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Gainesville young man, woman recognized for service
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Jessica Butler was named the Gainesville Jaycees Young Woman of the Year. - photo by Erin O. Smith

A day at the Capitol

They’re generous, hopeful, tenacious and humble, and they are the Young Man and Young Woman of the Year.

The Gainesville Jaycees recognized Philip “Phip” Wilheit Jr. and Jessica Butler on Thursday evening during the Young Man and Young Woman of the Year Banquet.

“Both awards recognize two outstanding individuals for their unselfish volunteer efforts and civic service,” said Sam Latimer, last year’s president of the Gainesville Jaycees.

Last year’s winners, Heidi Ferguson and Trey Wood, presented the awards to Wilheit and Butler, who did not know they were the recipients.

“She’s a leader and she’s humble,” Ferguson said of Butler. “Those two characteristics in the same person are hard to come by, however our young woman is no ordinary person.”

Butler is the executive director of Gateway Domestic Violence Shelter in Gainesville, which provides an environment for safe, healthy, self-sufficient growth and violence prevention.

Ferguson called Butler a “message of hope,” and someone who can “turn a vision into reality.”

“This year’s young woman certainly had a vision, one that required a large amount of faith, a tremendous amount of courage and a massive desire to help those close to her heart,” she said. “She was part of a campaign that raised over $1 million to directly benefit those that utilize the organization she heads.”

Butler thanked her husband, Jeff Butler for his support, and said it is her honor to work for Gateway.

“It’s such an honor to work with an organization that is able to have an impact on people’s lives,” she said. “I’m so fortunate to work with the board, the staff and the volunteers who teach me something new every day.”

Wood recognized Wilheit, partner at Wilheit Packaging, calling him “tenacious” and sharing many amusing stories gathered from his friends and family.

Wilheit is a third generation Gainesville native — his father Philip Wilheit Sr. was Young Man of the Year in 1975 — and a graduate of Lakeview Academy in Gainesville.

“What’s most recognizable about our recipient is his commitment to improving Hall County through his nonprofit work,” Wood said.

Wilheit has served on multiple charitable boards in the community, but most notably he has worked with the Hall County United Way for years.

“Phip has done a lot for this community, and this community is lucky to have someone as committed to making it a better place as Phip is,” Wood said.

Wilheit recognized his wife Addie, his two sons and his parents.

“I’m a bit speechless,” he said. “Every year I sit here and I look at that program, read the names on it and I’m always astounded at the quality of person that has come before me, on both the male and female side. Just to have my name mentioned among those names is truly flattering, much less actually being recipient of the award.”

The Young Man of the Year award dates back to 1945, and the Young Woman of the Year award has been awarded since 2001. The purpose of the awards is not only to honor community leaders, but to inspire the community to pursue civic service as well.

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