RIO GRANDE — The most prestigious award announced each year at the Annual Gallia County Chamber of Commerce Meeting and Awards Banquet, the Bud and Donna McGhee Community Service Award, was bestowed upon possibly the most deserving member of the community during this year’s event — a person whose loss left a void in the community she served, and whose absence was felt by all in attendance during the banquet held this past Thursday on the University of Rio Grande campus.
The late Lorie Neal, IOM, who served the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce for more than 13 years as its executive director, was honored during the event as the recipient of the community service award for her years of dedication to the community she loved.
“Tonight, the Bud and Donna McGhee Community Service Award is being given to a very special person who is no longer with us, but whose legacy will be permanent in the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce,” Chamber Board President Kyla Carpenter stated. “Words seem inadequate when describing and paying tribute to Lorie. She was loved, admired and an inspiration to all who worked with her — her board of directors, chamber members, her staff and those in the community who worked with her in so many ways. She was a loyal advocate for Gallipolis and Gallia County, truly serving as an ambassador for our area. She was always thinking ahead, planning and developing ways to make the chamber a more valuable asset to its members and to our community. She gave all and asked little in return.”
Neal, who passed away suddenly at the age of 40 last September, was a devoted mother, loving fiancée and loyal friend, who made an impact upon all those whom she came into contact with through her work at the chamber, according to Carpenter, who spoke of her friend and colleague on Thursday night.
“She gave unsparingly to her job, never looking at a clock, and always making sure her job as the chamber’s executive director was performed to the best of her ability. She balanced her job at the chamber and her responsibilities as a mother, being wherever and whenever her son Trace needed her,” Carpenter said. “Lorie was a natural leader, an inspiration to all who met her, with her warm and friendly manner. She had the unique ability to relate to people of all ages and interests. She was dedicated, in every way, determined to see the organization she loved so much, our Gallia County Chamber of Commerce, continue to grow and have a positive impact on our community.”
The award that is kept secret each year until it is announced during the annual banquet is an award that Neal richly deserved, according to Carpenter, as her impact on the community will continue for many years to come.
“Lorie’s legacy will be lasting. Her contribution to the chamber and the total community will never be forgotten. Her inspiration will urge all who knew her to do better, be better and contribute more,” she said.
The plaque that denotes Neal as the 2013 recipient of the Bud and Donna McGhee Community Service Award will be, out of respect for her family, given to Neal’s son and her financé at a later time, according to Carpenter.
The outgoing board president also recognized the passing of another dedicated community member this past September who served as the chamber’s executive board treasurer.
Carpenter recognized John Burris who lost his long-time battle with cancer in early September as the second tragic loss felt by the community this past fall.
“I can’t even put into words what their loss has meant to the community, not just to the chamber, but the community that they held so dear,” she stated.
A moment of a silence was held in Burris’ and Neal’s honor on Thursday night.
Also recognized at the event were the 2013 special award winners who were honored for their continued service to the community.
The Volunteer of the Year award recipient was Autumn Thomas. Thomas, who works with her father, operating their family-owned business Thomas Do-It Center, volunteers at various community activities and attends most chamber-hosted events throughout the year, but her passion lies with animals. She has dedicated countless hours of her time to the Friends of Gallia County Animals.
The Committee of the Year award went to the Gallipolis in Lights committee. A group that was officially established in August 2013, Gallipolis in Lights began with a goal of transforming downtown Gallipolis into a winter wonderland. The committee, led by co-chairs Shari Rocchi and Lance Clifford, accomplished much in a short amount of time this past year as they lit up the downtown for the enjoyment of the community and to encourage tourism this year and in coming years.
This year’s Beautification Award was given to Common Grounds, LLC. The special events complex that was officially opened in 2013 is located in Vinton, Ohio, and is owned by Lee and Carol Bauman. The Baumans spent more than 10 years developing the complex that was originally designed to serve the needs of a select few disadvantages citizens and now serves the entire region.
The Community Involvement Award recipient was the Downtown Revitalization Project. Formerly known Digital River Project, the group is comprised of numerous dedicated community members and focuses on renovating the downtown area and has assisted numerous businesses in the downtown with development and the renovation of their facilities. The project is also responsible for bringing business, tourism to the area, and, this past year, hosted the first Hoop Project that will continue in 2014.
The Sudden Impact Award was given to Cliffside Golf Course. Jacob and Heather Hall purchased and renovated the golf course in 2012 just as it was in jeopardy of closing. Since that time, they have made numerous improvements to the course to ensure its continuation as a valuable resource in Gallia County.
This year’s Small Business of the Year was Claggs’ Waste Disposal. The business that was started in 2006 with one truck and one customer has now grown to serve more than 400 customers and has added an additional truck to their fleet. According to the owners, the company hopes to acquire additional equipment and hire additional employees in the coming year as they do their part to help keep Gallia County beautiful.
Also recognized during this year’s event was the 2013 River Recreation Festival Chairperson Ray McKinniss. McKinniss, who has served on three separate occasions as the chairperson for the event, has been a member of the River Recreation Committee since 1999.
Outgoing Chamber board members, Tommie Vaughn, who has served on the board since 2009, and Jimmy Wiseman, who has served on the board since 2006 in various capacities, including as board president from 2010-2012, were also recognized.
New board members, Jenni Dovyak-Lewis, Jenny Evans and Alex Waugh were also recognized on Thursday evening, along with the 27 businesses who became chamber members in the past year.
The president’s gavel was also passed on Thursday night from outgoing Board President Kyla Carpenter to new Board President Bryan Long.
Carpenter, who spoke of her tenure as president, thanked her family, the chamber board and staff, as well as her employer Ohio Valley Bank, where she serves as the director of marketing.
According to Carpenter, OVB “loaned” her for a period of time last fall to the chamber as she assumed her duties and helped guide the organization through a difficult period.
“We have experienced some amazing times and we’ve experienced some difficult times, but that is part of what being a family means. We’ve pulled together and so has this community,” she said. “It is an amazing place to be standing here at the moment to see so many dedicated people here and out in our community. And, as a close my chapter and your next president begins his chapter in history of Gallia County, I encourage you to give him your full support just as you gave to me.”
Long, who serves as the manager of member serves for Buckeye Rural Electric, is a past president of the Gallia County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau Board and has served on the chamber board since 2008 and chairs their marketing committee.
During his brief remarks, Long thanked Carpenter for her service and again thanked OVB for their assistance this past year and dedication to the community.
“To say the least, it’s been a rough year. We’re blessed with who we have, we’re blessed with the community that we have, all the people that have come together,” Long said while looking to the future of the organization and the ideas he hopes to implement during his time as president.
“We’re looking forward to a lot of new things that we’re thinking about doing, and talking about doing. Some of them are going to take a while, and we recognize that, but the whole purpose of the chamber is being here for all of you. That’s our main goal, is to help you succeed,” Long said. “We’re going to come up with new initiates and new plans to help make that happen. We want you to recognize the value of your membership, and continue to move forward.”