Tom Yount said it was Jerry Holloway, a Washington River Protection Solutions official, who called Wednesday night to encourage Yount to attend Thursday's Tri-City Crystal Apple Awards.
But Holloway didn't mention it was so Yount and a team of others could be honored with this year's Special Achievement Award for fostering science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education in the Mid-Columbia.
"It didn't leave me much time to prepare any comments," Yount, chairman of the Washington State STEM Education Foundation, said after the ceremony.
The foundation received the award along with the Pasco, Kennewick and Richland school districts, Washington State University Tri-Cities, Columbia Basin College and the staff and students of Delta High School, the Tri-Cities' STEM high school. It's the first time a team has received the annual award.
Bruce Hawkins, superintendent of Educational Service District 123, said the team selection was made because of the numerous contributions required to make Delta High possible. The school will graduate its first class this spring. That included the districts and their staff making the school work, the donors who supported it and the students who were willing to try a new way of learning.
The 15th annual awards ceremony also honored 13 teachers from the area. Each winner received a prize package as well as an unrestricted cash award of $1,000.
District superintendents praised their district's winners, from noting their innovation in teaching to the compassion they show their students. Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill had to have tissues handy as she read testimonials from students of her district's two winners.
"I believe we don't appreciate our teachers enough," she said.
Many teachers knew they won the award weeks before the ceremony, but many said they were still shocked. Irene Alvarado, a first-grade teacher at Kiona-Benton City Elementary School, said she was notified while her students were at recess one day.
"I was so surprised I cried," she told the Herald.
Along with Alvarado, this year's winners include:
Second-grade teacher Cynthia "Cindi" Glazier and kindergarten teacher Holly Hamilton, both of Columbia Elementary School; STEM team members Mike Davis, Elaine Hagen, Beth Kirk and Diana Chanthavisouk of Finley Elementary School; special education teacher Carol Webster-Claphan of Westgate Elementary School; kindergarten teacher Shelley Hawk of Mesa Elementary School; fourth-grade teacher Judy Church of Rowena Chess Elementary School; sophomore science and biology teacher Raquel Martinez of Pasco High School; fifth-grade Highly Capable teacher Deborah Madison of Lewis & Clark Elementary School and government and leadership teacher Paul Mayer of Hanford High School.