Russell George, president of Colorado Northwestern Community College, was the keynote speaker Friday during the seventh annual Craig Chamber of Commerce State of the County address. George touted the Craig community's dedication to higher education and said the junior college movement is as important today as it was when it began in the 1960s.

Photo by Joe Moylan

Russell George, president of Colorado Northwestern Community College, was the keynote speaker Friday during the seventh annual Craig Chamber of Commerce State of the County address. George touted the Craig community's dedication to higher education and said the junior college movement is as important today as it was when it began in the 1960s.

CNCC President Russell George delivers keynote address at State of the County event

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Quotable

“There’s always games you can play with statistics, but none of those competitors make the same opportunity available to every person and every child. That is the American experience.”

Russell George, president of Colorado Northwestern Community College, about the recent criticisms of American students’ test scores

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Joe Bird, left, accepts the Craig Chamber of Commerce's businessperson of the year award from Chamber Board member Gail Severson. Bird accepted the award on behalf of Scott Cook.

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Dave Satterwhite, left, of Brothers Custom Processing accepts the award for small business of the year from Craig Chamber of Commerce Chairman Jeff Smith.

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Lois Wymore, right, accepts her award as the Craig Chamber of Commerce's 2012 ambassador of the year from Shannon Moore, left, and Adrianna Robbins.

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Ann Kidder, left, and her husband, George, were honored Friday night as the citizens of the year during the Craig Chamber of Commerce's State of the County event.

A rising tide lifts all boats

Craig Chamber of Commerce board member Gail Severson quoted one of Scott Cook’s favorite sayings when presenting the Craig businessman with the Chamber’s 2012 Businessperson of the Year award — “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Cook was unable to attend Friday’s Chamber of Commerce State of the County address, but Cook Chevrolet service manager Joe Bird accepted the award on his behalf.

“The Chamber should be honoring my family, all of Cook Chevrolet’s employees and all of our customers through the years,” Bird relayed through Cook’s speech. “I know the Chamber doesn’t have the budget, but these are the people who should get the plaque.

“I have the easy job. I just steer the ship.”

Small, but mighty

The community is blessed to have a number of small businesses, Craig Chamber of Commerce board member Steve Herman said Friday.

And each year the Chamber board has the tough job of choosing just one to be its Small Business of the Year. Though this year was as tough as always, Herman said Brothers Custom Processing exemplified the qualities so many Craig businesses possess.

“This year’s Small Business of the Year exemplifies the phrase ‘small but mighty,’” Herman said. “So small, in fact, it started in a garage, and those who nominated this business used terms such as ‘high quality,’ ‘unexpected,’ ‘so wonderful to work with’ and ‘amazing asset to the community.’”

Volunteer arm of the Craig Chamber

Chamber ambassadors are some of the first people to welcome new businesses to the Craig Chamber of Commerce and to the community.

On Friday, the Chamber honored Lois Wymore for her years of commitment to the organization.

“The reason I do it is not for the recognition,” Wymore said. “I do it because of the value it brings to our business community and because I have a lot of fun.”

Ho, ho, ho-ing as Citizens of the Year

There are so many people who do so much good work for the community, KRAI owner Frank Hanel said Friday, some in the foreground and some in the background.

When it came time to nominate a Citizen of the Year, Hanel said he was slightly embarrassed it took this long to recognize two people who have meant so much to the community: George and Ann Kidder.

“When you think about kids, the Chamber, the community, Christmas and classic cars, you have to be thinking about our local Santa and Mrs. Claus,” Hanel said. “George and Ann Kidder do so much for so many and ask so little in return. They were our unanimous choices for Citizens of the Year because behind every man there is a great woman.”

If a society is to thrive it must have a couple of key ingredients.

Strong leadership, successful businesses and businesspeople, and a dedicated community are fundamental pieces of a broader pie that all great cities and towns share.

And Craig appears to have all of those ingredients in spades.

But the one thing that separates a great community from a thriving one is its ability to nurture its youth through education.

On Friday, Russell George, president of Colorado Northwestern Community College, served as the keynote speaker during the seventh annual Craig Chamber of Commerce State of the County address at the Holiday Inn of Craig. George’s remarks were delayed briefly by Chris Oxley, executive director of the Chamber, who presented George and CNCC Craig campus Vice President Gene Bilodeau with the award for the 2012 Large Business of the Year.

“CNCC’s programs are so diverse and you can see through everything they do what a community partner they are,” Oxley said. “Anybody who has ever sat in a room with a representative from the college knows that representative is going to ask how they can help to really enhance our community.”

Though CNCC was established in Rangely in 1962 and expanded into Craig 35 years ago, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when higher education wasn’t available to rural Americans, George said.

Fifty years ago when CNCC was first dedicated, then Colorado Congressman Wayne Aspinall attended the ceremony. George cited Aspinall’s dedication speech Friday night, which spoke to the importance of the junior college movement of the 1960s.

Aspinall’s words are as relevant today as they were then, George said, and they’ll continue to be relevant 50 years from now — the idea that everybody has an opportunity, if they have the energy and the guts to do it, to receive a higher education.

“You have to remember this was the 1960s and this was what junior colleges were meant to do,” George said. “To provide the opportunity for all of us who lived afar, those of us who were out away, those of us who maybe didn’t have all of the resources to travel to Denver or Fort Collins or even Mesa for higher education.

“So the idea we could make higher education available at home was one of the greatest education ideas of the time.”

That idea has flourished, George said, into an education system that is the envy of the world despite recent criticisms about the test scores of American students lagging behind the Japanese, the Germans and the British.

“There’s always games you can play with statistics, but none of those competitors make the same opportunity available to every person and every child,” George said. “That is the American experience.”

But the opportunity for Americans to attend higher education institutions is at risk, George said. Funding cuts at the federal and state levels are making it difficult for CNCC and colleges across the country to ensure higher education is affordable for the masses.

Even so, George touted the Craig community for investing so much time, energy and money into the education of its young people.

“You’ve already proven by your investment,” George said. “There’s $28 million sitting in that improvement up there on the hill. That’s a pretty big lick for a community like this and a lot of that money came out of the pockets of people in this room and it will continue to pay enormous dividends.

“When people ask ‘what’s up on the hill?’ I want to say, ‘It’s our future and it’s a good one.’”

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