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Chamber turns 100 with 'Celebration of the Century'
Lavish birthday party offers food, music for 500 guests
The Hall County parking deck in downtown Gainesville gets crowded with visitors Friday evening during The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce's Centennial Celebration.

For those driving by on the street, it was just another night. But five stories up, an open parking deck was transformed into the setting for a lavish celebration.

It was billed as "The Celebration of the Century" marking the 100th anniversary of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

The business organization that struggled to get business owners to pay $3 a year a century ago welcomed 500 guests Friday night who paid $100 a person to mark the milestone birthday for the chamber.

"Our goal was to have the celebration of the century," said Frank Norton Jr., who was a co-chairman of the gala. "We did every inch of that measure. We celebrated the growth of the community and we're launching it for the next 100 years."

Two large tents provided shelter from the weather, but were not needed on a clear, warm night. A welcoming red carpet, flowers and an expansive buffet turned a normally blasé parking deck into the setting for the chamber's largest celebration.

The evening included a musically choreographed laser show projected on the Hall County Courthouse and the main office of Regions Bank. A troupe of entertainers did a parody of the public radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion," that covered various events of the past century.

"It exceeded all my expectations," said LeTrell Simpson, co-chairwoman of the event. "We got so excited about having it in a different venue and the response tonight indicates that was a good decision."

Those on hand included a number of past presidents of the chamber, including John W. Jacobs Jr. and Ray McRae, who led the business organization in 1950s and '60s. McRae called it "a memorable evening."

Kit Dunlap, who has led the Hall chamber as president and chief executive for the past 12 years said the evening made a clear statement. "It says we're proud of Gainesville and Hall County and its business community," Dunlap said. "It's not about the chamber, it's about the community."
Dunlap said nature smiled on the organization by giving it a picture-perfect evening.

Denise Deal, who is completing her term as chairman of the board, said it was a special time for her.

"This is an opportunity of a lifetime," Deal said. "When Frank Norton came up with the idea of putting a tent up here, we were skeptical. But our guests have had fun and it's a great way to celebrate the success of the chamber and the community. "Deal, noting the need for rain to fill Lake Lanier, was nonetheless grateful for the fair weather.

"Now, we hope and pray for rain tomorrow," she said.