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We need to celebrate.’ Better late than never, chamber presents these awards at virtual 2020 gala
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Brian Rochester, chairman of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, speaks in this screen capture of a virtual replacement for the chamber's 112th Annual Meeting & Gala. The award announcements were made in a recording made public on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. - photo by Jeff Gill

The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce was finally able to pull off its 112th Annual Meeting & Gala on Thursday, Oct. 8, but without the massive, dressed-up crowd typically filling Chattahoochee Country Club’s ballroom. 

In a pre-recorded video released on its website, the chamber handed out awards it normally presents at the gala – one of the organization’s biggest events of the year – without an audience. Instead, recipients were taped speaking from their business or organization. 

“This is a new experience for us,” said Kit Dunlap, chamber president and CEO. “2019-20 was very challenging but very rewarding. We learned so many things, and we need to celebrate.” 

An in-person gala originally scheduled for May 14 was postponed until September out of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Then, the chamber announced in August it had to delay again, opting instead for a virtual event in October, as the virus was “still prevalent in the community,” Dunlap said at the time. 

And the pandemic’s influence was reflected in more than attendance at this year’s gala.  

The annual Community Service Award, for example, was presented to area health care workers in general. Several area providers, including those from Northeast Georgia Health System and Longstreet Clinic, spoke during the program. 

“I’ve witnessed teamwork, compassion and dedication like never before,” said Sara Helton, ICU nurse at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. “Despite illness, loss and isolation, our community has persevered. We’ve adapted, we’ve become resilient.” 

For the W.D. Mealor Award, presented by the chamber chairperson to a person or organization they believe has “gone above and beyond the call of duty,” chamber Chairman Brian Rochester recognized the chamber's staff.  

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving … than the Chamber of Commerce staff,” Rochester said. “I’ve seen genuine concern and caring for chamber members but also our community at large. I’ve seen this staff work tirelessly to reinvent how they can serve their membership. 

“They did COVID-19 updates (and) Paycheck Protection Program training. They went above and beyond to create a strategic plan to help our businesses recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19.” 

In accepting the award, Dunlap named off the chamber employees, adding, “We love to work for business." 

Chamber award winners 

Family Business of the Year: Tipton Construction, The Collegiate Grill  

Small Business of the Year: Two Dog Restaurant, Occasions Florist 

Community Service Award: The area’s health care industry 

Distinguished Citizen of the Year: Jim Walters 

W.D. Mealor Award: Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce 

Silver Shovel awards (active chamber volunteers):   

  • Richie Aitkin, American Family Insurance 

  • Missy Burgess, Lanier Islands 

  • Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch 

  • Sean Couch, Northeast Georgia Health System 

  • Allyson Everett, Gainesville Flooring 

  • Emma Johnson, Senator Butch Miller 

  • Jay Kilroy, Willis Investment Counsel 

  • Kelly Lee, Strong Gaddy Lee Wealth Management Group 

  • Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish 

  • Rena Pendley, American Cancer Society 

  • Jeff Pruitt, Lanier Technical College 

  • Stacey Reece, Spherion Staffing 

  • Brian Rochester, Rochester & Associates 

  • Vanesa Sarazua, Hispanic Alliance GA 

  • Philip Wilheit Jr., Wilheit Packaging 

  • Mike Zeiler, Bitzer US