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Laughter, tears, music, surprises – Chamber annual meeting a true celebration

The Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce 71st Annual Meeting will be remembered as one of surprises.

Breaking with tradition, the Chamber awarded not one but two Citizen of the Year awards. Two bank presidents and the Chamber committed to help local students get to Carnegie Hall in New York.

About 250 people at the Chamber “banquet” Thursday, January 26, shared laughter and tears, heard good music, and celebrated Atmore and each other.
Emcees for the evening were outgoing President Bub Gideons, incoming President Chris Singleton, Vice President Brandy Giger, and Secretary Jordan Barnett.

Citizen of the Year
Bub presented the Citizen of the Year award:

It is my honor to introduce you to our 2016 Citizen of the Year. It’s good when somebody wins who is not the showboat. This is a man who does not seek the spotlight, but instead is the worker who selflessly lends a hand without hesitation. This type of volunteer spirit is what makes this year’s choice so special.

Citizen of the Year Tom Tschida, presented by Bub Gideons

I know him personally and have seen his dedication in many different efforts over the past few years. He is involved in so many things, notably he is on the Atmore Pride of Atmore / Save the Strand Board of Directors, vice president of Leadership Atmore Alumni, serves on the Leadership Atmore Steering Committee, is a member of the Historical Society. He is the Atmore Community Hospital mascot “Stitches.” As Tillie the Turtle, he teaches kids not to litter. He works to put on most city events including Mayfest, Williams Station Day, Chili Cook Off and more. And he is the Atmore Fire Department Volunteer Chaplain.
I know this man’s heart. He is truly deserving of Atmore’s Citizen of the Year – Tom Tschida.

Citizen of the Year
Tom Tschida with his wife Missie

Citizen of the Year – and surprises
Toward the end of the program, Escambia County High School Choir Director Conrad Weber and six members of the choir performed. Conrad talked about the choir’s upcoming trip to New York to perform in a mass choir at Carnegie Hall. About $17,000 was yet to be raised for the trip. As Conrad said during his remarks, you can’t raise that kind of money with car washes and donut sales.

Following the performance, choir member Adonis Williams talked about Conrad Weber and his work with students. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, Adonis shared what is obviously a mutual admiration society between teacher and students.

Chris Singleton called Conrad back to the podium. Chris said the selection committee had decided to give a second Citizen of the Year award. Both Tom Tschida and Conrad were nominated and the committee could not decide between the two.

Citizen of the Year Conrad Weber, presented by Chris Singleton

There was something else Conrad didn’t know – the Chamber was donating $1,000 toward the trip.

ECHS Choir members listening to Conrad Weber, from left, Ziah Young, Adonis Williams, Jeremy Johnson, Eric McCaskill, Valencia Nickson, Imagine Flavors.

And what nobody knew was that First National Bank & Trust President Glen Davis and United Bank President Bob Jones got together in a brief conversation and decided to share the balance of the funds needed for the New York trip. Although almost everyone was up and either talking or headed for the door, Chris got everyone’s attention and announced the banks’ commitment.

Citizen of the Year
Conrad Weber with his wife Leslie and son David.

Lifetime Achievement Award
Earlier in the evening, Ashley Mosley presented the Lifetime Achievement Award. When Ashley began, she said she didn’t want to cry and she managed to hold it together.

It is my honor tonight to present the Life Time Achievement Award to a well-deserved individual. The Life Time Achievement Award is given to someone who has dedicated their life to serving others. This year’s recipient is a God-fearing woman who has dedicated her life to serving God, her family, her business, and her community. She is selfless and one of the most gracious people I know. This individual is involved in Atmore’s National Day of Prayer, serves on the Escambia County Child Advocacy Board and the newly organized Atmore Community Foundation. While being active in the community she is also one of the owners of a well-known community-involved business here in Atmore. She is the driving force behind the company’s numerous donations and contributions to a multitude of fund-raising events that have supported all civic organizations in our community and the surrounding communities. You may find her serving at caterings for South Alabama Vending to serving on the board at United Bank. She helps individuals young and old, from guiding students on how to receive scholarships and writing resumes to helping young girls reach their dreams of attending college and being in sororities, as well as helping the elderly and sick through visits, meals, and prayers. She is an active member in her church and is more than willing to assist in many fund-raisers that have helped Atmore become a better place to live and work.

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Dale Ash, presented by Ashley Mosley

From a personal standpoint I can honestly say I would not be the person I am today if not for her encouragement, influence, and her belief in me. She has been with me through some of the toughest times in my life such as losing my dad and grandparents, to some of the happiest times in my life such as my marriage, the birth of my daughter, and the rededication of my life to Christ. I have always wanted the opportunity to express to her the impact she has made on my life as well as the lives of so many people, and what better an opportunity than now. On behalf of the Atmore community, the individuals who nominated her, and myself I am honored to present this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Dale Matthews Ash.

Lifetime Achievement Award recipient
Dale Ash with son Alan and husband Alan

Business of the Year
Brandy Giger presented this award:
The 2016 Business of the Year has a long history of service to the people of Atmore and our surrounding communities. Throughout their 100-plus years of service to others, they have become known as a business leader in our community.

While our economy still struggles to reach its full potential, businesses like our recipient have continued to act as an example of resilience, ingenuity, and opportunity at work. Times can be tough, but this business has proven that they can too. And by giving back to their community, they have shown that success is achievable.

Our recipient encourages their employees to get involved in our community. Several of them are involved in United Fund, Lions Club, Rotary Club, Leadership Atmore, and the Chamber of Commerce.

