• 2016 Chamber Awards

  • Member Awards 2016


    NEW AND GROWING BUSINESS: The Chamber is always excited to welcome new businesses as they invest in our community adding needed products and services for our residents and visitors. This award if for a member that has been in business less than 5 years

    This year’s Rising Star is a wireless internet service provider, who also provides network design, consulting for e-business needs, web hosting and email hosting as well as VoIP phone service. Operating as a family business, not a marketable investment, this company continually upgrades technology to provide its customers with the latest in communications services. Fiber optic technology is being deployed in areas to bring higher speed Internet access in all service areas. They are also upgrading their wireless network to provide higher speeds. This team combines efficient technology with professional, pleasant customer service.

    They have helped numerous small businesses improve their efficiency and bottom line with upgraded equipment and personal, customized technology plans and service. Technicians give customers their cell phone numbers and are on call to answer technology questions or help problem solve at any hour day or night. In addition to network improvements and offering communication services to Stephenville and the surrounding communities, this family owned company is quick to support events, fundraisers, projects, and other needs within the community. Whether it’s a donation to a community group or providing labor for a community event, they believe in local involvement.

    Their Vice President serves as a Stephenville Chamber Ambassador and was recently elected to the Stephenville Economic Development Foundation intern board. He is also active in the Stephenville Lions Club, serving as an officer for several years, and heads up the EyeSight program that provides eye exams in local schools to detect eye problems early. He is also a graduate of the Leadership Stephenville program and serves on the Communication Day program committee.


    SMALL BUSINESS CATEGORY: Strong communities require strong businesses and small businesses comprise the vast majority (over 85%) of our membership.  Shining Spur nominees must have no more than 50 employees, and have been a member at least 5 years.

    This year’s Shining Spur has experienced phenomenal year growth in the past year with the addition of delivery service and the opening of a Kids Zone. One of the largest areas of growth they have experienced is their new community wide delivery service. This new concept has taken on a major role in their business enabling them to offer the same service customers would receive in-house right to their front door or business front. They are constantly looking for ways to expand their business and make their product easier for customers to attain. This business is more than a business to the owners. It is a family and being a family includes every member to them, both young and old. In the spirit of family, the owners have put together a Kids Zone on Friday evenings. Kids Zone started as a small thought and has grown into a Friday night event hosted weekly. Families can come in and bring their kiddos to enjoy oversized bounce house, activities, games and treats as well as music for the kids to enjoy. It is a place where kids can truly be kids and enjoy one another while their parents have a relaxed dinner.

    They are constantly changing to fit the needs of not only Stephenville, but of Tarleton as well. Their new expanded patio allows numbers of guests up to 100 to enjoy the menu selection, Texas weather and refreshing open air. The patio previously offered seating for a maximum of 25 people. This expanded area includes 2 fireplaces, heaters and covered sides to allow customers to have the outdoor experience year round and not just in the warmer months. Every menu item they offer is an item that was researched, tested and crafted with love for the customer in mind. They also offer the largest indoor events venue in Stephenville. This banquet facility has been serving Stephenville for over 15 years to accommodate events that span from birthdays to wedding to city events and community fundraisers.



    INDUSTRY/LARGE BUSINESS/CORPORATE – OVER 50 EMPLOYEES: Our large employers provide more than just jobs and a positive economic impact, they also add to the quality of life we all enjoy.

    Our Blazing Boot Award winner is setting the standard for 21st Century education. The iChampion Academy and digital learning initiatives have propelled this local school district into the edtech limelight. Every student in grades K-8 has daily access to technology, and grades 9-12 will have access this coming year. They are not only providing the highest quality digital instruction to our students, but they are also training teachers in surrounding districts and partnering with Tarleton to expand the iChampion Academy in 2017. These efforts are being recognized on a state and national level. Staff member Brianna Hodges was recently named the TCEA Instructional Technology Specialist of the Year and is a featured presenter at national education conferences.

    The district has created new positions and career opportunities for its employees and is preparing our students for 21st century careers. With digital experience under their belts, Stephenville students will be better prepared to enter the workforce and succeed in their post-secondary educational endeavors. According to the nomination:  Matt Underwood and his staff are integral to the growth of our community, and our superintendent is working tirelessly to be both a responsible steward and energetic ambassador for the district. He and his administrators have open-door policies and are daily building the relationships necessary to create the best educational setting for our students.

    As a community, we are only as strong as our next generation of leaders. SISD is striving to assure us the brightest possible future.

