The Aurora High School commons area was packed last Saturday evening with members of the Aurora Area Chamber of Commerce, as the Chamber celebrated its Annual Appreciation Banquet. Members were treated to catering by Alice Irene's Restaurant, the musical stylings of the Aurora High School jazz ensemble, and updates on city projects, as presented by city manager Jon Holmes.

But as always, the main focus of the night was shining the light back on those in the community who do their best to make it a wonderful place to live. The following are this year's top award winners.

Community Service Award

The final award presented on the night, the Community Service Award is given each year to an individual who has given their time, attention and resources to the community for at least 10 years. This year's award was presented to Clarence "Snags" Lechner.

"[Lechner] is also humble, kind and determined and has been a familiar face in Aurora for countless years," said Chamber director Shannon Walker in presenting the award. "He has supported the efforts of his children and grandchildren, served as grand marshal, was the coordinator of the infamous pork chop dinner which supported many local charities over the years, and served the National Guard for 30 years. He also held a key role in securing the old armory for the Aurora school system."

Lloyd R. Ellis Award

Matt Maples was this year's Lloyd R. Ellis Award recipient, as someone who has given at least three to five years of service to the community. Named after a man who sold real estate and insurance and later became a judge, the award is given to someone who embodies Ellis's entrepreneurial vision.

Of Maples, Walker said: "Thanks will never be enough to individual volunteers for providing committed and dedicated service to the Aurora community. This year’s award winner works quietly behind the scenes and is part of many different groups in the Aurora community, from GRO 2.0, past Chamber board and Southwest Missouri Board of Realtors -- and is a self-proclaimed tech nerd."

Business awards

The Chamber added three new business awards this year, as a way to thank local businesses for their involvement in the community. Businesses receiving awards must be members of the Chamber in good standing and in operation for a minimum of three years.

The Small Business of the Year award was presented to Your Pizza Place, for showing growth, customer service, community service and innovation.

Large Business of the Year went to First Independent Bank, as a dynamic business that shares a commitment to professional excellence, business growth and support of the Aurora community.

The final business award, the Community Impact Business Award, was presented to AFB International. The award honored AFB for its measurable effect on the community and for showing outstanding contributions to the area.

Other awards

Many other awards were given out on the night, including the following:

Top Dawg Student Award -- Kaden Clark and Ethan Mooneyham Stepping Up to the Plate Award -- Becky Thrasher and Darst Heating and Cooling Top Dawg Award -- Zeros4Heroes Committee, Project RISE and Hometown Teams Planning Committee

Grants

In addition to the many awards presented on the night, thousands of dollars in grant money were given out to groups and people dedicated to doing good work in the community.

AFB International presented four grant checks on the evening, first to the Aurora Archery Club for $650 for supplies for the after-school program.

Next, a check for $1,600 was presented to Kim McCully-Mobley on behalf of the high school's Youth Empowerment Program. Jackie Barger with the Children's Smile Center also accepted a check in the amount of $2,500 to go toward the cost of a digital X-ray machine. Finally, AFB donated $5,000 to the Aurora Main Street Committee, to continue its mission of beautifying the city.

Finally, as always, the Aurora Area Community Foundation presented grants to numerous recipients out of several different funds. A total of $31,887 went out to 22 recipients, including the following in each endowment fund:

Houn' Dawg Education Endowment -- Aurora Junior High Library, $500; Youth Empowerment Program, $500; high school teacher Amy Shaw, $494; high school teacher Becky Thrasher, $144 First Christian Church Endowment Fund -- Verona Schools Guidance Program, $1,500; For the Kids, $1,112; Moses Basket, $1,000

Continuing the AACF grants, Unrestricted Community Grants, from the JD and Carol Ann Pilkenton Fund, Aurora Area Unrestricted Grantmaking Fund, John J. Lee Memorial Fund and Charles and Arlene Spangler Endowment Fund, were awarded to the following groups and projects:

New Veterans Memorial, Ken Ackley -- $500 Aurora Historical Society, Mary Strickrodt -- $3,600 (two grants) Robinson Elementary, Danielle Jones -- $323 Children's Smile Center, Jackie Barger -- $3,000 Robinson Elementary and Intermediate Schools, Samantha Ruzicka -- $4,100 (two grants) Stray Animals Matter, Cindy Miller -- $1,500 Verona Parents as Teachers, Tiffany Reed -- $601 Aurora Beautification Company, Scott Pettit -- $2,500 For the Kids, Virginia Gaston -- $888 Verona Wild Clovers 4H Chapter, Debbie Pankau -- $725 Aurora High School Speech and Language Department, Judy Seawel -- $2,5000 Project RISE, Marsha Egan -- $5,000 Verona Baptist Church Food Pantry, Michael Sanders -- $1,400