Business of the Year United Bank, accepted by Bob Jones, presented by Brandy Giger

Our recipient hosts a series of small business workshops designed for both existing owners and those considering starting their own business. They assist needy families in Atmore and our surrounding communities with their annual food drive.

They received a $40 million dollar allocation through the USDA relending program, and just recently their holding company was awarded a $65 million tax credit that will spur economic development.

It is my honor and privilege to announce United Bank as our 2016 Business of the Year.

Business of the Year – United Bank
Some of the UB personnel at the Chamber banquet, from left, Emilee Waters, Anne Hetzel, Donna Gilman, Bob Jones, Kellie Odom, Wendy Rabon, April Stewart, Mike Vincent, Rachel Holland, Gwen Braden, Cecilia Harrison.

Past president’s remarks
“What a year,” Bub Gideons said. “Last year we started on a road to up our game.”

The Chamber office was moved to Main Street to become more of a welcome center. During his term, a business center became part of the Chamber office, and now at least three or four times a week, someone is there doing business. And, with a nod toward the incoming executive board, he said, “The Chamber is in good hands.”

Bub’s remarks then took a personal turn as he expressed his appreciation to Atmore. He talked about moving back to Atmore, his need to be involved and how that involvement changed his life.

“That motto Old Friends, New Beginnings is true,” Bub said.

Past President
Bub Gideons

He extended a special thank you to one person who was instrumental in his getting involved and he presented his own award to Chamber Executive Director Sheryl Vickery.

Bub encouraged the audience to lift Atmore up.

“Atmore is a special place,” he said. “When you talk about Atmore, be positive … Speak well of Atmore.”

Bub talked about when he first moved back. He was working with Ann Gordon at the time, and she asked him if he would like to help park cars at the Chamber banquet. The town had seen terrible rains prior to and during the banquet. Bub said he was up to his knees in mud.

“They wouldn’t even let me inside,” he said.

But, he added, “when I did get in … “ meaning when he did “get in,” when he did have the opportunity to get involved, he took advantage of that opportunity.
When Chris came back to the microphone, he said everyone was glad Bub found his way back home, that Bub may have needed Atmore, but Atmore also needed Bub at that time.

President’s remarks
As incoming president, Chris made the following remarks:

It is my pleasure to serve as your 2017 President of the Atmore Chamber of Commerce. I would like to first thank my wife and family for supporting me during my tenure on the Board of Directors because in many cases it requires sacrificing family time in order to serve the community in which we live. I would also like to thank my employer Wind Creek Atmore and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for allowing me to serve as their representation and entrusting me to encourage decisions that reflect a positive image for our community for the years to come.

When I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors (three years ago) I felt proud to know that others found value in my input. At the time of acceptance, I made a commitment to myself that I wanted my tenure to be seen as productive and forward thinking while enhancing the quality of life for our members and community. During the past three years, we have accomplished many things including advancing our Chamber resources and creating stronger community networking opportunities which helps us stay engaged. Some of those achievements are relocating our Chamber office downtown, launching a new mobile friendly website, active social media presence, new VOIP phone system, new office computer systems, business conference room, spare business work office, updated office furnishings, stronger Chamber member partnerships, past presidents wall, Women’s Business & Breakfast, Breakfast with the Mayor, Breakfast with an Elected Official, Small Business Lunch & Learns, social media education forums, first time home buyer seminars, Business After Hours and many more. I want to make sure that I am perfectly clear on what all this means because progress does not happen on its own nor can one person take the credit.

All things just mentioned were made possible by a joint team effort from everyone serving on the Board of Directors and Chamber staff. Our Chamber staff works very hard on a daily basis to maintain this level of activity and I appreciate their input and dedication.

Chris asked Sheryl Vickery, Mallorie Beachy, Joan Hackman and all of the board members whom he has served with over the past three years to stand.

I personally want to thank each of you for your commitment and drive put forth to accomplishing these goals. I promise each of you and our Chamber membership that we will continue this progress in 2017. We can accomplish more as a team than any one person can ever foster alone.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as your 2017 President of the Atmore Chamber of Commerce!

Other highlights of the evening
* Presentation of Colors by Boy Scout Troop 26, and following the National Anthem by the Rev. Willie Hawthorne, Scout Mac Henley led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Scouts presented the colors and led in the Pledge of Allegiance. They are, from left, front, Jonathan Gibbs, Charlie Henley, Dallon Rackard, Zander Crawford; back, Mac Henley, Assistant Scoutmaster Greg Babiak.

* In his remarks prior to the invocation, the Rev. Don Davis said H.H. (Howard) Patterson, the first Chamber president, would have been proud of this gathering.
“Jesus is the bridge over troubled water,” Don said. He quoted Romans 8:31 (What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? KJV), and Romans 8:37 (Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. KJV).

“Jesus shares our pain,” Don said, and quoted John 10:10 (The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. KJV).

He prayed for wisdom and divine favor for the city, for businesses and families.

He asked the Lord to bless the Chamber, and he prayed for Chris and his family.

* The Chamber Ambassadors were recognized.

* Outgoing Chamber directors, new directors, and current directors were recognized.

* Richard Bowen sang and played guitar during the evening. At one point, Chris announced that it was Richard’s birthday. He asked Willie Hawthorne to come back up and lead in “Happy Birthday.” Everyone sang and Richard turned every shade of red.

* Prior to her benediction, the Rev. Debora Bishop touched on many aspects of the evening, including the possibility of Adonis Williams as a future Chamber president.