Douglas, Jones, Maples, and Byrden earn chamber honors
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A large crowd was in attendance at the 94th annual membership meeting of the Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce Saturday night, and officials say the weekend event was so popular that next year’s annual meeting will also be a weekend affair.
“We wanted this year’s banquet to be 150 percent about our members and I think we did an awesome job of doing just that. Hold on tight, next year will be even better,” said Chamber Assistant Director Courtney King.
During the evening, local citizens and businesses were awarded special honors.
James H. (Jimmy) Douglas and Brooke Turner Jones were named Man and Woman of the Year. The chamber honored Chris Maples with the Community Service Award. Demario Byrden was presented the Young Professional of the Year award.
Katie Williams was named the Chamber Ambassador of the Year and Chamber Executive Director Trey Gainous presented “The Trey from the Chamber Award” to Kris Weaver, for his dedication to the community and chamber.
Keeping with tradition, the chamber recognized Whitney Brown, Grady County’s Teacher of the Year. Two local veterans, one living and one deceased, were also recognized. Shirley Brown was named Veteran of the Year and the late Ben Celaya was honored as the Deceased Veteran of the year.
United National Bank was named the Small Business of the Year while New Hire Solution won the Large Business of the Year Award.
Major sponsors for the banquet included CNS Next, Koyo Bearings, United National Bank and New Hire Solutions. Presenting sponsors of the annual awards included: Dollar Business Solutions-Deceased Veteran of the Year; Capital City Bank-Veteran of the Year; Five Star Credit Union-Teacher of the Year; Casa Grande-Ambassador of the Year; Koyo-Small Business of the Year; United National Bank-Large Business of the Year; Royce’s Towing-Community Service Award; CNS Next-Young Professional of the Year; Hobson Chevrolet-Woman of the Year; and New Hire Solutions-Man of the Year.
“First and foremost, this banquet could not have happened without our chamber members, sponsors, and community. We are beyond thankful for everyone who helped make it a success,” said Assistant Director King.
The evening kicked off with a cocktail hour beginning at 5 p.m. at the Grady Cultural Center followed by a dinner at 6 p.m. Chamber Chairman Seth Stanaland made brief remarks and recognized both the new and retiring board members.
Following the awards presentation, the audience was entertained by dancers from Off Broadstreet Centre for the Dance Arts under the director of Dana Willis.
The evening wrapped up with a concert by The Billy Rigsby Band.
Chamber officials say they are already making plans for the 95th annual meeting and will work to schedule it on a weekend with fewer conflicts. This year’s event was on the same day as Whigham’s Rattlesnake Roundup and City of Cairo officials were out-of-town attending a Georgia Municipal Association conference in Atlanta.
For more on this year’s award winners:
Man of the Year
James H. (Jimmy) Douglas, a local Certified Public Accountant and member of the Cairo City Council, was named Man of the Year. Douglas was recognized for his lifetime of community involvement. From serving as a volunteer coach and coaching more than 40 teams over 25 years, to his many years of service as a Cairo Kiwanian, his tenure on the Grady County Board of Education and most recently, his service as a city councilman since 2006.
Woman of the Year
Grady County’s Woman of the Year is Brooke Turner Jones. Her nominator describes her as a woman of integrity, morals and strengths. Jones is a past chairwoman of the chamber and currently serves as a member of the First National Bank board of directors and is a member of the Cairo Rotary Club. Following last year’s natural disasters, she and her husband designed and sold T-shirts to raise money benefiting the Grady County Volunteer Fire Department. The Woman of the Year and her husband are also active in a campaign to bring awareness to Phelan McDermid Syndrome and raise money for cure research. The Jones’ son suffers from this rare disorder.
Community Service Award
This year the Community Service Award was presented to Chris Maples. According to the nominators, Maples had difficulties with the law and illegal drugs, and hit rock bottom before finding Christ on March 15, 2017. Since then, he has become a mentor for drug users and those attending drug court. Maples has shared his story with countless groups and at various churches. He is an active member of Family Worship Center and he seeks out people to take with him to church each week. Through it all, he has now reunited with his mother, father, children and grandchildren. His turnaround is described by his nominator as a “true miracle.”
