An area church was presented the Alma Area Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award during the chamber’s award dinner Thursday night.

Beyond Church in Alma was recognized for its contributions to the community, particularly for hosting community wide events in 2016.

Alma Area Chamber of Commerce Director Brian Huff, who announced the award, lauded the group for its contributions.

“We give (the Distinguished Service Award) to those who have made a significant impact on the Alma area and made the way of life better for the people of Alma,” Huff said. “This year we had a group who introduced a couple of new events that did both.”

Beyond Church hosted Fireworks on the Hill, a Fourth of July event that attracted an estimated 5,000 attendees, with another 4,000 watching remotely, Huff said.

Also held last year was the church’s Halloween Takeover, which Huff said “gave an opportunity to some 5,000 children to have a safe trick or treating experience.”

In December, the church gave out 84 “blessing baskets” of food for those in need to be able to have a traditional holiday dinner, Huff said.

Pastor Nate Schlegel, who also gave the invocation at the dinner, accepted the award for the church.

“We’re so honored,” Schlegel said after the dinner. “This award is not to a pastor; it’s to a church. Our church is people - the people you see in Alma every day. They just want to show in some way the same kindness and love they receive from Jesus.”

Also presented during the dinner were the community leader and business of the year awards.

Ed Thicksten was named the Alma Area Chamber of Commerce Community Leader of the Year. Thicksten is a long-time resident of Alma and former state legislator.

Huff spoke on Thicksten’s contributions to the city, including his work as a state representative that helped change how state funds were distributed to school districts - directly impacting the Alma School District.

“He’s consistent and puts a great deal of energy into all things he does,” Huff said.

Thicksten currently serves on the chamber board and is active at the Community Outreach Center and multiple city and civic organizations.

As Community Leader of the Year, Thicksten also will serve as grand marshal of Alma’s annual Christmas parade.

United Federal Credit Union in Alma was named the Alma Area Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year. Huff noted UFCU’s economic contributions to the city.

“Our Business Leader of the Year has not been in Alma very long,” Huff said. “But in the time they have been here, they have been very impactful.”

Since opening in April, the branch has provided $15,345,151.21 in loans and has seen $6,374,397.04 in deposits, Huff said.

Candidates for community leader of the year and business leader of the year are nominated by the Alma Chamber’s board of directors and a final vote is given by the executive board.

Awards were presented by outgoing chamber board president Melanie Allen.

Also during the dinner, decorated high school and college football coach Bill Blankenship addressed the audience.

Blankenship, who recently accepted a position as head coach at Owasso High School in Oklahoma, coached Fayetteville High School to the 2016 state championship. He has won four total state championships.

A Spiro, Okla., native, Blankenship coached the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane for eight years. He was named the Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2012 and named to the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009.

Blankenship told several stories of his life growing up with two brothers and a father who coached and his time as a player and coach. He kept the audience laughing through most of his talk.

“When people were talking about seasons, they meant fall, spring, summer…. I didn’t know that. I thought they meant football, basketball and baseball season, because that’s all we knew,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship also spoke on his “three football truths for life”: Everything is about everything - to be successful in one area of life, a person must aspire to be successful in all areas; Direction is more important than perfection - every decision you make takes you in one direction or another; and alignment is way more important than an assignment - if you line up with the right people, you have a better chance of being successful.

Dinner was catered by El Trio Mexican Restaurant and served by 4-H members at the Alma High School student union.