HEPPNER - South Morrow County residents turned out in force to honor their own Thursday night at the annual Town and Country Awards Ceremony in Heppner.

During the event, Judie Laughlin of Heppner was presented the woman of the year award, Jim Swanson of Ione was named man of the year, Karen Smith-Griffith of Heppner was announced as educator of the year, and Kyle Huddleston and Shanna Rietmann, both seniors at Heppner High School, shared the youth award. Pioneer Memorial Hospital was named the business of the year.

The lifetime achievement award went to Ed Baker of Heppner, who is known throughout town as the man who will say "you bet I will" to anyone who needs service. Baker has volunteered thousands of hours to the community.

"All my work is done with a lot of help," Baker said after reaching the podium. "This caught me off guard. I appreciate everybody's concern very much."

As is the custom at the banquet, everyone who won received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Along with the lifetime achievement award, the awards are sponsored by the Heppner Chamber of Commerce and are given annually to the man, woman, educator, young person and business of the year.

Laughlin, woman of the year, has been designing the buttons for the Heppner St. Patrick's Day Celebration for the last 15 years.

"This is terrific; I love ya," Laughlin said after accepting the award.

Swanson, man of the year, is known as the owner of Wheatland Insurance, but also is the guy who gives out handfuls of cereal to local kids who come by his store in Ione. Swanson was presented with his prize as well as a box of cereal.

"What a surprise, thank you so much," Swanson said. "These communities we live in are exceptional people."

Smith-Griffith, educator of the year, teaches at Heppner Elementary, was recognized for her long history of teaching and volunteer work at the school.

"Teaching is not just me," she said. "It takes parents, it takes a community, and we do it together."

The youth award winners, Huddleston and Rietmann, both 18, who helped serve the audience refreshments during the night's activities, stopped just long enough to grab their plaques and then went back to work filling coffee and water glasses.

Business of the year, Pioneer Memorial Hospital, which has been a Heppner fixture since the 1950s, was recognized for the exceptional service it has given the county for more than 50 years.

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