Brenau University bestowed its two highest nonacademic honors Thursday night during the President's Club dinner at the Chattahoochee Country Club.
Charles E. "Gus" Whalen and Fred Bentley were chosen through a collaborative decision by the university president and board of trustees.
"Both of these men in different ways share the vision that Brenau is a very special institution, and their support for Brenau has helped create components that set Brenau apart from other colleges and universities," said Brenau president Ed Schrader in news release.
Schrader presented the two men with the awards at a dinner honoring financial supporters who have donated at least $1,000 to the university.
The Algernon Sidney Sullivan Award for distinguished service to the community award was presented to Whalen.
Whalen is the chairman of the Warren Featherbone Foundation, which supports community education and philanthropy, the author of four books and frequently speaks to business and civic groups about community growth and sustainability.
"He's just really a visionary in the community and keeps the community interest on just the forefront of everything he does," said David Morrison, vice president of communications and publications.
Whalen also established the Featherbone Communiversity in Gainesville, which is home to the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids Museum for Children, three of Brenau's top academic programs and Lanier Tech programs. The communiversity was once just an empty industrial building until Whalen noticed its potential.
"A top state government official in another state where Gus was speaking not long ago said in a newspaper interview that Gus ‘has proven to be one of our nation's true visionaries,'" Schrader said.
"We at Brenau share that view. Most people who looked at the site of the Featherbone manufacturing plant in Gainesville five years ago probably envisioned the kind of industrial decay that blights many southern cities. But Gus envisioned what is there now: a vibrant, modern facility that has activity going all through the day."
The Distinguished Service to Brenau Award was presented to Fred Bentley. Bentley is a retired attorney from Marietta, a former legislator, civic and political leader in Cobb County and a rare book collector.
Morrison said Bentley's passion for rare finds started when his wife gave him an antique book called "Bentley's Miscellany."
As he inspected the then nearly 100-year-old text, he discovered that Charles Dickens was the editor.
Bentley began to build his collection of rare books. In the years since he has donated nearly 2,000 books to the rare book gallery in Brenau's library.
"We have an incredible collection of things there that Fred has donated, including his dining room table," Morrison said laughing.
Bentley continues to donate books, paintings, furniture and documents to the university and other universities throughout the Southeast.
"He is one of these guys that thinks a book may tell a story but it also has a story," Morrison said.