The titans of industry in Hays gathered Thursday in Fort Hays State University's Memorial Union to celebrate the business community's progress in 2013.

Approximately 400 people attended the Hays Area Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet. The HACC is coming off a year in which it was named a finalist for the National Chamber of the Year award through the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.

The program also honored outgoing leaders and welcomed their replacements. Four people and a longtime business were recognized with various awards for their contributions to the community and the chamber.

Tammy Wellbrock, executive director of the chamber, said the annual event serves the HACC's mission to foster business relationships and build connections throughout the community.

"This is so much bigger than just that awards process," Wellbrock said. "It really is a chance to enjoy each other's company, get a chance to say hello to people you don't often get to see throughout the year."

Mayo Schmidt, an alum of Thomas More Prep-Marian, was the evening's guest speaker. The Hays native had a stint with the Miami Dolphins before he worked for General Mills Inc. and led the sale of an agriculture company for $7.5 billion.

Schmidt also carried the torch for the 2010 Winter Olympics. He serves on the Board of Directors for Agrium Inc., an international agriculture firm, and Global Transportation Hub Authority.  

Schmidt, who now lives in Southern Highlands, Nev., said Hays has changed since he left for college as a young adult, but it still retains its best qualities.

"It's amazing to see the change because in some ways, particularly on the growth side and as a regional center for business, it's very impressive," he said. "On the other side, it hasn't lost its unique characters of family values, which I think is extraordinary."

The businessman's upbringing has shaped his career.

"The honesty, the integrity, which are things that served me very well in every business that I've been in ... they don't often come easily to people. And in a community like Hays, those are foundation teachings that we got as young people here," he said.

The area will continue to benefit from its agriculture and oil industries in the future because those are two strong economic catalysts, he said.

Edward Hammond, FHSU president, said he hosted a reception before the banquet because he wanted to express the university's gratitude for the business community's support for his institution.

The chamber's Hays Area Young Professionals and Leadership Hays groups cultivate local leaders, he said.

"The chamber is an important part of the city of Hays, and the university and our city are so linked together that an organization like the chamber is critical to our success," Hammond said.

2014 Chamber award recipients

Rising Star Award

Awarded to a young professional in recognition for leadership and service within their profession and the community. Recipient must be 21 to 40 years of age; demonstrate excellence in leadership qualities in business or the community; have a history of community service and be a Chamber of Commerce participant.

Mark. St. Peter

St. Peter, who works for the Nex-Tech Business Sales team as a sales representative, is a member of Hays Area Young Professionals, Sunrise Rotary Club and Hays' First United Methodist Church. While working full-time, he's also attending FHSU. He is a volunteer coach for his children's soccer and baseball teams, and serves as a Cub Master for Pack No. 290. He will be going to Haiti this year for a mission trip. He and his wife, Avry, have four children, Jace, Max, Owen and Emery.

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Small Business Achievement Award

Recognizes the success of small businesses. Recipient must demonstrate entrepreneurial success in the Hays area.

Heartland Building Center

Verlin Pfannenstiel started working for Henry Schwaller II in 1962 as a bookkeeper for Schwaller Lumber, which changed its name to Heartland Building Center in 1990. Pfannenstiel later took over operations in 1973. He and his wife, Elaine, became sole owners in 1987, with Curt Pfannenstiel becoming a co-owner in 2001. Heartland is in its 122nd year of business and has approximately 65 employees in four locations.

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Business Woman of the Year Award

Awarded in recognition for accomplishments within the business community. Recipient must have strong business accomplishments; history of community service; and Chamber of Commerce participation. Assists others in reaching full leadership potential.

Angie Zimmerman

Zimmerman is program services director at LINK (Living Independently in Northwest Kansas). She is a member of Hays Area Young Professionals, is an alumnae of Leadership Hays and is active with lupus awareness and research. She has served as an advocate for people with disabilities for 23 years, as well as an advocate for domestic violence for 11 years. She was elected to the governor's Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas Board for a three-year term. She is a mother of four.

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Citizen of the Year Award

Awarded in recognition for service to the people and city of Hays for the past year. The person has given of themselves for the betterment of the community. The recipient must have community involvement during the past year.

Andy Stanton

The marketing specialist at Eagle Communications is a member of the HaysMed Diabetes Solutions group and a longtime advocate for international and domestic adoption. He is a facilitator for Leadership Hays, and a coach and volunteer for the Hays Hurricanes swim team. Stanton has done volunteer design and multimedia presentation work for various community entities. Stanton is married to Dana, and they have three children, Jackson, Gracie Jo and Gabriel.

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Hall of Fame Award

Awarded in recognition for years of unselfish service to the Hays area. Recipient must have demonstrated long-term community service; excellence in business or profession; and a history of civic involvement.

Bob Lowen

Lowen served as director of Fort Hays' University Relations for 33 years, and spent 25 years as the public address announcer at FHSU basketball games. He was inducted into the Tiger Sports Hall of Fame in 1991 and awarded the FHSU Distinguished Service Award in 1992. After retiring, Lowen worked for HaysMed Foundation for eight years, then one year at the FHSU Foundation. He now is the first executive director for Heartland Community Foundation. He and his wife, Bev, have six children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.