A Kennewick business leader and tireless philanthropist was humbled to find himself in the spotlight Saturday as he was named 2014 Tri-Citian of the Year.
Craig Eerkes was at a loss for words after being singled out for his passion and commitment to his longtime home.
"Oh, boy ... I'm extremely humbled and honored to be a part of a very great group of people," he said while receiving the Tri-Cities' highest honor during the annual banquet at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
He was surrounded by many admirers, including loved ones who helped keep the award secret until his name was revealed before a room full of Mid-Columbia movers and shakers.
The event's keynote speaker was Sgt. Keni Thomas, an Army Ranger and Bronze Star recipient whose story was featured in Black Hawk Down.
Eerkes is president of Sun Pacific Energy, a West Canal Drive fuel company. He used to own the SunMarts until two years ago, when he sold 27 stores in Eastern Washington to Circle K Stores.
Eerkes and his wife, Marilee, live in Kennewick.
"This really should be a joint award in that she is a driving force behind a lot of this, and she just sticks me out front," Eerkes said.
His current project is working with other business leaders and community partners to explore the idea of a new Boys & Girls Clubs facility in downtown Kennewick.
"One may define Craig as somewhat reserved," said Coke Roth, a Kennewick attorney and 1987 Tri-Citian of the Year. "However, with projects of this nature that he has worked on over the years, he is not afraid to drag friends and relatives along on something he so deeply believes in."
The Tri-Citian of the Year award is given annually to a person who demonstrates "outstanding leadership and contribution to positive development, economic growth and quality of life in the Tri-Cities."
The volunteer judges had 10 nominees to consider this year.
Mary and Coke Roth said they nominated Eerkes because he "has the right stuff to be this year's recipient."
The couple said a person deserving of the title should have a commitment to leadership, as well as a hand in vocational, avocational, spiritual and community aspects of the Tri-Cities.
"This ubiquitous involvement should involve not only giving personal time until it hurts," but also soliciting and motivating others to give of human and monetary resources until they hurt, the Roths' nomination letter said.
"A Tri-Citian of the Year should be ... working madly on short-term projects as well as showing a long-term commitment to perpetual efforts," the letter said. They "oftentimes will never get any ink, air time or megabytes recognizing his or her efforts, but rather, silently serve, above self, in almost anonymous fashion."
Eerkes was the 2007 Kennewick Man of the Year, and was named to the halls of fame for the Western Petroleum Marketers of America in 2005 and the Petroleum Marketers Association of America in 2013.
His lengthy rsum lists numerous boards, organizations and causes, including: United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties and its Alexis de Tocqueville Society; the Boy Scouts; the Tri-Cities Children's Developmental Center; Tri-Cities Prep; March of Dimes; Women Helping Women; the Carson Kolzig Foundation; and numerous food banks and youth sports teams.
Eerkes also is a major supporter of the Mid-Columbia Reading Foundation and helped develop the "Read to Lead" breakfast fundraiser. He is an active member of the First Presbyterian Church in Kennewick.
Craig and Marilee Eerkes, along with son Chris, organize the annual Eerkes Memorial Golf Classic, which benefits the Boys & Girls Club and Young Life in the Tri-Cities. The tournament is a tribute to the couple's daughter, Laura, who died in a car crash at the age of 16.
Craig Eerkes has signed on as honorary co-chairman of a citizens campaign committee for the sales tax increase on the August ballot, saying businesses thrive when crime and gangs are suppressed.
"Craig understands that his good fortune only became possible, and can only be possible in the future," the Roths' letter said, "through spreading his personal and business resources throughout layers of human classes -- sometimes to the less fortunate, and sometimes just creating fun and opportunity for all."
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; email@example.com