7th Annual Gila Valley Small Business Woman of the Year Award Winners Announced at Ceremony

Nominees for 2019 Gila Valley Small Business Woman of the Year Awards

The 2019 Gila Valley Small Business Woman of the Year Awards ceremony was held last night (October 24, 2019) at Eastern Arizona College’s Gherald L. Hoopes Jr. Activities Center. Fifteen women from Graham County and eight women from Greenlee County were nominated for the award. Each nominee was recognized at the ceremony and given a framed certificate, a gift basket and a $25.00 Visa Gift Card.

Margo Henrie, owner of Fizek Fitness in Thatcher won the award for Graham County and Jackie Norton won for Greenlee County. Each winner received a $1000 check to put toward their business, a beautiful trophy, and a $500 advertising package donated by Reed Richins at Double R Communications.

2019 Gila Valley Small Business Woman of the Year Winners pictured with Charmaine Chidester (From Left) Jackie Norton – Greenlee County, Margo Henrie – Graham County

Charmaine Chidester of the Small Business Development Center started off the meeting with words of welcome and introduction. Chidester pointed out that this month is National Women’s Small Business Month, “and while women-owned businesses have made great strides,” she said, “there is still room for improvement. Tonight we take the time to celebrate the accomplishments of those who took the risk of entrepreneurship, navigated the choppy waters of the work/family balance, and provided our communities with reliable and thriving small businesses.”

Chidester then introduced the committee members that helped with the event:

Janell Hackett – EAC Small Business Development Center
Marlena Thornberry – Freeport McMoran, Morenci Operations
Sean Winham and Tiffany McKenny – Freeport McMoran, Safford Operations
Reed Richins – Double R Communications
Brianna Morris – Graham County Chamber of Commerce
Jarod Wallace – Greenlee County Chamber of Commerce
Paulette LaBlance – American Association of University Women
Susan Elsberry – Women’s Club of Safford

Committee members from left: Jarod Wallace, Bri Morris, Sean Winham, Marlena Thornberry, Janell Hackett, Reed Richins, Susan Elsberry

The committee read through 49 nomination forms and surveys to select the 23 nominations that were presented at the awards ceremony. Chidester said that the committee reviewed each nomination form and looked at how the nominee’s business affects our community through employees and customer relations, the overall success of her business, what service she brings to her town along with how the business owner contributes both through her business and outside her business.

Each nominee was introduced at the ceremony by a member of the committee.

Charmaine Chidester introduced:

Torey Cranford – Cakes with TLC

Torey Cranford

Nine years ago, Torey Cranford started as a hobby baker in her home, but as her skills and knowledge grew, so did her “hobby” and soon it was a full-fledged business. Today, Cakes with TLC produces custom creations for events including weddings, birthdays, graduations and more. Torey has separated herself from other home bakers as a true professional and artist. Cakes with TLC has sponsored multiple local fundraisers for groups such as the ASEAC Ribbon Club, Safford High School Orchestra and Marching Band, the Gila Valley Boys & Girls Club and several others. Torey is also a guest teacher at the Safford High School Culinary Class. Four years ago, she started the Gila Valley Bridal Fair to highlight the services of other local businesses for any event. Next week, she will fly to London to attend Cake International to learn even more!

Samantha Orr – Personal Pet Care

Samantha Orr

When Samantha Orr moved to Morenci several years ago, she brought with her a much-needed talent – pet grooming. After working for other businesses, she decided to open her own business, Personal Pet Care. She has grown to serve over 500 clients, providing grooming services to all types of animals, and even specializing in fun cuts and colors. Samantha has clients that drive as far as Tucson just so she can pamper their pets. When clients with health needs or crazy work schedules can’t come to her, she comes to them. She donates free pet grooming certificates to local charities for auctions, offers discounted services to guide dogs and organized several events to help a young girl get funds for a Seizure Dog when her family’s insurance would not cover the costs. Samantha also has relocated snakes from homes, yards and regularly goes on snake roundups around our community. She is an avid supporter of the Phoenix Herpetological Society, donating both her time and her crocheting skills to fundraisers.

