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Durango doctor named citizen of the year at annual chamber awards

Joseph Murphy served in leadership roles at Mercy Hospital and Fort Lewis College
Durango physician Joseph Murphy won the Durango Rocks Citizen of the Year award on Thursday at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. Murphy served as the college’s athletic team physician. The annual awards are sponsored by the Durango Chamber of Commerce. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)

Dr. Joseph Murphy, known for his contributions to accessible health care and work with Fort Lewis College, was named 2024 Citizen of the Year on Thursday at the annual Durango Rocks awards celebration.

The Citizen of the Year award is presented to those who have made a significant contribution to their community, going above the normal responsibilities of their profession, according to the Durango Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the awards.

Murphy of Durango was chosen because of his time serving as a physician as well as his multiple contributions to the medical community, including serving as medical director for FLC’s Health Center, FLC’s athletic team physician and his time as the president of the medical staff at Mercy Hospital.

CommonSpirit CEO Brandon Mencini presented Murphy with the award.

In retirement, Murphy continues to be proactive through various health initiatives, including a COVID-19 education program.

“This is someone that I’ve gotten to know over the course of the last year and a half,” Mencini said. “Someone that truly has created a legacy throughout the community.”

Murphy was quick to thank the community, his partners and his family after winning the award. He said he was humbled and amazed to win the award.

“Our accomplishments as a family, my accomplishments all are due in great part to Betsy,” he said of his wife.

Business of the Year
Durango Nursery and Supply owner Tom Bridge thanks the community after his organization won the Durango Rocks Business of the Year award Thursday at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)

Durango Nursery and Supply was named 2024’s Business of the Year.

The award is given to companies that show commitment to excellence and support for their community.

At 23 years old, Durango Nursery is the largest and oldest nursery in Southwest Colorado. The business was lauded for its quality of service and becoming a hub for botanical education and learning.

“Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be here,” owner Tom Bridges said.

Durango Nursery has shown commitment to local nonprofits and other community initiatives, despite facing challenges presented by the Gold King Mine spill and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Durango Chamber of Commerce selection committee.

“Durango Nursery is about making beautiful landscapes, making everybody’s dreams come true in their backyard,” Bridges said. “But it’s also about supporting people growing food at their house. Food security is an important thing for Durango, and we want to support it all the way.”

Small Business of the Year

Desert Sun Coffee Roasters was named Small Business of the Year.

Desert Sun was praised for its organic and fair-trade practices, mission to support economic independence among coffee farmers and focus on livable wages.

Desert Sun is no stranger to winning awards. In 2020, the coffee roaster took home the sustainability award from the Specialty Coffee Association.

“I believe that Desert Sun can be more than just coffee,” said owner Zach Ray upon winning the award. “We exist to make the world a better place. It’s something that is a big fundamental belief of mine. We believe in changing the status quo and innovation and new ways to conceive how one might do business.”

Desert Sun is a member-owner of Cooperative Coffees, the sole roaster-owned coffee importing cooperative in North America. That enables it to engage in direct negotiations with farmers and foster close relationships with those who grow their coffee.

Desert Sun also received a platinum-level green business certification from 4CORE for its sustainable work with farmers.

Nonprofit of the year

This year’s Nonprofit of the Year award was given to La Plata Economic Development Alliance for its commitment to helping Southwest Colorado’s housing situation.

The nonprofit of the year award is given to organizations that meet an unfilled need for betterment of the community.

In 2023, the Alliance worked with the Regional Housing Alliance to develop a catalyst fund to support predevelopment initiatives for workforce housing.

“I think we’re all here for one simple reason and that’s because we love our community,” said Executive Director Michael French. It is worth preserving the social network and local workforce of the area, he said.

Over the past four years, the alliance has witnessed a remarkable 500% growth in revenues, largely attributed to successful grant acquisitions.

The alliance secured a substantial three-year, $1.2 million workforce development grant, partnering with FLC to pioneer micro-certification programs.

The nonprofit’s efforts have injected about $3 million in grants and funding into the community within the last 18 months.

Entrepreneur of the Year

A little over a year after relocating EsoTerra Ciderworks to 558 Main Ave. in downtown Durango, owner Elizabeth Philbrick took home Entrepreneur of the Year.

The award celebrates Durango’s bold innovators in the business realm. But Philbrick wasn’t always an entrepreneur. She started her career as a legislative aide.

However, she left that behind to pursue her passion for cider. Philbrick transformed a small garden into the enterprise that EsoTerra has become.

“Entrepreneur of the Year really is about community and has nothing to do with a single person,” she said. “While I very much love this award, it goes to our community that I love so much.”

Philbrick plans to become Durango’s first Estate Cidery with 70 acres of vines, orchards botanical gardens and a tasting room.

