February 19, 2002 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Gary Hansen of Cove and Carlene Crampton of La Grande walked off with the top awards at Tuesday nights La Grande-Union County Chamber of Commerce banquet.

Hansen, named Man of the Year, was cited by presenter Eric Valentine for countless hours in getting the Cove fire and quick-response team up to the level it is today.

Hansen makes Cove and Union County activities functional, said Valentine, the Man of the Year for 1998.

Hansen and his wife became firefighter instructors when they saw how much it cost to send people out of the area for training, said Valentine, a Union County Circuit Court judge.

He has been active in 4-H and the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, including serving as the rodeo court chaperone, which requires many hours transporting the queen and princesses around the state.

Kids gravitate to him for help, and he has never turned one away, Valentine said.

Gary spent about 300 hours helping construct a barn at the livestock show grounds, got the National Guard to help, and worked at their sides, doing brickwork and plumbing and also built hog pins, Valentine said.

Hansen was a Little League and Pee Wee coach in Wallowa County before moving to Cove in 1986.

He just loves to drive around the valley and look for someone who needs help, Valentine said.

Hansen said he was thankful to his family for letting him do what he wants to do when he wants to do it and not telling anybody else about it.

Woman of the Year Crampton was commended for countless hours of volunteer service, including tireless support for Shelter From the Storm helping battered women of Union County and for other volunteer service.

She brought together the Grande Ronde Valley Habitat for Humanity, spending many hours with hammer and paint brush, said presenter Linda Sweet, who won the same honor for 2000.

Among other things, Crampton has been a victims advocate, providing comfort for those awaiting jury decisions, Sweet said.

Sandy Mills, a fourth-grade teacher at Imbler Elementary School, was named Educator of the Year.

She was praised for bringing pride, honor and dignity to her students over the years.

Shes a great role model and goes beyond academics to build well-rounded students, said former winner of the award Andrea Waldrop. She makes students feel special.

Tina Hurst of Janus Industries and Artesian Blue Water was named Business Person of the Year.

Hurst was cited for demonstrating her excellence in retail, doubling her business every year for the last six years and increasing her employment to 13 and acquiring other businesses, said presenter Craig Braseth.

Called bold and innovative, Hurst will be the chambers president next year.

Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., told the gathering of about 400 of his experiences in Washington, D.C., during the events of Sept. 11.

The theme for the 68th annual dinner was Proud to be an American, with many tables decked out in red, white and blue.

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