A former William Chrisman High School graduate is the owner of an award-winning business.

Tawnee Stimson never thought a simple thank you card would get her very far while she was in the hospital battling cancer, but little did she know, her life was about to turn around for the good.

Stimson, formally known as Tawnee Isbell, grew up in Independence and graduated from William Chrisman High School in 1971 taking homecoming and prom queen along with her. She also played basketball and was senior class vice president.

“Please don’t hold it against me, I really was a kind and nice person!” she said.

Presently living in Chattanooga, Tenn., Stimson was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2007, and she vowed to live life with “passion and gusto as opposed to dread and frustration.”

Her father and mother both died of cancer, so she is well aware of the pain cancer brought to families.

With friends and family rotating visits while she was in the hospital, Stimson decided to make a card thanking all those who had been extraordinarily kind to her during her surgery and treatment.

She designed a card with a photo of a red-eyed leaf frog that she had taken in Costa Rica.

A good friend loved the card so much she called to ask for a dozen more to sell in her bookstore in Murphy, N.C. After her friend asked Stimson if she had made any others Stimson immediately took action designing some additional ones.

This is where “Essence in a Bucket” began.

The name of her company came from a story she heard about a bucket and the ocean.

She said, “It refers to the universal light with which we are all imbued regardless of how we look, what we believe, or how we choose to behave.”

As a painter, photographer and writer, this was a perfect outlet for her passions.

Located in Chattanooga, her store took place, where it is full of greeting cards designed from her own photographs along with photographs of paintings.

Stimson exhibited the cards in Atlanta at a gift show and now has around 120 designs in her line.

Writing the sentiments herself, she develops cards that promote introspection, conversation and an occasional grin.

The cards are now in art galleries in South Carolina as well as stores in North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Wyoming.

Several years ago a large local hospital in Tennessee commissioned her for 20 paintings for their cancer floor and have recently bought cards from her cancer line for their gift shop.

“This seems to be one of those events that one hears about where things have come full circle,” Stimson said.

Her cards are desired so much among people that Essence in a Bucket is a finalist for a LOUIE, the Greeting Card Association’s equivalent of the entertainment industry’s Oscar.

Her card was one of more than 1,000 entries from 160 companies worldwide.

The card, which depicts a dog staring out a window, is competing against cards from two other companies in the Romance category: Sunrise Greetings, a division of Hallmark Cards Inc. and Origami Paper Agriculture, based on Brazil.

She will be exhibiting her winning card at the National Stationery Show in New York City in May where she hopes to expand her retail outlets.

Not only does she use her own photographs but she suggests her family and friends send them their photographs for possible ideas, which she gives credit to by referencing them on the back of the card.

Her sister, Kandi Lorenz currently lives in the Independence house she grew up in and which their parents bought in 1953.

“I return to Independence with great regularity” she said, “as most of my nieces, nephews and their children still live in the area, as well as some friends from high school with whom I visit regularly.”

Cancer free and living the life she enjoys, she continues to design “cards to convey your heart.”