  • Ambassador Awards 2016


    Shelley Gilliland was honored as recipient of the 2016 Beulah Brown award, the most coveted recognition an Ambassador can receive. This award was established in 1997 in honor of Mrs. Brown, who served on the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce for 11 years and was a charter member of the Ambassador Club. She was a leader in the community and referred to as the “woman with a heart of gold”. In order to be nominated for this annual award, an Ambassador must be active in Ambassador and Chamber activities, exhibit community leadership, be a good citizen, and promote Stephenville and Erath County. Nominees are voted on by the Ambassador organization and the honoree announced at the annual Chamber Banquet.

    Shelley Gilliland began her very active Ambassador membership in 2013 and hasn’t slowed down since. Shelley chairs the Banquet Decorations Committee and serves on the New Ambassador Mentor Committee.  She volunteers her time for all Chamber events, plus the Cowboy Capital PRCA Rodeo, the Ability Experience, and the Diamond C Jubilee.  Shelley is active in our community as well and organizes the Erath County Relay for Life and the BBQ, Bands and Bottle Rockets on the Bosque celebration for Independence Day.

    Shelley graduated from Stephenville High School and earned a Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness from Tarleton State University.  Shelley and her husband, Lance, enjoy spending time outdoors with their son, Luke.  Shelley is a Senior Loan Administrator at Lone Star Ag Credit and a true asset to the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Club.


    The Papa Ron Cook Award was implemented in 2003 is given to the Ambassadors Club team that has excelled during the year.  Selection is made by the Ambassador’s Club Executive Committee and the award is presented each year at the Annual Ambassador’s Christmas Celebration.

    For outstanding leadership, attitude and commitment

    For laughter, encouragement and friendliness

    For excellence, integrity and character

    These qualities exemplify the embodiment of the Chamber of Commerce and its Ambassadors.

    In Memory of our dear friend, Papa Ron, the Ron Cook Ambassador Team of the Year Award goes to:

    TEAM 2

    Captain: Jimmy Finney - City of Stephenville                              Diane McCoy - Erath County Humane Society

    Joe Altebaumer - Edward Jones                                                  Emily Roberson - Senior Care at Stephenville

    James Childress - Bruner Auto Family                                         Connie Snider - Individual Member

    Mindy Henson - TechnipFMC                                                       Sheryl Truss - City of Stephenville

    Tommy Keith - Lone Star Ag Credit                                              Brooke Wells - TechnipFMC

  • Agriculture Awards 2016


    The Ag Producer of the Year Award recognizes a producer, family or operation that has demonstrated excellence in production and is well respected in their production field.

    This Stephenville area ranch was chosen by Armour & Co. as one of their three progeny testing herds in the U.S.A. Armor purchased a number of the best beef bulls in America, collected semen from them, then shipped the collected semen to the three chosen progeny testing ranches. Each of the three ranches used the semen on their test herds for breeding purposes. This young producer had the opportunity of a lifetime when he turned 14 yrs. to travel with Harold White (head of BCI Research at Armour) for three summers. They traveled across the U.S. looking at and evaluating all the top purebred bulls among all the breeds. By the time he was 17 yrs. he had visited most of the best purebred herds in 43 states and had the opportunity to listen to Harold White evaluate those cow herds. He looks back on this experience as the best education he could have had in preparation for his future in the seed stock cattle industry.

    The Armour Beef Cattle Improvement program lasted from 1960 to 1967. At the end of the testing period this local ranch was one of the most recognized ranches in the world. Eight hundred fifty (850) beef cows were being AI (artificial insemination) bred on the 14,000 acre ranch when semen from many of the European breeds became available in the U.S. Although this young man was still in college, he was making most of the management decisions concerning genetics and performance testing on the ranch cow herd. He saw a bright future for these new breeds, especially Simmental.

    This family became one of the first U.S. ranches to AI breed Simmental, Limousin, Chianina, Maine Anjou and several other European breeds. All the resulting 1/2 blood females, with the exception of the top end of the Simmental, were sold. The Simmentals heifers were kept for replacements in the Ranch herd.

    Several decades later, this beef producer is well-known across the world for his genetics program with multiple Grand Champion winners from major stock shows across the country and is hosting a sale this spring that will attract buyers from all over the world. This husband and wife team give generously of their time and talents and resources to important causes and are leaving a tremendous impact on the local community and the international agriculture industry.


    The Entrepreneur of Agriculture Award recognizes an operation that is new, expanding or diversifying into a field of agriculture unique to the county.

