The Wayne County Chamber of Commerce celebrated 123 years of serving the business community Thursday evening, but from a distance. In year’s past, nearly 300 community members would gather for the Annual Event, but 2020 had something different in store.
“This was actually the 4th attempt to host the annual event in 2020. In early 2020, two planned banquets were cancelled due to winter weather, and then of course concerns about Covid in March, and still here in December”, shared Kate Daniels, President and Executive Director.
While the Chamber was unable to host a traditional banquet including the official passing of the gavel between the 2019 Chairman of the Board, Chrissy Smith to the 2020 Chairman of the Board John Seegars, and now to the 2021 Chairman of the Board, Dr. Thomas Walker, they have been able to utilize technology to deliver the messaging to the membership and community at-large.
“Though the challenges continue to be great for all, we remain focused on the opportunity to serve the business community. The deep roots of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce continue to anchor the breadth and impact that this organization is today. We recognize that for us to meet your needs, we must be an organization that is fluid enough to adapt to changing times, but grounded enough to be the core engine of community and business development”, Daniels said. “Throughout the year the Chamber was able to carry out the program of work supported by the membership through a hybrid model. The results were astounding, with over 140,000 posts reached through social media, over 1,000 new followers, 45 new members in 2020, for a total of 591 members.”
The first award presented was the Ambassador of the Year Award which is presented annually to an Ambassador who has gone above and beyond the call of volunteerism. This year’s award was presented to Liza Govan of Curtis Media Group Radio Stations. “She has opened many doors for the Chamber, including supporting our efforts to have opportunities for new members to join her colleagues on-air at Curtis Media Group Radio Stations. You can find her working the room at Business After Hours, Ribbon Cuttings and throughout the community. She is an advocate for our chamber because she believes in the work being done and the positive impact in the community. Her attitude is second to none and she’s made a living being a communicator, connector, and an effective problem solver for businesses small and large across this county,” shared Mrs. Daniels.
Following the Ambassador of the Year Award was the Ollie Toomey Volunteer Service Award. Ollie Toomey’s dedication and leadership during his tenure as the Chamber’s Executive Director from 1963 – 1984 has left a lasting impression on our community. In honor of Mr. Toomey’s 21 years of service, the Board of Directors instated the annual Ollie Toomey Volunteer Service Award on November 18th, 2013.
“This year’s recipients work with the Chamber began over a decade ago. Tommy King of Crown Screening is the recipient of this year’s Ollie Toomey Volunteer Service Award for his unwavering support of the many programs of the Chamber. Tommy serves as the Chairman of the Wayne Education Network’s Career Fair and STEAM Fairs and works on all levels from the coordination, the networking, collaboration, emceeing, and debriefing. He is an active member of the Military Affairs Committee (MAC) and supports all efforts to ensure the men and women of SJAFB are well connected in Wayne County. Through it all, Tommy is the epitome of the leadership that the late great Ollie Toomey represented.”
In addition to the Chamber awards, the annual Wayne Community College Awards were presented. Wayne Community College provides access to high-quality education at affordable tuition rates and produces the backbone of the local workforce. Whether enabling the dreams of individuals or responding quickly to the training needs of local business and industry, WCC is a catalyst for economic development, social equity, and personal enrichment.
Wayne Community College President, Dr. Thomas Walker announced the Start Up of the Year is Vanessa Spiron of Sprion Solutions Group. “This year’s recipient was a bit unsure if they were doing the right thing by thinking about giving up a full-time position. She has strong skills in leadership education and was a quick study on many topics. She is a very hard worker and is not afraid of a challenge and will take on a new opportunity with ease. She keeps her focus on what she wants her business to take on, but keeps family in mind as new opportunities present themselves.”
The Small Business of the Year Award was presented to Everleana Eason, owner of Go Go Berries. “Our award winner for this year’s Small Business of the Year is one who does not know how to quit. Regardless of the adversity, obstacles and challenges this individual will find a way to overcome it by working through it. They are known for adapting to the situation and coming up with creative alternatives to keep her business going. She has been taken down to low points and has come right back up with a win. Her tenacity along with her creativity and talent is the reason she is our winner of the Small Business of the Year”, presented by Dr. Walker.
The final presentation of the evening was the announcement of the Cornerstone Award Winner. This lifelong achievement award is presented annually to an individual, living or deceased, who has committed their all-in service for the betterment of Wayne County.
The recipient must have long-term service to Wayne County, significant impact on the overall betterment of the area, considered part of the foundation of the area and may be involved in business, education, government, etc.
The award was presented by Karen Moore to this year’s winner, her father, James E. “Jimmy” Williams.
Jimmy Williams has had a significant impact in the classrooms, on the athletic fields and in administrative offices throughout Wayne County during a career in education that spanned much of five decades. Mr. Williams was a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, Honorary Doctor of Human Letters, University of Mount olive, University of Mount Olive Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, was the first inductee into the NC Independent School Athletic Association, along with many other accolades. Mr. Williams is past president of the Mount Olive Chamber, Mount Olive Rotary Club, and Mount Olive Boys and Girls Club. He was a charter member of the Southern Wayne Country Club and has been an active member and leader of the First United Methodist Church of Mount Olive and served as a Sunday School class leader for over 40 years.
The nominees shared this about Mr. Williams in the nomination, “As a community leader, Mr. Williams has demonstrated an exceptional ability to effectively communicate unifying themes that bring people together to get things done.”
Past recipients of The Cornerstone Award include: Richard B. Moffatt, Hal Tanner, Sr., Clarence “Icky” Peacock, William Dees, Jr., Hal Plonk, Bertha Shepherd Wooten, Ollie Toomey, Troy Pate, Jr., Jimmie Edmundson, William P. Kemp, Jr., Dr. Edward Wilson, Jr., David Weil, William Bryan, Wes Seegars, Bill Winslow, Ed Borden, Dr. David Tayloe, Keith R. Gunnet, Emily N. Weil, George Russell Kornegay, Jr., Alfonzo King, Irvin Ray McDonald Sr. and Philip A. Baddour, Jr.
The Annual Banquet was presented by BB&T, Now Truist. Sponsors also included: Atlantic Casualty Insurance Company, Duke Energy, First Citizens Bank, Markham, Mitchell & Stroud, LaFevers Dental Team, UNC Physicians Network – UNC Health Care, Wayne County Development Alliance, Hampton Inn and Southern Bank & Trust.