Francisca Benitez

La Grande’s Blue Mountain Conference Center was transformed into “A Night in Monte Carlo” Friday for the 2019 Union County Chamber Awards banquet. Former Chamber President Karrine Brogoitti, who is also the regional publisher at The Observer, and Ashley O’Toole, chamber board member, hosted the casino-themed evening, which was filled with jokes, tears and heartfelt speeches from both the presenters and recipients of awards.

The title of “man of the year” was awarded posthumously to Daniel Pokorney, former mayor of La Grande.

“The Man of the Year Award is given to men who show commitment above and beyond for the good and welfare of our community. Often times we don’t recognize the real benefit of someone’s life and what they have given until they are gone. Dan Pokorney is one of those men,” O’Toole said. “He had a strong sense that part of his stewardship to God was sharing his leadership abilities in our community.”

Pokorney’s children, Jason Pokorney and DaLyn Anderson, accepted the award on their father’s behalf.

“Our dad, Dan, was very passionate about serving, especially in this community,” Jason Pokorney said. “Moving from Nebraska to this little town out in the middle of Oregon, they had no idea what was to come of it. He spent the rest of his life here because he truly loved La Grande and this valley. I know that he is proud of this award right now, and I would like to say thank you.”

The Woman of the Year award was given to Mary Ann Miesner.

“Mary Ann, who currently serves on the La Grande City Council, has served for many other organizations in the past. Her service to the community includes serving on Central School’s PTA, La Grande School District’s budget committee and the school board, the Urban Renewal Advisory committee, the La Grande planning commission, the Union County Mediation Center, running the La Grande Little League program and helping found the La Grande Main Street Downtown organization,” Brogoitti said. “As if all that were not enough, Mary Ann has taken on the monumental challenge of organizing the sixth annual Eastern Oregon Beer Festival.

“Believe it or not, this is just what fills Mary Ann’s spare time.”

Miesner thanked the chamber and her husband.

“This town is the easiest town to volunteer in — sometimes too easy,” she joked.

Carla Arnold was awarded educator of the year. She is a music teacher at La Grande Central Elementary school.

“Carla and her husband moved to La Grande back in 1994, and since then she has dedicated many years to the young people of this community through her teaching and mentoring, using music as the medium,” O’Toole said.

“The first person I’d like to thank is my grandpa,” Arnold said in her acceptance speech. She said her grandfather was the first person to encourage her interest in music, and she hopes to be that person for the children she teaches. She thanked her family, school staff and especially Central Elementary’s secretary, Connie Ingerson, for her support.

Cody Bowen was the winner of the public servant award. Brogoitti presented the award, mentioning Bowen’s work with the Union County Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy. She highlighted his work as a certified drug abuse resistance educator and with the Union County Safe Communities Coalition.

“Undeniably, his most important role has been his position as a school resource officer,” Brogoitti said. “Kids seek him out if there’s a problem or share with him when they have concerns for themselves or for other students in the school. They open up to Cody and have tough conversations that they can’t have with anyone else, and that includes their parents.”

Bowen thanked his family, the chamber and Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen.

“I want you all to know that I get up every morning with a smile on my face, and I’m very passionate about being there for your children,” he said.

The Entrepreneur of the Year award was given to Deana Leinbach and Peggy Case, the owners of Two Broke Girls, a coffee and mercantile shop in Island City.

Leinbach and Case thanked their families, the community and their employees.

“It has (been) a labor of love, and this whole community has been amazing,” Case said. “Deana and I totally agree that we would not be as successful as we are today if we didn’t have the people working for us that we do.”

See complete story in Monday's Observer