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BRYANT — Nine awards, including a brand-new one, were presented last week at the 45th annual Greater Bryant Chamber of Commerce Winter Banquet at Bishop Park.

“It went extremely well,” chamber president and CEO Todd Rhoden said. “We ended up selling out and had roughly 400 people there.

“We gave away nine awards to individuals or companies that were deserving. Overall, it went really smoothly.”

Rhoden said the event can always improve, but he said Thursday’s event was “an extremely successful event and a great evening.

“It is an honor to win an award because these people or businesses are nominated by their peers and then chosen by a selection committee.”

He said one of the highlights of the night was the recognition of Bryant City Councilman Jerry Henson, who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer.

“Mayor [Jill] Dabbs came up onstage and read a proclamation in Jerry’s name,” Rhoden said. “It was a very touching moment.”

Henson was given the Charles Broadway Community Excellence Award on Dec. 19.

“Overall, the event went well,” Rhoden said. “We had eight great items for people to go home with, and we had videos of all the award winners.

“Not only are we thankful for our sponsors, but also our members and volunteers. We can’t pull off what we do without them.”

Award winners include the following:

• The New Member of the Year award, sponsored by Entergy Arkansas, was presented to Healthcare Express. Rhoden said Healthcare Express opened a brand-new clinic near the interstate a little over a year ago.

“They are tremendously involved in the community,” he said, “and they are very involved in the chamber.”

• Kari Beesley was named Volunteer of the Year, sponsored by Roller Alcoa Funeral Home. Beesley works for the Saline County Library and attends every chamber function as well, Rhoden said.

“She is an ambassador for the chamber,” he said. “She just gave birth to a baby, and she was coming to all of the events [when she was] like eight months pregnant.

“She is very dedicated, and she helps out with everything.”

Beesley is also a member of the Bryant Rotary Club.

• Former chamber employee Lacey Brooks was presented with the Young Professional of the Year award, sponsored by Saline Memorial Hospital.

“She does marketing for Everett Buick GMC,” Rhoden said. “Lacey has been a huge asset for the Saline County Young Professional Network and serves on their board.

“She has been a tremendous help to us. She attends all the luncheons and ribbon-cuttings as a chamber ambassador. She is a huge help.”

Rhoden said Brooks is a communication source between the chamber and Everett and gives back to the community.

• The Saline County Young Professional Network, or YPN, received the Organization of the Year honor, sponsored by First Electric Cooperative.

“The group has grown tremendously. I think they are around 70 members,” Rhoden said. “They host educational programs every month with different speakers.

“They are helping people in the group network and advance in their careers.”

Rhoden said it is “pretty cool to see them now to where they are going to be in another five or 10 years.”

• Two lifetime achievement awards, sponsored by First Security Bank and Rineco, were presented at the banquet to Cheryl Cook and Charles Penfield.

“Cheryl worked for Landers of Saline County for 20-plus years,” Rhoden said. “Everybody knows Cheryl. She is a huge reason why the chamber saw growth — because of her involvement in the community.”

Rhoden described Penfield as “the godfather of real estate” in Saline County.

“He is co-owner of one of the most successful real estate companies,” Rhoden said. “He had a vision that Bryant was going to grow the way it has, and it has paid off tremendously.

“He is one of the major developers in all of Saline County.”

Rhoden said both winners received standing ovations.

• Expose Marketing & Branding, owned by Shelby McFarland, was given the Excellence in Customer Service award, sponsored by Baxley Penfield Moudy Realtors.

“It is a new category that we added this year, and the amount of nominations that came in was crazy,” Rhoden said. “Shelby is a young, successful entrepreneur.

“She does a lot with graphic design, social media and things like that. She basically tripled her clients in the past year.”

Rhoden said McFarland assisted in the rebranding of the chamber about a year and a half ago and has been a huge help.

“She is just a go-getter,” he said. “It is beyond well-deserved.”

• Baxley Penfield Moudy Realtors was named Business of the Year, sponsored by Centennial Bank.

“They are a real estate empire,” Rhoden said. “To my knowledge, they have at least 70 to 100 associates who work for them.

“They have dominated the Benton and Bryant market and are great with residential real estate, but also business. They have been huge in giving back to the chamber and the community in so many ways, including financial and volunteering.”

• Finally, Ashley Rowland was named Ambassador of the Year, sponsored by IberiaBank. Rhoden said this award is dependent on a point system, with the winners receiving points for the number of ribbon-cuttings, network nights, luncheons and other chamber activities the person participates in.

“We tally all the points, and whoever has the most points wins,” he said. “Ashley has been to everything. She even had hip surgery, and five days later, she showed up to a ribbon-cutting on crutches.

“That’s devotion.”

Rhoden said the Winter Banquet was a “huge success,” and he is proud of the growth the chamber has seen.

“We had people from Benton, Bryant, Little Rock, Malvern, Cabot and Hot Springs,” he said. “We had six to seven different cities at Bishop Park.

“This is a collection of cities coming together for the banquet.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or

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