Theresa Greenwell – The Headframe Apothecary and Chase Creek Boarding House

Theresa Greenwell

Theresa Greenwell did such a good job helping friends with their business; they offered to sell it to her! The Headframe Apothecary offers a variety of consumer goods and artistic pieces on famous Chase Creek in Clifton. Theresa, or Terri as her friends know her, has also remodeled the upstairs area into the Chase Creek Boarding House, offering some much-needed accommodations to local workers. Her store is full of unique products and unique people. Commonly used as a gathering place for local organizations, the welcoming environment gives visitors to Chase Creek an inspiring backdrop to plan events and discuss how to improve the area. Terri has helped spearhead the “Second Saturday” events, coordinating the vendors and musicians. She is also heavily involved in the Festival of Lights. Terri remembers the days of paying others commission to sell her artwork. Now she offers space for artists to sell their artwork, commission-free. Her business has helped Chase Creek continue to grow.

Brianna Morris introduced:

Loretta Desaulniers – Kinder Prep Academy

Loretta Desaulniers

Loretta Desaulniers has been through it all! After serving as a beloved Kindergarten teacher for 20 years she was inspired to open KinderPrep Academy in 2015 to serve the preschool population. She has grown from a small space on 7th street in Safford, to a beautiful location painted the colors of the rainbow on Hwy 70. Loretta serves as the First Things First Foundation Child Care Provider Representative in our region. Her students’ parents and employees describe her as intelligent, devoted, and compassionate. She began serving just 10 students and is now serving 62 young ones. Her lovely daughters who work by her side described her work saying, “Her students not only graduate with the knowledge they need to be successful in school but also with the foundation to be emotionally and socially skilled as they move up into elementary school.” Her daughter Ashley says, “She is the reason I became a teacher.”

Ginny Carter – Kracked Cell Phone Repair and Video Games

Ginny Carter

Ginny Carter was nominated by her dear friend and longtime customer Cody Hoopes. He describes her as “having a heart of gold, and the most caring and selfless business owner.” Ginny first began her business career in The Gila Valley in 2009 selling vintage gaming, music, and memorabilia from the decades.  She desired to sustain the love for our culture and the past, reflecting on where we come from. Ginny was born in West Monroe Louisiana and had to move back in 2011, selling and leaving her business behind. A few years later, she returned “home” to Safford and re-started her business in 2016 under a new name “Kracked Cell Phone Repair and Video Games”. She is also the mother of three incredible children. Ginny describes herself as driven to succeed and she loves getting to know the community by meeting one person at a time catering to their needs and developing lasting friendships. Ginny is an inspiration to young women who have a dream of independence and a passion for overcoming challenges.

Elizabeth Kueny – Cricket Insurance, LLC

Elizabeth Kueny

Elizabeth is a proud business owner of Cricket Insurance, LLC, who has “built herself from scratch”. It has been her passion since she was a child to have her own business, and she has battled the naysayers and persevered through the hard times. She started in a small room in her house before moving into a commercial location. She gives her husband huge thanks for the support through the years of raising 3 kids and living her dreams and she now has six beautiful grandbabies as well! Her daily affirmation is to give all of her customers the service they deserve. She employs three part-time employees and they LOVE her and work very hard for her. Her daughter describes her as “giddy” when she saves people money on insurance, and she has a huge heart and runs her business “Like a Boss”.

Sean Wenham introduced:

Alma “Letty” Garcia – Toni’s Kitchen Pizzarama

Letty Garcia

Following the tragic death of her husband and a subsequent decision to leave California with her children, Alma “Letty” Garcia found opportunity, training, and mentorship by working for Toni and Joe Sarantopoulos, the original owners of Olympic Pizzarama in Safford.

In 2003, Letty purchased the business after working there for fifteen years and Toni’s Kitchen Pizzarama began! One look at Toni’s Kitchen Facebook page and your mouth will start watering from pictures of delicious pizza, pasta, salads, and desserts. Letty strives to pay it forward to the community as an expression of gratitude for all the help and support she has received from great and honorable neighbors. She takes pride in her community and has been teaming up with SEACUS (Southeastern Arizona Community Unique Services) for the past ten years to help provide Thanksgiving dinners for homebound senior citizens. She also contributes to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Solomon, and donates to Thatcher Unified School District. We are sure happy she came to our community.

