Approximately 40 people attended the 82nd annual Las Animas/Bent County Chamber of Commerce Dinner, held at the high school cafeteria on March 7. The high school Travel club provided food for the dinner, and the True Blue Club served refreshments during the social hour. The invocation was given by Michael Boggs, a high school junior.

Chamber President Tiana Garcia recognized three new businesses that opened in 2018: The Beauty Grove and Boutique, Dollar General and Women of Worth.

Business of the Year

The Business of the Year Award was presented to Bent County Correctional Facility (Core Civic).

The facility was established in 1993 and currently has around 300 employees. The administration and staff actively participate in the community and the Chamber of Commerce. In the past, employees built metal picnic tables for the fairgrounds. The BCCF holds annual toy and food drives and donates money to Helping Hands and Five Loaves Food Pantry. They support school activities, provide Rocky Mountain oysters for the Santa Fe Trail evening Oyster Fry, and pay for and donate school emblems for school buses and sports helmets.

The staff also hold car washes, with proceeds given to someone in need or other charities. Health and wellness events are held throughout the year by employees of the facility, and the administration encourages employee participation in community events. John Palomino, chief of security at BCCF, accepted the award on behalf of all the employees.

Meritorious Service

The Meritorious Service Award is given to a person who volunteers his or her time and talent for the betterment of Bent County over many years. The award this year was presented to Connie Harris, who is active in the Catholic Church Women, participates in her local political party, has been a 4-H leader and coordinates the fair concession stand. Harris has served as the overall coordinator and superintendent of the Bent County Harvest Show for more than 30 years. 

Citizen of the Year

For her years of volunteering, promoting and supporting her hometown, Nancy Long was recognized as Citizen of the Year for 2019.

Long is a Bent county native who grew up on a farm in Bent County, attended Las Animas Schools, married and raised three children and is the grandmother of nine. Throughout the years, she has volunteered at the schools, her church, and planned and participated in community events. Long currently serves as president of the Ark Valley Hospice. Active in her church, she takes communion to homebound members. In addition, she supervises and runs several family businesses.

Farm/Ranch Family

Stan and Lora Cline were named the Farm/Ranch Family of the year.

The Clines began their agricultural journey together in 1979. Lora Cline taught school in McClave for 31 years while helping Stan Cline on the farm. The couple is known for their Horned Hereford Bulls. Together they raised three daughters. Lora Cline currently handles the bookkeeping for the family business.

The Clines are avid supporters of McClave School activities and the Five Loaves Pantry in McClave.

Lifetime Service

This year, the Lifetime Service award was given to a couple who have lived here all of their lives. They have deep roots in Bent County, as their parents and grandparents also resided here.

Bill Baublits and Diane Thaxton Baublits have made a difference in the community. Diane Baublits taught English and Speech at Las Animas High School, served as assistant principal, worked as the district media specialist and retired after 25 years.

Bill Baublits was a successful beekeeper for 35 years. He started with five bee hives and had 1,500 colonies when he retired in 1999.

Married in 1961, the couple raised three children in Las Animas and supported all of their activities. Busy in retirement, they participate in their church and volunteer at the John W. Rawlings Heritage Center.

Bill Baublits served on the Bent County Historical Society board of directors for several years. In charge of maintenance for the museum building, he was instrumental in moving the North Gageby School to the museum property and oversaw the restoration of the schoolhouse.

Diane Baublits has spent years developing a research library on the second floor of the Heritage Center Museum. She gives many hours to assisting people in search of family history in Bent County and finding bits and pieces of local history.

Presidential Award

A Presidential Award was given by the Chamber of Commerce to the Five Loaves Pantry in McClave. In existence only three years, the pantry was started by a group from the McClave United Methodist Church to serve those in need of food county-wide. Located on First Street in McClave, the pantry provides canned goods, meat and dairy products, plus nonfood items. This group is recognized because they saw a problem in the community and came up with a solution.

Accepting the award on behalf of the Five Loaves Pantry was volunteer Lora Cline.

The annual banquet and citizen recognitions is just one of several events sponsored throughout the year by the Chamber of Commerce. With approximately 100 members and no paid staff, the all-volunteer organization also provides tourism and community information to travelers at the Chamber Visitor Center.