The Gilmer Chamber added another first to its 2020 scrapbook last Thursday -— the organization’s first virtual annual meeting.
Past year-end chamber meetings welcomed guests to the Ellijay First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall. This year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held as an online webinar.
Chris Wang, outgoing Gilmer Chamber board chairman, led the Zoom meeting, which featured a live interview with guest speaker, former Georgia Bulldogs and Miami Hurricanes head football coach Mark Richt, and pretaped segments in which the chamber’s Member, Business and Community Champion of the Year Awards were presented.
Richt noted the importance of teamwork both in football and other professions, while describing 2020 as a year in which “everyone had to adapt in some form in order to survive.”
Richt said one of the ways that D1 Training -— the Athens-area sports training facility and gym he runs with son, Jon, and former Bulldog Fred Munzenmaier -— adapted during the pandemic was training high school football players who were unable to meet in person.
“You have to ask yourself, what did we learn during this time? How did we adapt to survive, or maybe even the survival mode threw us into a way to thrive. When you go back to the way you used to do it, that may be the best way. But, you may have learned, along the way, some of these changes we’ve made we can make permanent (if) it streamlined our business or helps us do a better job,” Richt said.
When reviewing 2020’s chamber activity and events, Wang noted the cancellation of the organization’s banner event, the Georgia Apple Festival, as well as other events like Taste of Ellijay and the Apple Blossom Festival. The year also included some first-time happenings like Zoom board meetings and the first drive-thru chamber luncheon, as well as a pending change in leadership following former Gilmer Chamber President Paige Hutto relocating to Alabama.
“When I look back at 2020, I’ll remember the excitement of rallying behind our president and cheering her on (about) her marriage and moving to be with her husband full time. This organization wouldn’t be anything that it is today without the hard work she put in the last 12 years,” Wang said.
Looking ahead at 2021, incoming board chairman Bobby McNeil said the Gilmer Chamber is currently more than 630 members strong, and its new president, Jennifer Grimmer, is scheduled to begin work Feb 1.
Award winners were revealed in video segments where chamber communications manager Caitlin Neal, Wang and the previous year’s award recipients surprised this year’s recipients.
United Community Bank (UCB) was named 2020’s Business of the Year.
Presenting the award, Dr. Ron Newcomb, president of 2019 Business of the Year Chattahoochee Technical College, said the local UCB branch helped connect small businesses in the community with federal CARES funds in 2020.
Branch president Billy Hyde, who accepted the award with branch manger Amber Davenport, commented on those efforts.
“I’d like to recognize my staff. Several members here worked five weeks with only one day off, which was Easter. They put a lot of effort into making sure the businesses in the community were served well. We were working 90 hours a week most weeks during that (time),” said Hyde.
“We’ve had to make so many changes due to this coronavirus (including) being shut down almost two months (and) working outside in the drive-thrus. It’s been a challenge, but I think the team has done a good job and the community’s helped us get through it also. The community’s what makes us. Without them, we’re nothing,” he added.
Chamber Member of the Year Bryan Staggs was genuinely surprised when receiving the honor from Neal and 2019’s Member of Year, Gilmer Family Connection Director Tiffany Watson.
“He has stepped up in so many ways during this year. We haven’t been able to have normal events, (but) he still found ways to be able to participate and serve, especially with helping out chamber members when the staff was shorthanded. When they weren’t able to get out of the office, he would step up to make deliveries to members,” said Watson.
Staggs, whose service in the U.S. Army included seven years in the 1st Ranger Battalion, said his role as a chamber ambassador provides opportunities for him to get to know more people in the local community.
“There’s so many more deserving people (to receive this award). We have such a great group of people,” said Staggs.
Gilmer Public Safety Director Keith Kucera received the Community Champion Award for 2020.
Kucera was described by inaugural Community Champion recipient, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, as someone who “brings people together to work together.”
“He sees his position as public safety director as being far more than simply supervising operations, but as a commitment to integrate public safety into the fabric of our community so community members can feel confident that their safety is top priority. Whether the issue is fire, medical emergency, search and rescue or, most recently, coronavirus,” Downs added.
Presented for the first time at last year’s chamber meeting, the Community Champion Award is given to an individual, nonprofit, government entity or other qualifying agency in recognition of overall commitment to Gilmer County through collaborative efforts, philanthropy, investment or humanitarian efforts, said Downs.
“I don’t even know what to say, but thank you,” said Kucera.
The chamber also usually names a Citizen of the Year (COTY) at the annual meeting. That particular award was not given as part of Thursday’s virtual presentation.
A committee that decides the next COTY has postponed the award until later in the year, according to the chamber.