The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce gathered Monday to honor its own successes, volunteers and businesses in a style reminiscent of an Academy Awards show.
The chamber held its annual member celebration dinner and awards night Monday at Savannah Rapids Pavilion.
The night's first honor - Volunteer of the Year for 2006 - was passed to one of the event organizers, Michele Thompson.
"... It was very easy to pick a winner ... She is a hardworking person. She's always there whenever we need her," said Karen Chrjapin, the chamber's director of programs, adding that many volunteers donate time and effort to the chamber's success.
Chrjapin said it was difficult to keep the award a secret from Thompson, who organizes the annual awards dinner and has "elevated this program to the status of a production."
Thompson, of Dan Cook & Associates, is a member of the 2007 chamber board of directors and chair of the Ambassador Committee.
"This is not funny," Thompson said, obviously taken aback by the surprise award. "I'm not good at this."
Members of the chamber's Ambassador Committee are charged with being in constant contact with new member businesses and representing the chamber at events such as the 63 ribbon-cutting ceremonies held in 2006, said Cheryl Culpepper, the 2006 committee chair.
The 2006 Ambassador of the Year award went to Bob Pratt, "the Coffee Guy," who owns and operates Imported Italian Coffee Plus. When Pratt joined the Ambassador Committee, he was shy, but now is very outgoing and attends nearly every chamber event, Culpepper said.
"(Pratt) has proven over and over how much he enjoys being on the committee," Culpepper said, adding that Pratt hadn't planned to be at the meeting, but was talked into attending. "...This just goes to show he always puts the chamber first over personal reward."
Gordon Renshaw, the chamber's executive director, said 2006 was a successful year for the chamber, a year in which the chamber had more than 200 volunteers, 16 programs, the publication of a new resource guide and new programs and events planned alongside Fort Gordon.
The focus of 2007 will be the county's small businesses, he said.
Renshaw said there are plans to develop new benefits and program initiatives for small business needs.
One county small business owner walked out of the ceremony as the 2006 Small Business Person of the Year.
Dr. Gary Crook, the 2005 and first winner of the award, presented what he called "a wonderful honor and one of the highlights of my career," to Cindy Crawford.
Crawford has owned and operated Cindy's Catering since 1999.
"Cindy has turned a small neighborhood business into a busy Washington Road commercial kitchen and buffet," Crook said. "Cindy's Catering has thrived providing outstanding service and quality food."
Crook said Crawford's 1989 cancer diagnosis led her passion for cooking and eating healthy. Crawford is an active volunteer with the March of Dimes and Golden Harvest Food Bank in addition to spending time with cancer patients at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital cancer center.
"You just never know how God is going to work in your life," Crawford said after accepting the award. "I never knew or never dreamt that my diagnosis of cancer would lead me to doing what I love the most in a county."
The final honor of the evening - the Lifetime Achievement Award - recognized Dr. Jefferson Hardin, who was on the board of trustees of the Columbia County Library System for 10 years and was very influential in the addition of the Performing Arts Center to the newest Columbia County Library in Evans.
"Most of you basically know him as the Father of the Columbia County Library," Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said.
Hardin said the award is an honor.
"A lot of people deserve a lot of credit for that focal point we now have in the county," Cross said. "But none more than the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Jefferson Hardin."
Hardin was responsible for securing a $500,000 donation from Jabez Sanford Hardin Jr. to build the performing arts center now named in honor of his father, Jabez Sanford Hardin Sr.
"He made a tremendous contribution," Hardin said of the man whose donation made the performing arts center possible. "We believe in books. We believe in children and literacy, and all of those thing are generally associated with libraries," he said.
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