Clarisse Drake – Essence of Tranquility

For 26 years, Clarisse Drake has been the owner/operator of Essence of Tranquility – a natural hot mineral spring spa with lodging, camping, body treatments and a gift shop south of Safford. She purchased the business, then known as Lebanon Baths, and property in 1993. After that, she started construction of the outside hot tubs, learning her way through masonry, plumbing, and electrical work.  She donates to and participation in charity auctions, and provides free showers at her business for community members and visitors in need. Her business is a recipient of the Best of Spas & Campgrounds – Safford award for six consecutive years. Clarisse was unable to attend the event.

Lana Lee – Real Deals on Home Decor

Lana Lee

Lana Lee, owner of Real Deals on Main Street in Safford, refers to this franchise as a family of local mom-and-pop shops. Real Deals specializes in home décor, wonderful gifts, women’s clothing (both casual and formal), and accessories. Lana has been in business for more than 5 years. Just 5 months after opening in Thatcher, the shop was devastated by a flood. After boxing up over 15,000 items, Real Deals moved to Safford’s Main Street.

Lana supports numerous organizations through Real Deals including the Graham County Fair, FFA, Save a Skyler, and is a Diamond Sponsor for Pamper Me and Ladies’ Night Out. Lana is also a CASA volunteer for foster children.

It is clear Lana Lee is passionate about her community. Her Facebook page often lists other shops and encourages shoppers to shop throughout the community. Please welcome Lana Lee as Small Business Woman Nominee.

Janell Hackett introduced:

Alissa Stockton – Rose Hill Wellness 

Alyssa Stockton

Alissa came to the Gila Valley in 2006 where she set up her alternative medicine clinic with Essence of Tranquility. In 2014 she purchased a commercial building in Thatcher and started operating Rose Hill Wellness with her daughter Marissa. In 2017, she expanded her business to Green Mountain Wellness to service the area with medical marijuana licenses for patients and clients that are in the need of alternative medicine. Alissa is licensed to practice oriental medicine and is a certified DOM. Recently Alissa has reorganized and consolidated the two businesses and is soon opening Campus Coffee, Tea and Smoothie: A small café focused on healthy foods. Alissa is a cancer survivor who attributes much of her recovery to alternative medicine, including Chinese herbs, medical marijuana, and CPDs.

Monica Aguilar – Studio Twenty-Two Six

Monica Aguilar

Monica’s business is a full-service hair salon specializing in hair, skin, and nails. The success of the business allowed Monica to retire from her job as an RN to work full time in the shop. She still stays involved with serving those who need special care, providing haircuts for the elderly who are homebound and transporting elderly clients to doctor’s appointments. She is continuously working with other businesses, vendors and organizations to help them grow, including providing space for them to run temporary businesses. She has partnered in her business to work with community organizations including Eastern Arizona Hispanic Heritage Corp., and the Mt. Graham Safe House to name a few. Her nominator said of Monica’s efforts: “She has devoted all her energy to making Chase Creek business district succeed and is always working to improve her business.”

Jarod Wallace introduced:

Malyn Sexton – Sexton’s Country Store

Malyn Sexton

Malyn bought Sexton’s Store, located in York, in the summer of 1998 from Carl and Mary Cook. Today, Malyn’s store has 4 employees and she works very hard to ensure that her business is successful and meets the needs of her community.

Sexton’s not only provides goods in a very rural area but has also sponsored the Graham and Greenlee Safehouse, Greenlee Search and Rescue, Greenlee co. Fair, PTA, FFA, and the March of Dimes and more. Mayln is the current local Relief Society president for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints where she coordinates the care and provides for the needs of over 200 women in the Duncan/York areas.

Malyn has truly dedicated her life to her business and the care, love, and support of her family, and community. She has overcome many rough spots and setbacks and has maintained a strong love and focus on the needs of others.

Dustie Robinette – Town and Country Supply and Contracting

Dustie Robinette moved to Duncan to be closer to her family in 2011 with her husband and the last two of her 6 children. She is the proud owner of Town & Country Supply, the “feed store” in Duncan. She loves providing customers with the supplies they need from hardware, plumbing, lumber, feed, and much more. The store is often a community hub for school and local events and has an informational bulletin board, making it easy for everyone to find and access community news. Alongside her husband, she also owns and operates Fred J Robinette Construction. Both businesses have sponsored many charitable events like the Javelina Chase, the Greenlee Gives Back Event, and the Greenlee Junior Livestock.

