Chamber hands out awards, hears from astronaut at annual luncheon

Tri-City HeraldMarch 27, 2013 

— More than 500 gathered Wednesday in Kennewick to hear former NASA astronaut Bonnie Dunbar speak.

She was the keynote speaker at the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting and awards luncheon at the Three Rivers Convention Center where she received the Alumnus of Distinction award.

“This is only the third time we’ve given this award,” said Lori Mattson, president of the regional chamber. “We began doing it to honor the people who have either lived here, were born and raised here, or did business here for awhile.”

“I think it works really well. It helps us find speakers for the luncheon who have a tie to the Tri-Cities ... who can talk about our community, tell local stories and talk about how they started here and may have gone out into the world but their roots are still here,” she said.

Dunbar graduated from Sunnyside High in 1967 and went on to earn degrees at the University of Washington and the University of Houston, achieving a doctorate in mechanical and biomedical engineering.

She worked as an engineer at the Rockwell International Space Division and completed five space shuttle missions from 1985-98.

She later held management and administrative positions at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Dunbar is the former president and CEO of The Museum of Flight in Seattle. She is leading a new University Science, Technology Engineering and Math Center at the University of Houston and is part of the faculty of the College of Engineering.

The chamber also honored community leaders and businesses who have contributed to the success of the Tri-Cities.

One was outgoing chamber board Chairman John Crook, owner and president of Richland-based Paragon Corporate Housing.

“He helped launch our Good Health is Good Business program last year and really put a lot of time and effort into it even though he has his own business and does a lot of traveling,” said Mattson. “The program was so successful, we’re doing it again this year.”

Other awards announced Wednesday are:

-- Ambassador of the Year for 2012: Jim Carey of Cruise Holidays in Kennewick for his enthusiasm and support of the chamber and its events.

-- The S.T.A.R. Award (for service, time, attitude and reliability): Steve Simmons of Country Gentleman Restaurant and Catering in Kennewick.

-- Impact Awards were given to two businesses — Washington River Protection Solutions and Mid-Columbia Libraries — for their tireless support of the chamber and its mission.

-- Business on a Roll Awards for showing the most growth and gains in the past year were given in three categories: 10 or fewer employees, Bouten Construction of Richland; 10 to 50 employees, Abadan of Richland; and more than 50 employees, Northwest MedStar, with a base in the Tri-Cities.

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