BLACKSHEAR — The Pierce County Chamber of Commerce presented its annual awards at a press conference last week preceding the April 9 annual banquet gala, which, chamber director Angela Manders said, will focus on this year’s winners and past winners.
This year, for the first time, the annual award winners were revealed and their honors bestowed prior to the gala.
Brenda Waters is the 2015 “Citizen of the Year,” an award presented by Robert Williams, who pointed out that nearly 20 years ago Waters discovered that many people are affected by cancer and suffer from financial concerns at the same time. Waters and her friends decided to do something about it and created the Southeast Cancer Unit in 1997, which has contributed approximately $2 million to local families.
Williams reminded everyone that the staff at the Southeast Cancer Unit is composed entirely of volunteers and almost all donated funds go directly to families affected by cancer, and gives more than just money; they give personal and spiritual contacts as well as emotional support to those who are in need.
Waters took the time to remind everyone that the Festival of Hope (hosted by Southeast Cancer Unit) will be held May 2 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the park.
Rally Riberon presented the S. Dow Nimmer Award to Billy Thompson, who she said exemplifies the award.
Thompson moved to Blackshear in 2008 from Jacksonville, Fla. He worked for another company for 30 years before starting up his own business, which became successful but took up all of his time. Riberon pointed out that Thompson moved his family to Blackshear to give his son a better education.
Thompson started working at Progress Rail as a mechanic but has since been promoted to be the new facility manager. Riberon said Thompson has worked hard to help his employees through training and higher wages so that they will stay in the local area instead of moving onto a better paying job somewhere else.
Riberon also noted that Thompson paid for his training as an Industrial Development Authority member out of his own pocket before he became one, working with Coastal Pines Technical College to improve training for his employees.
Riberon added that Thompson reminds her of her late husband, Dow, because he doesn’t want credit for doing his best for his employees. She said Dow always believed that it wasn’t the whistle that pulled the train; it was a group effort.
Thompson thanked everyone for the honor.
Dr. Joy Williams presented the Leona Dixon Bright Spot Award to the Sycamore Tree benevolence organization.
Williams pointed out that Sycamore Tree has been a bright spot to many Pierce County residents for years, since its incorporation in 2010. The first Sycamore Tree existed in one room at First Baptist Church in 2011.
Williams reminded everyone that the volunteers quickly outgrew their surroundings and moved to the Todd Pecan Warehouse, where the organization continued growing until 2012 when it moved to the Hendry Building. She pointed out that things are still stored in churches and community buildings throughout the county.
Last Christmas saw the first Sycamore Christmas, which helped 238 children from 83 families receive gifts.
The ladies from The Sycamore Tree accepted the honor, saying that the award also goes to all of the volunteers who help them out.
County Agent James Jacobs presented the “Farmer of the Year” Award to Richard Blythe, saying Blythe spent several years working at the Big Z Warehouse. After Blythe married, Jacobs said, he started farming with his father-in-law, and, he pointed out, the farm has increased in production to around 1,600 acres of corn, peanuts and soybeans.
He said Blythe isn’t afraid to say what he thinks and that he thinks outside the box. Jacobs pointed out that Blythe has a true passion for his occupation and for being a steward of the land, ensuring the next generation can follow his example if they want to. Blythe thanked everyone for the award.
Jody DuPont presented the “Community Business Leader of the Year” Award to Dairy Queen Blackshear.
She said the owners cared about the people of Pierce County before they even opened for business. She pointed out that they own several other Dairy Queen restaurants, are active in the community, helping school students and athletes, as well as local churches.
Jane Bowen presented the “Huel Peacock Walker Educator of the Year” Award to Pamela Baker.
Bowen said she was honored to present the award, which is given to a classroom teacher who exemplifies the character and standards set by Walker.
Bowen said Baker has many things in common with Huel Walker, that Baker was born, raised and educated in Pierce County. Baker attended both the University of Georgia (UGA) and Valdosta State University (VSU), getting her bachelor and master degrees from UGA and her specialist degree at VSU.
Bowen noted that Baker’s mother taught high school math, and it was natural for the daughter to follow in her mother’s steps.
Baker has taught at Pierce County High School for 21 years, where some of her fondest memories come from involvement extracurricular activities.
Baker thanked everyone for the recognition.
Jon Tindall, chamber president, welcomed everyone to the press conference. He recognized all of the chamber board members who were present and recognized IDA board members who were present as well as other distinguished guests, including elected officials.
Manders invited everyone to the gala event which on April 9. She recognized the programs and events committee members, and explained the new format for the chamber dinner.
She said that 120 new members have joined the chamber since last year’s banquet and reminded everyone that last year’s banquet was very crowded and that there isn’t any facility that can host everyone for a dinner.
She reminded everyone that this is the chamber’s 60th anniversary.

Information courtesy the Pierce County Press