Community and courage celebrated at the 2023 New Mexico Heroes Banquet

By New Mexico Sun Reports

Nov 15, 2023

The New Mexico Business Coalition’s (NMBC) 2023 Heroes Banquet, held recently in Albuquerque, celebrated local heroes who have made significant contributions to their communities across New Mexico.

The event, MC’d by Nancy Laflin, a former Emmy award-winning reporter, and Jim Williams, known for his ABQconnect radio show, kicked off with a prayer and pledge led by Cindi Runyon, Development Director for New Mexico Business Coalition and Rebound New Mexico.

The banquet, sponsored by various local businesses, honored public safety officials, community advocates, and military veterans for their service and bravery. Among the sponsors were International Protective Services, Vulcan Materials Co., US Eagle Federal Credit Union, and many others.

Public Safety Heroes: APD | Provided

A poignant moment of the evening was the Fallen Officer Recognition, where Officer Anthony Ferguson of the Alamogordo Police Department was posthumously honored. Ferguson, remembered for his humor and dedication, died in the line of duty earlier this year.

The Public Safety Hero Recognition segment highlighted the bravery of several Albuquerque Police Department officers, including Retired Officer Kent Parsons, Sgt. Francisco Hernandez, Officer Alex Castellano. Sgt. Rachel Discenza-Smith and Officer Ben Jemmett from the Farmington Police Department were also recognized as Public Safety Heroes. Their acts of valor in the face of danger were celebrated.

The Veteran of the Year award was presented to Ken O’Keefe, a U.S. Navy, Vietnam Veteran, who was recognized for his service and contributions to the veteran community.

“It was quite an honor, I was blown away actually,” O’Keefe said. “Compared to some of the medical issues I’ve been dealing with, the event was an uplifting break and reminder of all the good people in this world.”

In the Community Hero Recognition category, Sarah Smith, a former NASA Aerospace Engineer and now a community activist, and Juan Garcia, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and community leader, were honored for their advocacy and impactful work in their communities.

“It was an honor to receive the Local Hero award alongside others who have sacrificed so much,” Smith told the New Mexico Sun. “We are all being called right now, to play our parts in affecting change in our local communities, businesses, and schools.”

The evening also included a surprise award for Larry Sonntag, an Air Force veteran and a former Albuquerque Police officer, for his contributions to the New Mexico Business Coalition and Rebound New Mexico.

Keynote speaker Jeremy Gay, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a respected lawyer, was also honored as a Small Business Hero for his extensive work in mentoring youth and community service.

The event concluded with a generous donation to the 100 Club of New Mexico, an organization supporting the families of police officers and firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

“The annual Heroes event is a cherished time by many New Mexicans,” Carla Sonntag of the NMBC said. “We pay tribute to fallen first responders and celebrate the many great heroes who often go unrecognized. Attendees of this year’s event are already making plans to come again next year.”

The New Mexico Business Coalition (NMBC) is a statewide, nonpartisan nonprofit seeking to make New Mexico a better place to live, work, and run a business which advocates for businesses and individuals through education and policy promotion.

Rebound New Mexico is a charitable organization focused on reducing generational poverty in New Mexico through community collaboration and promoting self-reliance.