Chamber honors best business of 2021

Posted By: Denise Etheridge Community,

Special thanks to Densie Etheridge of The Walton Tribune for the story.

The Walton County Chamber of Commerce lauded one of the community’s top educators and highlighted the Board of Education’s achievements during its 74th annual awards banquet Thursday night.

The event drew close to 200 people and was held at The Factory at Walton Mill on South Broad Street.

Mike McGarity presented the J.L. McGarity Citizenship Award to George Walton Academy headmaster and former public school superintendent Gary Hobbs. Hobbs served as superintendent of the county’s public school district from 2008-16.

McGarity spoke about Hobbs’ career rise from his early tenure as a middle school and then high school principal in Loganville to overseeing the local school system. McGarity said Hobbs worked “behind the scenes” for the betterment of the community and generated cooperation between public and private schools.

Hobbs started his teaching and coaching career at Warner Robins Junior High School in 1972 and earned his Education Specialist in administration in 1982 at the University of Georgia.

He was in his fifth year as the principal of Loganville High School when he was moved into the associate superintendent slot. Hobbs became school superintendent on Sept. 15, 2008.

The chamber’s citizenship award began in 1968 to recognize Walton residents who exemplify leadership, initiative and determination.

Chamber president Teri Smiley presented the Public Servant of the Year award to the seven-member school board, which has been named an Exemplary School Board for six consecutive years by the Georgia School Boards Association.

Smiley described the school board as a “longstanding unified group of dedicated public servants.” She said the board was faced with adversity due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Despite the challenges, each member of the board has worked selflessly to make decisions that ensure the safety of our students and staff while continuing to provide high quality educational opportunities for over 14,300 students in Walton County,” Smiley said.

The school system has a 92.7% graduation rate, according to Smiley.

On Thursday night, the chamber presented a new award: Woman of the Year to Dawn Griffin.

There were five nominees with four applications that were returned, Smiley said. The chamber president said this award evolved from the chamber’s Women in Business program that began in late 2020 and grew in 2021.

“The mission of the Women in Business group is to engage, elevate and empower women in business within our community,” she said.

Griffin recently retired from 35 years in banking, according to Smiley.

“As a longtime banker, I have served as a personal mentor to many women over the years,” Griffin said in a statement to the chamber. “I have encouraged them to think and act for the job they aspire to have, not their present one. Always look at the bigger picture, not just how something involves you.”

Griffin’s civic involvement in addition to the chamber board includes: Rotary Club of Monroe, United Way of Walton, Faith in Serving Humanity, St. Mary’s Hospital board, Athens Regional Foundation board, Athens Cancer Society board, Leadership Walton, Athens Chamber of Commerce board, Youth Leadership Athens board, Heart Association of Georgia board, the Monroe Museum, Walton County Fire & Ice Event and Relay for Life.

Smiley said Griffin also produced over 100 masks for hospital workers early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heather Boyce, community relations manager with Piedmont Walton, received the Ambassador of the Year award.

Smiley said ambassadors are “the face of the chamber” and serve as a liaison between chamber members and board of directors. Ambassadors help bring in and retain members, Smiley said. She said ambassadors serve as greeters at chamber events, help set up for meetings, attend ribbon cuttings, and assist with other chamber projects as needed. Chamber ambassadors are on a point system, earning credit for each event they attend, Smiley said. 

The Member of the Year award went to TAPP Plumbing of Loganville, a family owned and operated business. Renee Park, who runs the repair business with her husband Joe, has been active in the chamber for 12 years, Smiley said.

“When she is involved, she is all in,” the chamber president quoted from Park’s nomination application.

Park is a graduate of Leadership Walton, involved in the Tuesday Referral Group and served on or chaired various chamber committees. She was Chairman of the Board of Directors in 2020 and helped oversee the chamber’s move to a new office building on North Wayne Street.

The Parks are active in the Loganville Rotary Club, and Leadership Walton Alumni Association.

Smiley explained the Member of the Year award recipient is voted on by membership from a pool of Member of the Month award winners. Members nominate Member of the Month winners and the business council selects winners from the nominations submitted by members.

Lastly, Ned Butler, now the past chair for the chamber’s board of directors, was ready to turn the gavel over to current chair Aimee Elliot. Elliot was unable to attend the banquet due to testing positive for COVID-19.

The passing of the gavel will be held when the chamber holds its membership luncheon on Feb. 10, Smiley said.

Butler is vice president for Reliant Homes and Elliot is with Truist Bank. She is a 2014 graduate of Leadership Walton and has served on the chamber board since 2015. Elliot is past president of Leadership Walton Alumni Association and serves on the United Way Campaign Team.