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Riverside honors community giants Wilheit, Cleveland
Ralph W. Cleveland
Ralph W. Cleveland

Riverside Military Academy’s Alumni Hall, housing the Gainesville school’s elegant mess hall, was filled Thursday evening with cadets and Gainesville civic and business leaders.

The Sandy Beaver Entrepreneurial Leadership Award dinner Thursday honored Philip Wilheit Sr. and the late Ralph Cleveland. Music and round, clothed tables filled the hall usually filled with cadets and long lunch tables.

Col. William Gallagher, Riverside president, thanked those in attendance for their recognition of the two recipients.

“I welcome each of you to our campus and to this very, very special evening,” Gallagher said. “Your presence is tribute to tonight’s recipients of the third annual Sandy Beaver Entrepreneurial Leadership Award, the most prestigious award and recognition bestowed by this academy.”

Wilheit is president and managing partner of Wilheit Packaging, the family business started in 1954 by his father, Tom Wilheit.

Wilheit serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, is vice chairman for Brenau University, chairman of the Gainesville Hall Development Authority and chairman emeritus of the Northeast Georgia Health System.

He has worked as campaign manager of 17 congressional and gubernatorial elections for Gov. Nathan Deal, who was a guest of honor Thursday with his wife, Sandra Deal.

“He’s just one of those complete people,” Deal said. “He’s been a close personal friend and one I can always count on.”

Brian Daniel, Riverside trustee and friend to Wilheit, spoke about Wilheit’s history in Gainesville and his friendship with Daniel’s parents. He called Wilheit “a king maker” and “man who needs no introduction,” but who is also humble and approachable.

“The Daniels and the Wilheits have shared a bond since the day the Wilheits came to Gainesville,” Daniel said.

Cleveland, who died in 1999 at age 92, was a pioneer in the poultry feed business of North Georgia. He began his career as a cotton broker and would go on to serve as chairman of Gainesville National Bank. He and his wife Mary were instrumental in the creation of Gainesville Junior College and he served on the Brenau board for 40 years.

Cleveland was represented Thursday by his wife, Mary, and his son John.

“Tonight, we are privileged to remember Mr. Ralph Cleveland,” Gallagher said. “We remember his spirit, generosity and leadership.”

The annual ceremony supports the Riverside Military Academy Foundation and is named in honor of Sandy Beaver, Riverside president from 1912-1969. The foundation provides funding for tuition assistance to the college preparatory military academy, which started in 1907.

Amanda Griffin, vice president for advancement, thanked the foundation’s founders and friends and the school’s “corporate friends” for their support.

“The vision, leadership and philanthropic spirit that Sandy Beaver exhibited throughout his tenure as Riverside’s president are the qualities we honor in Mr. Wilheit and Mr. Cleveland,” Gallagher said. “We are grateful to our alumni and community members for their support for this event and making the event possible.”

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