A tropical theme with appropriate beach music greeted a crowd of about 300 people at the annual Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce banquet, held Thursday night at the Civic Auditorium.

And there were not one, but two citizens of the year, as Jeff and Debbie Werneke were bestowed the honor.

In introducing Jeff Werneke, Mike Compton with the chamber said the Neosho High School graduate has been involved in Rotary during the past 20 years, has served local business and industry by serving on the Neosho Area Business and Industry Foundation Inc. (NABIFI) board of directors, and two terms as mayor of Neosho. As mayor, Werneke initiated a series of town hall meetings to garner public input on city issues, Compton said.

Meanwhile, in introducing Debbie Werneke, Laurie Lyerla mentioned her business on the Neosho square, Silhouette Imaging, her involvement in Lions Club, the chamber, Neosho Bright Futures, the Neosho Arts Council and the South School PTO. Among her chamber activities, Debbie Werneke helped initiate the annual Summer Social on the Square, Lyerla said.

“They told our youngest boy this morning that there was a big secret in the works for Dad,” said Debbie Werneke, as her voice cracked with emotion. “I love Neosho and I want to see it prosper and grow.”

“Y’all probably know I went through some of the greatest times in Neosho,” former mayor Jeff Werneke said, adding “and some of the most challenging. I really appreciate [this honor].”

The evening also included a speech by outgoing chamber president Daxton Holcomb, who told the group a chamber of commerce has many responsibilities.

“We’re not just about recognizing employers and praising our members,” he said. “We’re about improving the quality of life. We have to help this community. It’s up to us. We have to support those with a vision for growth. We have to support our schools. Sometimes, that support comes in the form of a bond issue so our students have adequate facilities for education. And that support means not only voting for it, but getting out and campaigning for it. We have to support our city and county governments and just as importantly, make sure they have a vision for growth in the community.”

Holcomb also spoke on the importance of chamber members supporting one another and their organization and asked them to help incoming President Jason Stipp and other chamber leaders.

In his speech, Stipp told the crowd how he had moved away from Neosho after graduating from NHS in 1989, but always yearned to move back home. In 2009, while living in Dallas, Texas, he got his wish, he said.

“A lot of our friends who lived in Dallas said they wanted to move back to a smaller community, but there wasn’t a lot of opportunities there,” he said. “That made me realize how important a chamber of commerce is. At the economic development meeting [Wednesday], there was some discussion about when the group was founding in 1987. The things they did then are still paying dividends today.”

Stipp said he has enjoyed chamber activities such as first Friday coffees, ribbon cuttings and the annual business and industry review, saying they were opportunities to meet other people.

The 2013 board of directors include Stipp, president; Eric Norris, first vice president; Vance Keaton, second vice president; Cathy Lankford, tresurer; and Kevin Hatfield, member at large. Board members include Howard Birdsong, Kaysha Daugherty, Warren Langland, Bobby Bryant, Daren Davison, Jim Lowans, Tom Sutton, Carl Daugherty, Daxton Holcomb and Jon Stouffer.