The unofficial theme of Friday’s Mesa Chamber of Commerce Leadership Awards event: milestones.

The Chamber itself celebrated one during the gathering at the Hilton Phoenix East-Mesa hotel — this year marking its 100th-annual effort to honor local businesses, industry leaders, activists, teachers, students and other organizations.

Many of the members celebrated milestones, too, and in looking for a way to commemorate its own longevity, the Mesa Chamber chose to put the spotlight on its members first, said Sally Harrison, the organization’s vice president of development.

“The 100 years is incredible … but we decided we really wanted to have more of a focus on those key members who have been involved for so long,” she said.

On one note, there’s The Boeing Company, recipient of the Chamber’s 30-year Achievement Award just weeks after celebrating that same milestone at its expansive Mesa campus.

There are also the 14 inaugural honorees of the Chamber’s Heritage Award. The award was created for just the purpose Harrison referenced: honoring those long-standing members who have continuously stayed involved throughout the years. That list includes companies like Gunnell’s Tire and Auto (a member since 1943), Brown Evans Distributing Company (1941) Meldrum Mortuary (1930), and Guerrero-Lindsey Sign Company — the latter a member since 1918, the same year it opened for business.

The popular “business of the year” awards and a series of other individual honors — like best teacher, top professor, and student of the year — were also announced Friday. Texas Roadhouse (small business), Waxie Sanitary Supply (medium) and Southwest Ambulance (large) were this year’s top business honorees; Brian Dille of Mesa Community College was honored as professor of the year, Jill Benza of Skyline High School as teacher of the year, and Erika Crandall of Mesa High School as student of the year.

Alan Heywood of Americopy Business Solutions was tabbed volunteer of the year, and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport was given the Spirit of Service award.

Other nominees for businesses of the year: 1-800 Plumber and ACME Locksmith (small business), Las Sendas Golf Club and the law firm of Rowley Chapman Barney and Buntrock (medium business), and Southwest Airlines and Arizona Regional Medical Center (large business).

But heading into Friday’s event, the docket included one final milestone: the return of Peter Sterling, the Mesa Chamber’s CEO since early last year, if even just for one night at this point. Sterling has been on leave for more than a month after undergoing brain surgery and other rigorous treatment in his battle with a brain tumor.

Organizers said before the event that among the nearly 450 expected on hand for Friday’s ceremony would be Sterling. Harrison said she expected nothing short of a warm welcome.

“It’s so great to see the community rally behind him like they have,” she said. “He’s fighting, and we’re there with him.”

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