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