The Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce has two yearly celebrations for its members and the community. The focus of the fall meeting is to celebrate leading businesses, but in January, that focus turns to the people.

The chamber celebrated organizations and people that serve in a multitude of ways Friday at the Mexico Elk's Lodge. Honorees were celebrated for being community ambassadors, their philanthropy, ways they educate or how they bring tourism to the community. Melody Farnen embodies all of these and more, and received the Col. C.R. Stribling Jr. Community Service Award. Farnen and her staff have contributed to school supply drives for back-to-school events, donated stuffed animals to children staying at the hospital over the holidays and have sponsored Audrain County Relay for Life. Award recipients were selected by past presidents of the chamber.

The first person to give Farnen a job was Chris Miller, when he and his wife, Vivian, owned a jewelry store. Miller welcomed Farnen to the podium Friday night. She stuck with the jewelry business through high school, through college and into her adult life. She opened Melody's Quality Jewelry in 1995 after returning to Mexico to take care of her father, who was being treated for cancer.

"Melody shares her good fortunes in life with everyone," Miller said, listing some of the local businesses and organizations she's supported. "I can't begin to list them all, but you all know who they are. We all know that she gives to everything. What a person."

Members of the Mexico community know how to support each other, Farnen said. The community is one big family, she added.

She recognized her staff for their help since she started.

"They're the ones that make the store run. I couldn't make it without them," she said. ut

Farnen also recognized her family and those members who help her with her bookkeeping and with repairs from when there were break-ins and other needs.

"Last, but not least, is my dad and my mom," Farnen said, choking back tears. "They have always given me the support I need to keep going on."

State Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, then provided Farnen with a proclamation from the Missouri House and Senate, on behalf of State Sen. Jeannie Riddle, R-Mokane, recognizing her years of business and dedication to the Mexico Community. Farnen also received a proclamation from Mexico Mayor Ayanna Shivers recognizing her years of service to Mexico.

Other individuals and organizations were recognized for their service to Mexico earlier in the evening. KXEO/KWWR was recognized first with the G. Andy Runge Ambassador Award. It's given to individuals or organizations who have brought state or nationwide publicity to Mexico. General Manager Michael Daugherty accepted on the station's behalf.

"It means a lot to the radio station and me personally. ... We're kind of growing and evolving in different ways. We do radio the way radio is meant to be. We try to be live, local and fully staffed as much as we can. It's not an easy chore to do," he said.

John Dial accepted the Civic Award for the Northeast Community Service Agency. The agency works with the juvenile court and is supported by the United Way to find community service opportunities for nonviolent youth offenders. It was founded in 2002 through the support of the Allen P. and Josephine Green Foundation and the Marion Edmonson Foundation.

Dial recognized Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger, circuit judges Jason Lamb, Linda Hamlett, Kelly Broniec, Micheal Wright and Richard Scheibe, their staff and the Audrain County Commission for their continued support.

The Mexico School District extra-curricular activities were recognized for their excellence in tourism. Superintendent Zach Templeton and Mexico High School Principal Brad Ellebracht accepted the award on the district's behalf.

"Each season, Mexico Public Schools will host a myriad of events bringing thousands of people to the community of Mexico, whether that's athletics or co-curricular like [vocal] music, FFA, our band or student council," Templeton said.

The support of the community is phenomenal, he added, noting the district facilities host district-sponsored and non-district-sponsored events.

"Schools oftentimes get a stern talking to about a focus on academics. We appreciate that and work very hard to do what we can for academics. What we learn from activities and athletics is how to be gracious in victory and defeat. We learn how to persevere and how to handle disappointment," Templeton said.

Don Decker received the Philanthropic Achievement Award. It was given because of his substantial and enduring contributions to the Mexico quality of life.

His acceptance of the award was brief. He joked he was making up for lost time from other speech givers. "I had substantial instructions of not talking too long and since my defense attorney took most of my time, I will say thank you very much," he said.

Darlene Shopher of the Mexico Middle School guidance department was recognized as the educator of the year.

"I love what I do and I love the people that I do it with. I love the kids, the parents, the faculty and staff, my supervisors and especially the community," she said.

She recognized those who are lunch buddies for students at the school, those who assist with the Bright Futures program, the Buddy-Pack program and the annual Reality Store, among others.

Robby and Cara Miller received the President's Award. The pair recognized the other award winners in their acceptance speech. "You're being recognized for what you give to this community," Cara Miller said.

They encouraged the community to volunteer as much as possible and to not do it for the recognition.

"Volunteering is the ultimate form of democracy. You vote in elections a few times a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every single day about the kind of community you want to live in," Cara Miller said, quoting a post she read on Facebook.

cdunlap@gatehousemedia.com