Young Professional of the Year
Cairo City Councilman Demario Byrden was awarded the Young Professional the Year title. Byrden is employed with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice and has worked his way up through the ranks from Juvenile Correctional Officer to Juvenile Probation Officer. In addition, he owns his own business, Smooth Sounds Multimedia, and is involved in various community activities and events. On the city council, he has pushed for improvement to Southern Terrace Park, which will soon be a reality.
Veteran of the Year
Shirley Brown was recognized as the Veteran of the Year. At age 17, Brown joined the Navy Seabees and was assigned as a replacement for the 23rd Naval Construction Battalion. Before getting to his destination, the Japanese surrendered. He was later assigned to Guam with the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion. While there, he worked on centralizing the power system of Guam. Brown helped build a break border that made Apra Harbor a safe harbor. In August of 1946, his enlistment ended. For three decades he has been a member of American Legion Post 122 and he has served as Judge Advocate for many years. At age 92, he is showing no signs of slowing down. Brown has assisted in having flag poles erected and lit in Cairo city-owned cemeteries and even recently planted 99 pecan trees. Brown is the father of two sons and the grandfather of three young men.
Deceased Veteran of the Year
The chamber recognized Avenivio “Ben” Celaya as the Deceased Veteran of the Year. Celaya, the longtime golf pro at Cairo Country Club, was active in American Legion Post 122 and was one of the founders of the Veterans Express Bus, which provides veterans with transportation to VA hospitals and clinics. Celaya served in WWII, Korea, and the Vietnam War and was part of the Invasion of Normandy where he served with the 3rd infantry division. He was the recipient of the Bronze Star “V” and cluster, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, WWII Victory Medal and a Presidential Unit Citation. Celaya had four sons, two daughters, 14 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
Chamber Ambassador of the Year
Katie Williams was named the Chamber’s Ambassador of the Year. Williams is credited with giving 110 percent for the community, having a contagious smile, and having a servant’s heart. She was selected by her fellow Ambassadors for this honor.
Teacher of the Year
Although already previously recognized, the chamber always spotlights the Grady County Teacher of the Year. This year’s teacher is Whitney Brown who heads up the culinary arts program at the Cairo High School College and Career Academy. In fact, Brown’s students prepared the banquet that was served to the large crowd Saturday night. She and her students have served over 5,000 guests this school year alone and thanks to the investment of the Grady County Board of Education, the program has a $300,000 state-of-the-art commercial kitchen. Under her direction, the students have submitted and won a $5,000 grant from the Ford Next Generation Learning Academy that has been used for the purchase of a food truck. This truck will serve as an initiative for school-wide collaboration, inspiring teachers to integrate career readiness skills into their lessons that will contribute to the success of the truck.
Small Business of the Year
United National Bank was awarded the small business of the year award. Founded in 2000, the bank has been a supporter of the chamber, local schools, churches, civic organizations, clubs and charities. Bank staff members serve in leadership roles through the community including on the boards of the Joint Development Authority, Hospital Authority, Jackie Robinson Boys & Girls Club, Department of Family & Children Services, and Whigham Volunteer Community Council. Nominators also noted the bank’s reinvestment of profits back into the community by making substantial contributions to Grady General Hospital, the REACH Scholarship, Cairo High School athletics and much more.
Large Business of the Year
The Large Business of the Year award was presented to New Hire Solutions, which for 15 years has been providing staffing and payroll solutions for companies and organizations in Cairo and Grady County. According to the nominators, the firm filled nearly 3,300 jobs in the region during 2019. The company is dedicated to building a better community and for every hour an employee volunteers for community service they are awarded two hours of paid time off. The company also provides all its employees with health insurance at no cost.