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Practicing what she preaches: Mann named citizen of the year

By Erika Pedroza | Published Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Deborah Mann fervently lives by what she believes.

In addition to helping her husband, Robert, run a business in Bridgeport, the mother of two is also active in numerous community service organizations all the while enveloped in collegiate studies.

TOP HONORS – At the Christmas dinner Monday, the Paradise Chamber of Commerce honored Deborah Mann as the Citizen of the Year. Mann serves as treasurer of the Paradise Chamber and is active in several other community organizations. She and her husband, Robert, own Mann Refrigeration Inc. in Bridgeport, which was also recognized as co-Business of the Year with First State Bank of Paradise. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“I strongly believe that when a person’s mind becomes idle, the person becomes idle,” she said. “I don’t want to be that person. I want to grow and learn and help as much as I can, wherever I can. I do it because I care. I want to contribute to my community.”

That philosophy and the life it shapes were recognized Monday when the Paradise Chamber of Commerce awarded Mann the Citizen of the Year award.

“She is the get-it-done girl,” outgoing chamber president Laura Foster said. “She is a bulldog. She pushes me, but she also pushes herself and wears herself out – all for the community.”

Mann is treasurer of the Paradise Chamber and Area Business Women’s Network; ambassador of the Bridgeport Area Chamber of Commerce and president of the Look Local Task Force. She is also a member of the Paradise Historical Society and the Texas Woman’s University Alumni Advisory Council and is active in the Paradise Band Booster Club.

“She does it all with a good heart,” Foster said. “Not just as a colleague or in business but on a personal level, too.”

Foster and Mann, whose daughters are the same age, have collaborated not only as directors of the Paradise Chamber but also as graduate students. Together they worked on their Master of Business Administration degrees at Texas Woman’s University.

They traveled to Houston for classes and even participated in a couple of 10-day sessions in Europe to study the economic, trade and history of a foreign country before Laura graduated in the fall of 2008. Mann earned her degree a semester later, May 2009.

But Mann’s perpetual pursuit of a higher education doesn’t stop there. She has been contemplating doctoral studies but can’t seem to chisel down her extensive list of interests to just one.

“I’ve narrowed it down to 12 different fields,” she said. “I want to study everything, but I know I can’t. I’m looking at five to seven years to earn a degree. I don’t want to start something until I’m sure I’m going to see it through. And I think it’s important to broaden your perspective. It’s important to continue to grow, and in order to do so, you have to continue to learn.”

That ideal developed at the encouraging word of an employer almost three decades ago.

“He asked if I was happy with my position and where I was,” she recalled. “When I asked him why he asked, he told me I was intelligent and such a hard worker and he couldn’t imagine why I wasn’t in college pursuing a degree. I was floored. But that instigated my desire to go to college and become more than what I was.

“Before, I just wanted to make a paycheck and go hang out with my friends. I had no thoughts for the future,” she continued. “But when you open your eyes you see what all is available and what is there if you simply seek it.”

Mann graduated from Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Okla., before moving to Texas when she was 19 to help an uncle and four cousins who lost their wife and mother, Mann’s youngest aunt.

She began her collegiate studies in 1986 at what was Cooke County College. Since then, Deborah has earned six degrees, including four associate’s degrees, a bachelor’s degree in applied arts and sciences from Howard Payne University in 2003 and her master’s degree.

She applies what she learns to the family business, Mann Refrigeration Inc. which, along with First State Bank of Paradise, was also honored Monday as the co-Business of the Year.

Mann has been involved in the business since she and her husband of almost 21 years, Robert, wed on horseback Good Friday 1992 in Bob Ruffin’s arena in Keeter, where they met at a play day.

“I married the business when I married the man,” she said.

Robert had assumed ownership of the business in 1986, about 30 years after his father established it, and expanded the single-truck fleet, adding commercial refrigeration, heating and air to the exclusively residential services originally offered.

A couple of years after they married, Deborah “demanded more time” with her husband, so they hired two employees. That number has grown to their current staff of 20 – including six technicians and seven installers – that serves nine counties. Along the way, the business was incorporated in 1995, and its operations were moved from the Mann home in Paradise to Bridgeport in 1999 – changes Deborah helped oversee. And she plans to see more – at least for a few more years, before the business is passed onto the third generation.

The couple’s son Trae, who graduated from Paradise High School last year, works full time for the family business. Their daughter, Kalynn, a senior at PHS, intends to complete her core studies at Weatherford College before transferring to TWU to study business.

“She is folllowing my footsteps,” Deborah said. “Then she says she’s going to let me retire, and she’ll take over the business. She’s a daddy’s girl so she’ll probably keep her dad around.”

When they’re not working, the family enjoys boating and travelling.

“But community service is what I do,” Deborah said. “It’s what I love to do in my spare time.

“And while at work,” she added with a laugh. “My husband is very understanding of that. And we couldn’t do that if not for the faith in our office staff. They work hard for my company and me and make it to where I am able to be involved in our community. Every business should have a presence in the community. It’s what makes a community so strong.”

But that bond comes only with group collaboration, Mann believes.

“Everyone is so amazing. It takes everyone of us involved in the community,” she said. “I do what I can. But there are so many people that do so much more – Susan Miller, Joe Neil and Marianne Henderson. I just stand in awe. But it does take every person in an organization to make it work. I’m just a small piece of the puzzle.

“I do it because I care. I want to contribute to my community, and I don’t expect any kind of recognition in return. I am so flattered beyond words.”

The Paradise Chamber of Commerce will host its first meeting of the year noon Jan. 7 at Paradise City Hall. Directories will be distributed, and the new officers will be announced.

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