Outside her business, Dustie’s list of community involvement is unending and includes but is not limited to, the Duncan Rural Fire Protection committee, the PTA, Athletic Booster club and many, many more. Dustie puts her heart and soul into her community and truly loves everyone in it. Dustie was unable to attend the event.

Jackie Norton – PJ’s Restaurant

Jackie Norton

Just this month, Jackie Norton celebrated her 40th year in business at PJ’s Restaurant in Clifton. PJ’s serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner 7 days a week. The Mexican-American menu ends with a variety of homemade pies. Many young workers through the decades have found their first job to be at PJ’s Restaurant. Currently, there are three generations of Jackie’s family working at the business. If you take a moment and ponder all the changes and challenges the Morenci/Clifton area has experienced over the past 40 years, you get a small glimpse of how incredibly amazing, tenacious and dedicated Jackie is to her community. When asked what advice she would provide to new entrepreneurs in Greenlee County Jackie said, “Quality service, good staff, and a desire to love the community is essential.” Jackie has served on several boards throughout the years, supported the local schools, and quietly donated food for numerous functions. She says, “It is a blessing to go to work every day doing something that you love to do. The community has blessed us for 40 years.”

Marlena Thornberry introduced:

Kimberly Henderson – Blue Door Sanctuary

Kimberly’s business is the Blue Door Sanctuary, a combination of a bed and breakfast, event space and catering business, located in Clifton. Kimberly purchased the historical 1917 Presbyterian church built in 2006. She formed her business in 2016 and now provides a relaxing and beautiful getaway and event center. She hosts events including weddings, holiday parties, baby showers, and dinner parties. She also provides long-term rentals, which are in big demand in this corridor community to the Morenci mine. Her business hosts people from around the world and yet she is still active in the Clifton community and serves as secretary for the veterans’ organization and vice president of the American Legion. Kimberly stated: “I regret that I won’t be in attendance. I will be attending the funeral of Dylan Archuleta, in Colorado. Dylan was a resident at Blue Door Sanctuary and tragically lost his life in a kayaking accident this past spring. The nomination alone is an honor and I will be thinking of all you.”

Twila Cassadore – Twila Cassadore Catering

Twila Cassadore

Twila operates a catering service offering dishes based on locally sourced pre-reservation food. Twila is an Apache Indian raised on a small farm in Peridot, AZ. Twila learned from her parents to harvest, prepare, cook, hunt and cure wild food sources found in the area, and that these foods work to decrease diabetes and other health aliments predominate in most communities. Through her business, she has had a profound impact on the San Carlos Apache community where she teaches other tribe members the archaic harvesting and cooking techniques that were suppressed or outright lost. This past June the Phoenix New Times Magazine featured a story on Twila. Though she is not one to toot her own horn, a little birdie told us she was even flown out by more than one Hollywood celebrity to cater special events. What an amazing ambassador she is for our area. She is active in the San Carlos Apache Nation Boys and Girls Club, Pathways College, San Carlos Apache Young Warriors and Girl Scouts of America. Twila is a remarkable businesswoman whose restorative work has given us a piece of our collective Gila Valley history back to us.

Jackie Hewitt – H&S Feed Tack & Western Wear and Images Salon 

Jackie Hewitt is an overachiever. She does not own one successful business; but two: H&S Feed Tack and Western Wear and Images Salon. She has been doing this for eleven years. She takes pride in providing feed, tack and western fashion to the Gila Valley while also offering a full-service beauty salon on the same Thatcher property.

Jackie took a small business in a rented facility and built an entirely new operation. She shops local, buys local and employs many Gila Valley citizens.

She is the first to donate for local fundraisers and sponsors an angel Christmas tree in the shop each year.

The growth of her two businesses is a testimony to her hard work and drive to succeed.  Jackie couldn’t make it tonight because her husband is recovering from knee surgery.

Reed Richins introduced:

Michelle Wilson – Farmers Insurance

Michelle Wilson

Anytime you can handle working with your dad for 30 years you should be given an award. Farmers Insurance has been an icon on Main Street in Safford for 55 years. When Michelle’s dad, Jim, retired 15 years ago, Michelle took the opportunity to purchase the business.

From the outside looking in, Michelle has figured out the work/home life balance. Michelle is there to support her family including 2 kids and 5 grandkids.