Spirit of Durango Award

The 2024 Spirit of Durango Award went to none other than Mark “Happy Pappy” Anderson.

The owner of Happy Pappy’s Pizza & Wings has consistently shown commitment to supporting Durango and its students. Whether it be tending to Durango High School students lined up at Happy Pappy’s during lunchtime or throwing out T-shirts at high school football games, he is everywhere.

Anderson acknowledged his staff while accepting the award, who are mostly between the ages of 15 and 23.

“I’ve heard time and time again that this generation is lazy. I’m going to tell you now: Every one of these kids showed up on time and killed it every day,” Anderson said. “What they need are some mentors. Be a mentor to a kid.”

He launched his Durango pizza shop amid the onset of the pandemic after selling his 15-year-old trucking company. Undeterred by the challenges, he started his Durango establishment with recipes passed down through his family for 40 years.

Beyond business expansion, Anderson prioritized community support and youth empowerment.

He has made regular contributions to Manna soup kitchen and the Boys and Girls Club of La Plata County. He has donated $30,000 in food alone, according to the Durango Chamber of Commerce.

“I will tell you. The next time someone says something negative about Durango, stand up and tell them that it’s the best dang city you’ve ever lived,” he said to the crowd.

Bill Mashaw Volunteer of the Year Award

Fred Riedinger took home the Bill Mashaw Volunteer of the Year Award for his work with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4031.

Riedinger is a retired U.S. Coast Guard chief warrant officer and Vietnam veteran who has spent much of his retirement helping the community.

He thanked the American Veterans Association among others during his speech. He thanked former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell for helping bring a Veterans Affairs Clinic to Durango in 2002.

The Durango Chamber of Commerce chose Riedinger in recognition of his work revitalizing VFW Post 4031. He has been instrumental in improving local health care for veterans – helping them find care in Durango, rather than having to commute long distances to Albuquerque.

Morley Ballantine Women’s Leadership Award
LaTitia Taylor gives an acceptance speech Thursday after winning the Morley Ballantine Women’s Leadership Award. The award, presented during Durango Rocks at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, was sponsored by the Durango Chamber of Commerce. (Matt Hollinshead/Durango Herald)

LaTitia Taylor from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe took home the Morley Ballantine Women’s Leadership Award.

The award is given to women in the community who have exhibited excellence in business or nonprofits, demonstrated initiative and creativity, and enhanced the stability and improvement of their community.

Taylor has led the Southern Ute Tribe’s educational programs for 24 years.

“It’s an honor to be recognized and added to the list of strong trailblazing women,” she said. “And I’m humbled.”

She oversees a Montessori academy, a youth employment summer program, GED classes, dual enrollment for high school students and a scholarship program for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

She was recognized for her dedication to education, and now mentees of Taylor’s hold leadership positions with NASA. She has also been appointed to the United States Strategic Plan for STEM education. She also helped lead the charge in landing two $1 million grants to revitalize the Ute language and help with drought relief for ranchers.

“On behalf of women, I’m here to say, see us, cherish us, respect us and most of all love us,” Taylor said.

Leadership La Plata Barbara Conrad Award

Natambu Obleton won the Leadership La Plata Barbara Conrad award in recognition of his volunteer work and longevity with Leadership La Plata County. Leadership La Plata is the skills-training and broad-based community education arm of the Durango Chamber of Commerce.

Obleton was not in attendance for Thursday nights award show. He oversees the curriculum for Leadership La Plata.

In addition to Leadership La Plata, Natambu has served on the La Plata County Fair Board for 18 years, the Rotary Club for 20 years and several other organizations.

Outstanding Contribution to the Community

Marc and Jane Katz, who gifted $10.4 million to the FLC School of Business, were given the Outstanding Contribution to the Community award.

The Katz family also had the vision for Durango Mesa Park, an 1,850-acre track of land close to downtown Durango that will be used for recreation, economic vitality and other community events.

The Katzes were not in attendance during the ceremony Thursday night.

The Katzes have also preserved the Nordic Center land in north La Plata County, contributed to Animas High School and provided money to the community through the Community Foundation of Southwest Colorado.

Young Professional of the Year

For seeing the Young Professionals of Durango through the COVID-19 pandemic, Rebekah Click won the Young Professional of the Year award.

The award is given to a person who exemplifies leadership and demonstrates strong teamwork and integrity. The person must be younger than 40 and a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Young Professionals of Durango.

During the pandemic, Click found a way to keep growing the Young Professionals program.

“She is skilled at organizing, mobilizing, connecting and befriending those around her,” according to the chamber.

During her tenure, Click worked closely with the chamber and stepped into open board positions when needed.


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