The Greater Valencia County Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual awards and installation gala Saturday, Jan. 6 at Isleta Resort and Casino, where they honored several local businesses and individuals for their positive contributions to the county.  

The late Shawn Ammons, who was the sports coordinator for the Belen Parks and Recreation Department, was honored posthumously as the 2023 Citizen of the Year.  

Felina Martinez | News-Bulletin photos
Ammon’s family accepted his Citizen of the Year Award on his behalf. Pictured, from left, are chamber board president Andrew Spears; Jordan Ammons, daughter; Hannah Ammons, daughter; Hayley Ammons, daughter; Martin Ammons, son; Chantel Ammons, daughter; and chamber executive director Rhona Espinoza.

“We have seen all that Shawn did in a very short life to make our community a better place to live in,” said Belen City Councilor Rudy Espinoza, who emceed the event. “He was a kind man, a big teddy bear and he will be sorely missed.” 

Ammons joined the Belen Parks and Recreation Department in 2018 where he developed and ran many programs.  

“He was a friend to many and a role model to countless youth in the community, making the Eagle Park Rec Center a place of fun and refuge,” Mayor Robert Noblin said in a News-Bulletin article Espinoza referenced during his comments.  

The Law Office of David C. Chavez was given the Infinity Award by the Greater Valencia Chamber of Commerce. He’s pictured with his wife, Renee.

Belen Consolidated Schools Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez said in the article Ammons was an asset to the community who loved working with kids and introducing them to sports.  

The Law Office of David C. Chavez, who this year celebrated its 40th year of being in business, was recognized through the 2023 Infinity Award. This award is given to a business which has continued as a viable, productive part of the economic vitality in the county. 

“We give all the glory to Jesus Christ, our savior, for the blessings we have and the work we do helping injured people on a daily basis,” said Chavez, whose firm specializes in personal injury cases. “We pray with our clients and ask for healing on to each and every one of the individuals we represent.” 

Chavez dedicated the award to his father, late Judge Tibo J. Chavez who founded the law firm, and to his late mother, Betty Chavez, in recognition of their positive influence on his life.  

“We also want to thank this community for the support and confidence in us,” said Chavez. “The only reason we’ve been around this long is because of your support.” 

Valencia Shelter Services received the 2023 Non-profit of the Year Award. 

VSS is a comprehensive survivor support agency based in Los Lunas that aids individuals and families affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse in their journey to heal, find justice and build new lives free from abuse.  

Along with a 24/7 crisis line, VSS provides emergency shelter, counseling, victim and legal advocacy, offender rehabilitation, a national accredited child advocacy center and a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE).  

VSS is also one of only two domestic violence shelters in the state that also house victims of sexual assault and they are the only SANE service between Albuquerque and Las Cruces. 

“Since 1989 our agency has answered the same hotline call and we continue to answer the call of those in need, so thank you so much for this award,” said Stephanie Wood, VSS executive director. “It means so much to us, and thank you to Ms. Helen Abeita, our founder — we wouldn’t be here without you.” 

Valencia Shelter Services was honored as the Non-profit of the Year. Pictured, from left, Andrew Spears; Catalina Nunez, VSS clinical director; Caitlyn Cole, VSS victim service coordinator; Vicki Hulce-Finnegan, VSS development director; Marisela Delgado, board member treasurer; and Rhona Espinoza.

This year’s Shining Star Award recipient is the Hise family, who opened CEMCO, a machinery manufacturing business, 63 years ago.  

“The Hise family has poured their lives into their community, our schools and their employees,” said Rhona Espinoza, the chamber’s executive director. “They help create many programs that encourage high school students to consider vocations in welding and other trades. They sponsor many youth programs and non-profits, never seeking accolades for their generosity.” 

CEMCO was recently acquired by Superior Industries — a decision previous owner Neil Hise said was difficult. 

“They’re a very good company though, and they are investing heavily in this community,” said Hise. “My daughter is now manager of the facility and my son-in-law, Joseph, I’m very proud of him. Without him, it wouldn’t have grown the way it is, so we’re very blessed to be where we’re at.” 

This year’s Shining Star Award went to the Hise family of CEMCO, Inc. Pictured, from left, are Andrew Spears; Joseph and Jennifer Trujillo, Ty Juana Hise, Neil Hise and Rhona Espinoza.

Black’s Smuggler Winery was the recipient of the 2023 Amigo Award, which is given to an individual or business who is recognized throughout the state and nation as a positive, friendly image of Valencia County.  

Owner Tony Black started out as a hobbyist winemaker. After retiring in 2012, he opened Black’s Smuggler Winery in Bosque.  

“We’ve grown and developed a whole new realm of wines and different varieties and have had a great time doing it,” said Black. “So thank you very much to the chamber for the recognition; we appreciate it.”  

Black’s Smuggler Winery was the recipient of the 2023 Amigo Award. Pictured, from left, are Andrew Spears; Black’s daughter, Bri Wagnan and granddaughter; Tony Black, owner; Mary Ann Black, his wife; and Rhona Espinoza.

Mitchell Theatres Starlight Cinema received the Large Business Member of the Year Award. The criteria includes outside recognition, stability and improvement of business, community involvement, customer service and inspiration to others.  

“This is an amazing community and there’s so many wonderful people here I’ve gotten to know,” said the theater’s general manager Gary Jacobson. “We’re not the only business worthy of this, so this makes this award extra kind. We’ve been blessed and have been really fortunate to have so many good employees.” 

Mitchell Theatres Starlight Cinema received the Large Business Member of the Year Award. Pictured, from left, are Andrew Spears; Gary Jacobson, general manager; Mitchell Theatres Starlight Cinema management team and Rhona Espinoza.

Espinoza said he’s proud to honor Abel and Willies as the 2023 Member of the Year award for the small business category, which follows the same criteria as the large business.  

Abel and Willies is a screen printing business based in Belen that provides customized products such as clothing, promotional materials and beyond. The owners were not able to attend the gala.  

The chamber’s executive director concluded the program by saying the chamber is looking forward to many new successes going into the new year.  

“We realize economic times are challenging, but we keep on keeping on,” she said. “Our rebranding this past year as the Greater Valencia County Chamber of Commerce has been well received and we commit to work diligently to support our county’s business community.” 

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Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.