As it has many times this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with yet another local tradition — the annual Excellence in Business Awards sponsored by the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce.
But the pandemic did not stop the awards, merely delayed the event and altered how the businesses and individuals were recognized.
“We began working on these seven months ago,” Randy Collins, chamber president and CEO, told those gathered virtually for the awards on Friday. “These awards are very important to us. … We really think these are the best of the best.”
The ceremony, originally planned for March, just when the prohibition on public gatherings began sweeping across the state, was held virtually via the online teleconferencing program Zoom. Nearly 100 locations signed on for the event, though many of those log-ins represented multiple people.
“We had a lot of nominations for awards this year,” said James Etringer, chamber board chairman. “The chamber, like a lot of organizations, has had to adapt this year; it has not been easy. We couldn’t have done it without the support of the chamber sponsors.”
Changing the Excellence in Business Awards from the typical lunch-time ceremony to an online event is one of the ways that the chamber has adapted, handing out nine awards during the event.
Surry Medical Ministries was recognized for its long-standing work in the community with the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award.
In comments to the Zoom audience, Duke Energy’s Jimmy Flythe said the ministry was founded nearly 30 years ago to help area residents have access to something basic and needed by all: healthcare. In 1992, he said there were 16,000 county residents who had no health insurance, a major impetus to the ministry’s founding a year later. In 1995 a pharmacy was added, and he said in 2005 the clinic doubled in size.
“Going to the doctor is something many of us take for granted. We know there are so many that cannot afford the services of a doctor,” Flythe said. “This organization helps to fill that gap. … Nancy and Doctor Dixon work endless hours operating the Surry Medical Ministries to service the medical needs of folks in need.”
Another one of the awards recognized the long-time community service of Alan Freeman, who retired as captain from the Mount Airy Police Department in May.
“He is a true public servant, professional, kind, and represents his department with great integrity,” said Jeffrey Trenter of Carport Central in making the virtual presentation. “The city of Mount Airy is a better place because of people like Capt. Alan Freeman.
“A very well-deserved honor,” was what city Police Chief Dale Watson had to say about the recognition of his long-time colleague. “His total career has been devoted to this community, serving this community, leaving this department far better than he found it. I’m just grateful for his service.”
Other local residents and businesses recognized during the event include:
• Becky Parries of the Mount Airy City Schools, who was named Administrative Professional of the Year.
“She serves as administrative assistant to five departments, each with its own regulations and headlines, with requires great responsibility and discretion,” said Connie Hamlin, of Ridgecrest, in announcing Parries’ award.
“With a smile on her face, she answers the main line, greets and directs guests, processes professional development requests, purchase orders, and invoices for her departments. … She is frequently found returning to work, answering emails, and making phone calls on the days she is ‘off’ work.
“We can’t do the many complex tasks of our jobs without her unfailing assistance,” Hamlin said, quoting the person or persons who nominated Parries.
“Thank you, I am honored,” Parries said of the award. “I work for a great bunch of people who make me look great.”
• Miss Angel’s U Pick Farm and Orchard, with Angela and Randy Shur, named as the Agribusiness of the Year.
“In a region that seems to be surrounded by farms, one business owner noticed something was missing,” said Matthew Wooten of Wayne Farms. “This business owner is known in the community for her baked goods and pies. Some years ago, she discovered that there were very few places in our region where people could pick their own fruit or vegetables. … Open from June to October, this business is Surry County’s first pick-your-own peach and pumpkin farm.”
As important as the farm is to the local business community, Wooten said the Shurs are known even more for their charitable work.
“The owners support many charitable causes in our community. Most recently they held a dinner at the farm to honor health care workers during the 2020 pandemic.”
• Sydney Whitaker, chamber Ambassador of the Year award.
“The chamber of commerce, like any other community organization, relies on the help of volunteers,” said Mount Airy News publisher Sandy Hurley in presenting the award. “One critical group of volunteers is our ambassadors. This group serves as our customer service department. They reach out to chamber members, answer questions, invite them to events and offer the chamber help wherever it is need.
“This year’s award winner is a great choice. This person has served many years as an ambassador. She is dedicated, hard-working, and believes in what the chamber stands for.”
• Johnson Granite was honored with the Business and Education Award.
“The company and the owners are advocates for working with the school systems and community college,” said Wendy Wood, of Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Cooperation. “They participate in school career fairs, Construction Day, sponsor events and hosts interns for Surry County Schools and Mount Airy City Schools. The company and their leadership are true education partners.”
The firm, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, is a family-owned organization that has grown from a three-employee operation to “a leading supplier of finely crafted countertop surfaces,” Wood said.
Brian Johnson said his company views its relationship with the school systems as vital to the local society. He said with so many businesses in the community “struggling to find qualified employees,” it’s important for local firms to work with the schools, helping students develop marketable skills and show them there are opportunities here in Surry County.
• Simmons Nissan received the Business Longevity Award.
“Most every business community has one or more car dealerships. Selling new and used cars is a very competitive business. The auto industry has seen their ups and downs. One particular local car dealer has survived very well,” said Richie Parker of Surry Communications.
“This car dealership is North Carolina’s oldest Nissan dealer. … They help customers get into the right vehicle with a no-pressure approach … be it new or used Nissans or other name brand vehicles. This business started in 1972 and is still family-owned some 48 years later.”
• Phil Marsh was presented with the Excellence in Tourism Award.
“To anyone who follows what goes on in Downtown Mount Airy, you will know this person,” said Jessica Roberts of the Mount Airy Tourism Development Association. “He is a long-time member of the Downtown Business Association and supporter of Mount Airy Downtown. In fact, this person was honored in 2019 as a Main Street Champion by the statewide North Carolina Main Street organization.
“One person who knows our winner mentioned ‘If you know him, you know that he is always on the move, and he’s usually on his way to go help someone else. He stops in my office almost daily to ask if there is anything he can do to help.’”
Marsh started and still coordinates the annual Mayberry Cool Cars & Rods Cruise-In series and organizes the Independence Day and Christmas Day parades.
“Our winner understands tourism and how much it means to our community,” Roberts said.
• Rounding out the winners was Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corporation, which was named the Small Business of the Year.
“Community service is part of their everyday work life as they are always sponsoring charities and nonprofits or holding fundraisers for events like March of Dimes,” said Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership.
“Their members participate through the Operation Round Up, using change added to their bills to each month support community nonprofits as well as fire victims and funding medical needs. A community projects committee of employees coordinates various charitable projects throughout the year, including a golf tournament, hosting the Children’s Center youth at Thanksgiving and sponsoring families a Christmas,” he said, listing some of the numerous charitable efforts by the employees and members of the cooperative.
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