The 100 Club’s annual Awards Banquet appeared that it would be a standing room only event at the Wharton Civic Center as the main auditorium was packed with people, mostly law enforcement officers, their families and friends.
In his opening remarks during the 39th annual event on Thursday, Aug. 15, 100 Club President David Carlson said “we didn’t expect this many people; it’s a good problem too have.”
Of course, everyone who attended was seated, enjoyed food and drinks. Every law enforcement official received a gift just for attending, courtesy of various businesses in Wharton County.
A couple of speakers said the bond that exists between the Wharton County community and law enforcement is like no other. Other speakers said there are others who eventually worked their way in life to become law enforcement officers.
Debbie Cenko, who is the 2nd vice president, referred to this group as peacemakers in her prayer.
“We ask (Jesus) now to protect those who serve us. You have told us that peacemakers will be called the children of God, and there are many children of God in this room.”
Like in the past, four leaders from each major law enforcement agency in Wharton County were seated on stage and spoke on their behalf. Among them, in the order they spoke, were El Campo Police Chief Terry Stanphill, Wharton Police Chief Terry Lynch, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Matt Ochoa, and Wharton County Sheriff Shannon Srubar.
No matter how many times they have been in front of hundreds of people like they were Thursday, each man was jovial in his presentation because they all had a grand opportunity to speak about their programs and how they impact the citizens. But just as important were the awards few individuals would be bestowed. The leaders smiled as they presented their awards because of what the honors meant to their agencies, to the individual, but especially to the community.
Sgt. Rashied Byrd earned the Officer of the Year award, four years after being hired by the department.
Lynch said Sgt. Byrd is one of the most professional and insightful people with which he has ever worked. He worked his way through the WCJC Law Enforcement Academy after graduating from Alief Hastings HS.
“Even though he wasn’t in the military, he as a strong military demeanor about him. He developed into a strong leader,” Lynch said. “He has the potential to be … no, he is the future of our department.”
Courtney Barker Bobbitt earned Support Staff of the Year. For Lynch, he has watched Bobbitt grow from a child to a woman and boasted about how she will begin the police academy in the fall. Her work with WPD began a year and a half ago. Lynch said she always is willing to assist and steps up “without question” when needed.
Lynch said he would entertain the thought of having her join the rank of WPD upon graduating from a police academy.
Johnny Gonzales earned the Citizen of the Year award, which came a few months after stepping down from his commander duties with American Legion Post 87. Lynch said he opened up a secondary shelter for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Gonzales waited as Lynch read the numerous entities he is involved with, including veteran and WPD-related events. He has been married 44 years and is a Vietnam War veteran.
Stephanie Schoof earned the Officer of the Year award, four years after beginning her career with the agency. Her education came by way of California and once she was with the WCSO, she served as dispatcher, correctional officer and now as patrol deputy.
“Recently, (Deputy Schoof) was involved in a very dangerous pursuit that ended where two combative male subjects were resisting arrest,” Srubar said. “She handled the situation effectively and correctly.”
Becky Bennet earned the Support Staff of the Year award. She began her career with the WCSO in 2010 and now oversees all jail records, after serving years ago as a dispatcher and eventually a correctional officer.
Srubar said her responsibilities are important and vital to WCSO operations.
“Her dedication to the office speaks for itself as this is the second year in a row that she is receiving this award,” Srubar said.
Howard Albert earned the Citizen of the Year award, and Srubar said while looking at the votes, “it didn’t take long after receiving half the votes to determine who would be recognized tonight.”
Albert, who owns and operates Wharton EZ Lube, keeps up with WCSO patrol vehicles.
“One common comment from fellow deputies was that Howard got the job done fast and with a smile,” Srubar said.
Two individuals were named among the best that the DPS in Pierce has to offer.
They were trooper Anthony “Tony” La Count, who earned Trooper of the Year award and Connie Cardenas the Support Staff of the Year award.
For Cardenas, she has been with DPS since 2007. In 12 years, she rose to the rank of Operator V.
“She is always pleasant whether answering troopers, other agencies or the Stranded Motorist Hotline.
“She has a very calm voice that puts you at ease,” said Ochoa, who added that Cardenas has adapted to the challenges of having two vacancies at Pierce Communication. “You have been willing to work extra shifts or trade shifts with other operators during this time.”
Sgt. Thomas Janek joined Ochoa to recognize LaCount for his efforts in combating criminal activity. Ochoa asked the audience to look past the more than 50 criminals who were arrested for violations outside of traffic law violations, and the recovering of seven stolen trailers.
“I do not feel that big numbers are the key indicator to show the value of a trooper’s dedication to his position,” Ochoa said. This is why he didn’t mentioned numbers of vehicle stopped or drunk drivers taken off streets.
“I look for the professionalism and leadership offered by our troopers,” Ochoa said. “Timely report submissions, fully investigated cases, and hard work is a managerial expectation and a must for everyone working under us, but you cannot tech genuine leadership and integrity.”
El Campo PD
Liz Robledo earned the Support Staff award, the second time for her, and the first time since 2009. A Wharton native, she graduated from Wharton High School, attended Wharton County Junior College and earned her EMT basic.
Freddie Douglas earned the Officer of the Year award, years after having worked at an El Campo car dealership. Stanphill said he always talked about being a police officer and is now one of two night-shift sergeants.
He began his career with the Bay City Police Department then moved to EC and now has 11 years experience.
Eugene Bustamante earned the Citizen of the Year award. Individual awards and achievements are not new to Bustamante, a lifelong EC resident and father of two and as many grandchildren.
“Recently we had a team member battle cancer and we all know how expensive that can get; Eugene stepped up and organized a fundraiser,” Stanphill said.
The police chief said a good story became better because the cancer sufferer recovered and became a survivor. Bustamante has been married 33 years.