    This farm was founded in 2013 but the story goes back a little further than that. In 2009, this Josh & Ashley Ritchey began growing and selling watermelons and cantaloupes to grocery stores in the Lubbock, Texas area. They grew their produce on the only land that was available for leasing at the time - development lots that were for sale inside the city limits of Lubbock. After a couple of years of growing watermelons and cantaloupes and facing various challenges, they began exploring ways to cut down on harvest labor. In 2011, they found their new niche with pick-your-own-pumpkins. They grew their first you-pick pumpkin patch in the middle of Lubbock.

    Visitors enjoyed picking the perfect pumpkins right from the field - a new fall tradition for families in the area. The patch was a great success and so the decision was made to do it again the following year. Although they had two great pumpkin patch seasons in Lubbock, they received notice their pumpkin patch land was going to be sold to a big box retailer.

    After weighing various options, the family decided to make to move to Stephenville, Texas where they had recently leased some farm land. Stephenville offered this family the opportunity to continue their new fall tradition. With a "Young Farmer" loan from the USDA Farm Service Agency, the farm was purchased in the summer of 2013. The following October, the new pumpkin patch opened - offering pick-your-own pumpkins, hayrides, photo opportunities, and other fun attractions for groups and families. Their inaugural year was a success and the farm continues to grow.

    Visitors are now able to enjoy exploring a 6-acre corn maze as well as other fun activities including a haybale maze, haybale pyramid, corn and sand pit, roping dummies, stick horses, farm animals, and decorative fall themed backdrops for family and group photos. This hard working family takes their love for agriculture and shares it with visitors of all ages.


    The Friend of Agriculture Award recognizes an individual, group or organization that has truly been a friend to agriculture, which could include agribusinesses, organizations, leaders, educators, elected officials, etc.

    In 1950 Joyce Whitis graduated from Midwestern University with a BS in education. She went right into a banking job in Dallas. It was here that she met a handsome banker, Thomas B. Whitis, Jr. They married, and settled into a life in Dallas. A son, Thomas Benton III, was born in 1952. Around this time, the senior Tom was getting tired of his banking career, and he had a yearning to be a farmer. He began to study real estate ads in the Dallas Morning News, and he started visiting farms around Stephenville. He found the place he wanted near Huckabay, and was able to purchase it from the Texas Land Board, using his WWII service in the United States Navy to qualify for the GI Bill.

    Joyce taught her first year at Huckabay School. Barbara was born at the Stephenville Hospital the following October, so Joyce stayed at home with the children for a while. In 1957, Joyce returned to teaching. Joyce eventually taught at the Desdemona, Lingleville, and Huckabay schools until 1970. She was on the Huckabay school board. Joyce wrote the school songs for Huckabay and Lingleville. She created school papers for Huckabay, The Pow Wow and Desdemona, Pigs’ Tale. While teaching in high school she was a sponsor for senior trips across the southern part of the United States. She enjoyed teaching Sunday school and Vacation Bible School.

    Meanwhile, the dairy business was going strong. In the 1970s, the Whitises showed award-winning dairy cattle. In 1971 Joyce was named Adult 4-H Leader of the year. In 1972, she led the drive to put Stephenville’s famous cow, Moola, on the square. In 1977, Joyce was named National Dairy Woman of the Year by the National Dairy Association in Madison, Wisconsin. She is the only woman from Texas ever so honored.

    In 1978, Joyce resumed one of her loves – writing. She began freelance writing for Holstein Friesian World, Hoard’s Dairyman, Country Woman, The Dallas Morning News, and others. This career continues today with articles in the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Erath County Living.

    1978 was important for Joyce in another area as well. She helped organize and incorporate the Erath County Humane Society.

    Joyce was instrumental in putting the Confederate Memorial Monument up on the courthouse square in 2001. She wanted to make sure the Confederate veterans who settled Erath County were not forgotten. Her son, who has since passed away, actually wrote the inscription on it. Later, as Joyce was a descendant of a Confederate veteran, she was able to join the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and she participates in many of their functions. Joyce is also the president of the local UDC chapter. Joyce’s husband passed away in 2006.

    That’s probably the reason Joyce keeps going so hard. For all her efforts to preserve history, and benefit the community, she was awarded the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas Community Builder Award in 2009. Joyce feels that one thing she would still like to get done in Stephenville is having a bronze cowboy statue in the Cowboy Capital Walk of Fame.

    “Stephenville needs a bronze cowboy. If we’re the Cowboy Capital, then we need to promote it.”

    Joyce knows the cowboys, and counts many, such as Sid Miller and Ty Murray, as her friends. Many of their pictures decorate her walls. Western paintings, and memorabilia fill much of the cedar-shingled ranch house. It’s fitting that she was chosen to be the Grand Marshal of the Stephenville Rodeo parade in 2014.

    From Loving and Life's Wonders - Written by Nick Pernokas

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