heroes. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is the commitment and the integrity of those brave warriors that should be honored and cannot be forgotten,” Carlberg said. “It is these honorable men and women in uniform who stand between us and those who would take away our freedom. Can you imagine the resolve it takes for these men and women to face that every day?”

Carlberg said citizens can’t just be the beneficiaries of their bravery, but stewards of their dedication and sacrifice.

The Blue Star Mothers of Valencia County will be holding a donation drive for care packages for troops overseas from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15, at Walmart in Los Lunas. For more information about the organization or to add a name of a serviceman or woman, call Barbara Carlberg at 865-5670.

Wells Fargo was presented the Amigo Award, which is given to a business recognized throughout the state and nation as presenting a positive, friendly image of the city of Belen and Valencia County.

Torres said while the award is not necessarily given each year, but the chamber’s board of directors felt that Wells Fargo has been an outstanding representative of the area for many years.

Jim Foley, the bank’s former president, kept his acceptance speech short and sweet.

“I want to thank the chamber for this recognition,” Foley said. “I express thanks on behalf of Wells Fargo Bank.”

The Infinity Award, given to a business which has continued as a viable, productive part of the economic vitality of the Belen community, was presented to Craig Independent Tire Co., Inc., which was founded by John L. Craig 33 years ago.

“The company’s name was chosen to project an image of choice,” Torres said. “John Craig Sr. was always independent in his choice of tires for his customers. He was adamant about choosing the best product for his customers at a fair and honest price.”

Torres said Craig expanded his business in 1995, opening a small store in Los Lunas. In the meantime, the Belen store needed its own expansion, so a new building was constructed in 1995 on N.M. 314. The Los Lunas operation quickly outgrew its location, and in 1999, the Craigs constructed a new and larger store in Peralta.

Throughout the years, Craig Tire has maintained staff of about 30 to 40 employees. Throughout the years, the entire Craig family has had a hand in operating the business, including John Sr.’s wife, Carolyn, who helped manage the office personnel; their daughter, Jewel, who worked in the office while growing up; John R. Craig, the couple’s oldest son, who manages and is the president of the corporation; and Cory, the youngest, who recently joined the staff to help with the day-to-day operations.

John Sr. died in February 2007, and John Jr. was thrust into the position of running both stores, both of which have continued to grow despite the troubled economy.

“I’m honored and grateful to accept this award tonight,” said the company’s president, John Craig Jr. “We, as a family and company, are proud to be part of this community for the past 33 years.

“As we receive this award, we just want to say that we will always be an active and positive part of this community, and we will keep building and growing to help this community build and grow,” Craig said. “We always look forward to seeing you at Craig Tire and will help anytime we can. Without you in this community, we would not be where we are today, and we thank you very much.”

The Member of the Year award was given to BNSF, the second largest business in Valencia County.

Torres listed the seven criteria for the award as having outside recognition, a small or large business, stability of the business, improvement to the business, community involvement, customer service and inspiration to others.

“This business has helped our community in so many ways,” Torres said. “When we needed a new fire truck, they stepped up and gave us half of the money. They wanted to make sure we had the proper equipment to take care of our community.”

Torres reminded the audience that BNSF gave the land for the Belen Harvey House Museum, which is one of the few Harvey Houses in the country that is still open.

Steve Curtwright, southwest district manager for BNSF, thanked the chamber for the award.

“We have a long history here,” Curtwright said. “The railroad has been here for 100 years, and I just want to let you know that we’ll continue to support the community. We’re proud to be part of the Belen community.”

The chamber also installed its new board of directors, including Anna Duran, president; Tom Greer, vice president; Carl Gallegos, second vice president, Carmie Carrejo, treasurer; and Jennifer Hise, past president.

The board members include Pete Armstrong, Danielle Duran, Jay Gastellum, Stephanie Kozemchak, Robert Noblin, Jim Rende, Roderick Storey, Terri Young and Angie Zamora.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.