By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Awards and civic praise led proceedings at Thursday’s Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce 2013 banquet.
The city’s oft-touted award of “Most Patriotic Small Town in America” was the night’s highlight topic, and contest representatives Sandi McKenna and Rick Griffin took the stage to exalt Gainesville for winning the award from USA Today during July 2012 and earning national coverage.
The award’s nominee list originally also included Watertown, N.Y., Duluth, Ga., Deland, Fla., Enterprise, Ala., and Mandan, N.D. But McKenna and Griffin explained that during the judging process, the residents and officials of Gainesville revealed something special in how they honor both patriotic culture and living Medal of Honor recipients on a regular basis.
“This was really a big deal for you,” Griffin said Thursday. “This was not like Texas A&M beating South Carolina State. This was A&M beating Alabama. It’s a wonderful city. And in every city we went to, they had wonderful programs to support veterans. They had monuments, they had flags, they had great food and they had stories. But something was special about Gainesville.”
Such patriotic praise applied heavily to the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, whose members had a large part in organizing the city’s competition in the national contest. Guest speaker Rep. Mac Thornberry [R-Clarendon] credited the enthusiasm of Chamber members and their efforts during the past year.
“When you work in Austin and you work in Washington, good news is something precious and you kind of put that up front,” he said. “And the good news, tonight, for me, is being out there in front (of this audience). The enthusiasm, the energy and the dynamism that is with this organization and this community is something that you feel when you walk into the room.”
Chamber chairman Sam “Trey” McLeod singled out four recipients for awards and introduced special videos produced to spotlight each of them. Select Energy Services received the “Large Business of the Year” award; Lost Dog Productions (operated by Ben Willingham) received the “Small Business of the Year” award; DMAX Cinema received the “Newcomer of the Year” award; and Chamber associate Cheryl Davis received the “Volunteer of the Year” award. Heather Warren, Chamber member since 2008, was recognized for volunteer service during the past year. Host McLeod also acknowledged past Chamber board members Chris Cypert and Brian Wallace.