Michelle is a very active member and served in many leadership positions within the Safford Lions Club and Foundation. She has been the backbone of the Salsa Festival since its inception 13 years ago, helping it grow into the premier event in Southeastern Arizona. She isn’t one to take the spotlight or be in front of people but is always the one to make sure things are running the way they should run and best of all, with a smile on her face.

It is my pleasure to call Michelle my friend and introduce her as a nominee for the Small Business Woman of the Year award.

Margo Henrie – Fizek Fitness

Margo Henrie

Non-stop. Spark plug, energizer bunny, funny, happy, driven and dedicated. These are all words that came up in the committee’s conversation when talking about Margo Henrie from Fizek Fitness.

Margo’s family consists of her husband Lance, 4 kids and hundreds of women that are trying to achieve fitness goals without the pressure of working out in front of the lesser, weaker of the sexes.

Margo says that the best part about being a business owner in the Gila Valley is all of the amazing people that you get to meet and work with.

She is active in her church and community, volunteering hundreds of hours teaching Zumba at the Safford Middle School, Thatcher High School, and Safford Library. Fizek Fitness has sponsored numerous events since they opened almost 6 years ago.

It is easy to see why Margo is so successful. Her energy is infectious.

Stephanie Rios – The Cleanup Crew

Stephanie Rios

Stephanie Rios a reliable, hardworking single mom and owner of The Cleanup Crew in Pima; providing commercial and residential cleaning services in Graham and Greenlee Counties for the past 7 years.

Having been raised in difficult family circumstances, Stephanie became homeless for some time with no one to lean on. As an adult, she was adopted into the Campos-Ortega family who showed her she could be so much more than she had hoped. With a wing and a prayer and $50, faith in the Lord, and a positive attitude, she started the Cleanup Crew. Her clients describe her as a kind and generous person. Stephanie does not see them as clients. She sees them as a bigger family.

Stephanie volunteers at many community activities, especially those which involve the homeless and youth. She uses these opportunities to interact with youth to steer them away from drugs and harmful choices.

Susan Elsberry introduced:

Jill Chacon – Fifth Avenue Florist & Gift Shop

Jill Chacon

Jill Chacon spends most of her time devoted to resident’s floral requests and needs in SE Arizona and NM. Her shop has been a family-owned fixture next to the Safford P.O. for over 36 years and she has been the owner/operator for 20 years. Her main business is floral arrangements upon demand in both fresh and silk flowers with a knack for unique personalization. You can always rely on Jill and her team to deliver beautiful arrangements for all occasions featuring a wide array of plants, balloons, stuffed animals and fruit baskets. She quietly and modestly is always ready to lend a hand to those in need – and after all this time, she has a wealth of information available.


Irene Schmoller – Cotton Clouds, Inc. 

Irene Schmoller

Irene Schmoller LOVES everything cotton! Cotton Clouds Inc. is an online, globally recognized business she started 40 years ago to answer her need for quality cotton weaving yarns. When she could not find the yarns she needed, she reached out to yarn manufacturers in the garment district of NY and began her mail-order business to share this find with other weavers. Her Facebook followers now number over 14,000! She specializes in registered EasyWeave® Cotton Yarn Kits, quality cotton, and cotton blend yarns, looms, spinning fibers and tools. Irene and her associate, Jodi Ybarra, have a registered program called GuaranteeSuccess® that ensures active communication, instruction, and videos allowing each customer to achieve their personal fiber-artist goals or, in rare cases, a money-back guarantee. Personalized Customer Service is the #1 priority. Irene engages in local community service activities but globally impacts Guatemalan women in fair trade practices and full donation support with their Friendship Kits.  She is a great example of a business owner who has evolved with the times.

Erin Anderson- ProTalk Speech Therapy LLC

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson of ProTalk Speech Therapy LLC has a unique business model, supporting all of Greenlee County in both private and group settings with individualized speech and language therapy for children to adult clients. Erin’s mission is to empower, educate and advocate for people of all ages and to identify, assess and treat speech and language disorders. ProTalk Speech Therapy’s’ priority is to help others; to achieve this, Erin wears many hats. These include teacher, therapist, trainer, businesswoman and active citizen in the community. She and her intern work from a mobile storefront able to serve all in Greenlee County face-to-face, no matter how remote.