For immediate release
Vega, The ARK receive outstanding community service awards at MRPC Annual Dinner
ST. JAMES—Emilia Vega and The ARK Community and Sports Center were honored with outstanding community service awards during the Meramec Regional Planning Commission’s (MRPC) Annual Dinner and Awards Banquet, held Oct. 26 at the Festhalle in Hermann. Each year, MRPC honors residents, local agency representatives and organizations in the Meramec Region who contribute to their communities by volunteering their time, talents and support. This year’s event was hosted by Gasconade County and the City of Hermann. Event sponsors included Hermann Area Chamber of Commerce, Hermann Regional Economic Development Corporation, Peoples Savings Bank and Joseph Brazil.
Vega was recognized with an MRPC youth award. She is the daughter of Monica and Pete Vega of Waynesville, will graduate from Waynesville High School in 2024. She is a well-rounded young adult who has a passion for serving others as well as giving her best in all that she commits to. Vega is an athlete, volunteer and honors student. She is a member of the high school cheer and dance teams, as well as the track team. She is a member of notable national societies including the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), Beta Club, and National Honor Society. Vega is an active participant in the Freshman Mentor Program (FMP), which showcases her versatility and commitment to assisting other students and her community. She consistently volunteers 30-50 hours annually, engaging in activities such as volunteering in the local animal shelter, assisting with school field trips, operating sports concession stands for fundraising initiatives and tutoring.
The ARK Community & Sports Center is a free community resource for the residents of the Pulaski County region. The ARK is open five days a week and is operated by volunteers. This organization started as a for-profit organization but has since closed and reopened as a gym at no cost to the community. The ARK has been operating under its new vision since 2018 and has become a place for community members to connect with others and achieve their self-care goals, even opening its doors as a heating shelter during the winter to support the community efforts to help those who were experiencing displacement or homelessness. This facility provides many amenities such as an indoor running track, spin bikes, group fitness room, racquetball court, rock-climbing wall, a full basketball court, circuit training equipment, free weights, a cardio area filled with treadmills, exercise bikes and elliptical machines, plyometrics area, and free childcare. The ARK also allows many nonprofit organizations to use the facilities for free, such as churches, the local Chamber of Commerce, the Free Women’s Center, the Fun Club (special needs kids), a home school coop, the local pickleball club, the Salvation Army, and the Pulaski County Free Fit Camp. The Ark has also facilitated events for organizations, such as the annual back-to-school event that provides backpacks and other resources for returning students in the area.
Both were nominated by Waynesville Mayor Sean Wilson.
“It was so good to come together in-person and honor our volunteers,” said MRPC Executive Director Bonnie Prigge. “We are only able to honor a few volunteers each year, yet we extend our gratitude to the hundreds of volunteers in our region who truly make our region such an amazing place to live, work and visit. We are successful because of our volunteers.”
The night included a reception that began at 5:30, which was sponsored by The Inn at Hermannhof and showcased German music and dance by the Loehnig German Band and Wurstjaegger dancers. A silent auction, held during the reception, raised over $3,076 to offset the costs of the dinner. Approximately 170 people attended this year’s event. The dinner was catered by the Inn at Hermannhof.
Individuals and community organizations recognized for 2023 contributions to their communities are:
- Sarah Rion of Potosi, nominated by MRPC Board Member Laurel Yahl,
- Barbara Feagan of Owensville, nominated by Gasconade County Presiding Commissioner Tim Schulte,
- Brenda Johnson of Vienna, nominated by Maries County Presiding Commissioner Vic Stratman,
- Rylee Krawiecki of Rolla, nominated by MRPC Board Member Shane Anselm, and
- Belle Community Betterment Association, nominated by MRPC Board Member Steve Vogt.
This year’s other youth award recipients were:
- Bryce Heidbreder of Bland, nominated by MRPC Board Member Steve Vogt,
- Juliana Mae Davis of Vienna, nominated by Maries County Presiding Commissioner Vic Stratman,
- Easton May of Salem, nominated by Dent County Presiding Commissioner Gary Larson, and
- Madiline Pankey of St. James, nominated by MRPC Board Member Shane Anselm.
The Eugene E. Northern award, the highest honor given by MRPC for volunteers and community service, was presented to Deloris Gray Wood of Salem for 2023.
Wood, nominated by Dent County Presiding Commissioner Gary Larson, is a community scholar and journalist who works to educate the public on the Native American history in this area. She currently serves as the president of the Dent County Historical Society, past president of the Missouri Chapter Trail of Tears Association and a national board member of the Trail of Tears Association. She is also a member of the Trail Leaders Council, Partnership for the National Trails System and helped plan a Trails Workshop in Albuquerque in November 2022. In 2006, she and then Waynesville Mayor Luge Hardman worked to certify a portion of the trail near the Old Route 66 Bridge and Roubidoux Spring. They then worked together to establish seven National Park Service wayside exhibits in the park.
In 2017, Deloris was instrumental in planning stops for the Cherokee Removal Bike Riders as they came through Crawford, Phelps and Pulaski counties. The day included stops at schools to speak with students and other landmarks along their path, riding along the Trail of Tears. At Hike the Hill, in Washington, D.C. in February 2023, she presented before the US House of Representatives staff for the Natural Resources, Public Lands, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.
Wood also located two campsites north of St. James, in Phelps County, where Cherokees camped in the fall of 1837 and other detachments in 1938 that the National Park Service Trails Office in Santa Fe has acknowledged. Recently, she has submitted a National Park Service grant to tell the story of the Current River. She is also working in St. Francois County to get the National Park Service Historical Trails signed and properly designated.
The Lender of the Year award was also presented during MRPC’s Annual Dinner. Working in partnership with the Meramec Regional Development Corporation (MRDC), MRPC recognizes lending institutions who partner with MRPC/MRDC on local business projects. For 2023, the Lender of the Year award was presented to Guaranty Bank. Guaranty Bank partnered with MRDC on two SBA 504 loans for PR Joplin, LLC, dba Pizza Ranch in Joplin and Croft Wilson Properties LLC, dba as Croft Bedding Company in Webb City.
Staff members were recognized at the 2023 awards banquet for years of service included:
- Bethany Ferrell, Senior Accountant II, 5 years of service;
- Chuck Cantrell, Housing Inspector, 25 years of service;
- Tammy Snodgrass, Assistant Director and Environmental Manager, 30 years of service; and
- Elaine Cloyde, Housing Program Coordinator, 35 years of service.
Each year, MRPC employees are asked to select one staff member who performs above the call of duty, exhibits exemplary work performance, voluntarily promotes the organization and exhibits a positive work ethic and attitude. MRPC’s 2023 employee of the year was Linda Carroll, secretary.
Formed in 1969, MRPC is a voluntary council of governments serving Crawford, Dent, Gasconade, Maries, Osage, Phelps, Pulaski and Washington counties and their respective cities. Mary Heywood, representing the unemployed, serves as chair of the board. A professional staff of 30 offers technical assistance and services, such as grant preparation and administration, housing assistance, transportation planning, environmental planning, ordinance codification, business loans and other services to member communities.
To keep up with the latest MRPC news and events, visit the MRPC website at www.meramecregion.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/meramecregion/.