The dining area was crowded, acquaintances renewed, business matters discussed, and small talk preceded presentations of awards in five categories Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce 2013 Executive Committee and Board of Directors recognized during the 61st annual meeting of the Chamber.
The affair, held at Bull and Bones in Fairlawn, was led by Robert Hiss, 2013 Chamber president, who turned the gavel over to Brooks Dawson, incoming president for 2014.
Awards presented were The Southwest Times Civic Honors Award, Special Presentation Heritage Award, Small Business of the Year Award, Business Excellence Award and Business Executive Award.
The Southwest Times has presented an award since about the 1960s to an individual, not an elected or appointed official nor similar positions, but to honor unsung individuals who’ve made a difference in the lives of county residents.
This year’s winner is Ellen Mitchell, a Pulaski native and 1970 graduate of Pulaski High School, who spent a number of years in law enforcement as an officer in Washington, D.C., and dispatcher for the town of Pulaski and Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department.
After retiring from the sheriff’s department and the sudden death of her only child, Mitchell said she was withdrawn, with nothing to do, remaining inside and wondering what was ahead.
Her brother, Kenneth Hall, called one day, after making all arrangements for beginning Safe Haven. “He called, asking my thoughts of the plan and I thought it was a good idea,” she said.
He said, “Okay, be at work Monday morning,” and that was nearly seven years ago. Since the opening, the office has served some 600 families, providing a safe environment where children, some abused and neglected, can meet with a parent under court orders.
Research in 2011 revealed that in Southwest Virginia, Giles County is rated number one and Pulaski County second, per capita, in child abuse across Virginia.
Mitchell could tell horror story after horror story about situations in which children have been abused, ignored, or harmed in some way. She said, “I am glad to give little kids a bit of security for one hour every other week.”
Visits are in controlled environments with safety of the child uppermost in the minds of staff and volunteers. Courts are also involved in the overall programs.
Mitchell has seen the best and the worst in her career and now heads Safe Haven, she has also been involved in the Treat Trail when it began in the early 90s; organized Haiti earthquake relief efforts with first responders; assisted with fund collections for the Red Cross during Pulaski’s tornadoes, and helped obtain business sponsorships for the first American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Pulaski.
She also helped organize “Ten For Tots,” a fundraiser through Safe Haven to benefit Manna House, now Norman’s House, a local faith-based food mission in 2011 that raised $4,200 to make Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for 115 families to share with their families during the holiday season.
She continues looking for volunteers, particularly those willing and able to give of their time on weekends.
In presenting the Heritage Award, Peggy White, Chamber executive director, presented the first such award to Roger Adkins, director of the New River Community College Fiddle, Banjo and Dance Club.
“This region is rich in music that has been passed down through generations. Traditional music is as much a source of pride for many area residents as it is a family legacy,” said White.
Many people in our area are dedicated to fostering, preserving and promoting the rich musical legacy passed down through generations in the New River Valley and provide opportunities for youth to learn about and appreciate their heritage.
Since 1991, a group of local musicians and others with a deep appreciation for this type of music have gathered the second Saturday monthly between October and April.
That is the NRCC Fiddle, Banjo and Dance Club. Keep pickin’.
Small business is the backbone of our community and vital to the economy, said Jon Woolwine of Hayden Electric in presenting the Small Business of the Year Award.
The 2013 winner was New River Internal Medicine, which began in 1984 and has come to be one of the most well respected entities in the area, he pointed out.
“They maintain excellent relations in the community and beyond, and are always, both corporate and individually, giving back to the community,” said Woolwine.
Active in their profession, on call 24-7, and observed frequently at LewisGale Hospital-Pulaski, they are generous with time and resources, such as assisting with annual low-cost physical examinations for all Pulaski County middle and high school athletes.
“Satisfied patients return to them year after year because of their integrity, quality of care and professionalism,” said Woolwine.
Dr. John Knarr and Dr. Kenneth Pendergrast accepted the award on behalf of the four other physicians and 27 employees.
The Business Excellence Award, presented by Tracy Nester of Fatz Cafe, went to Caterpillar Global Mining America, LLC, which moved to Pulaski County in 2011 manufacturing a variety of underground mining equipment.
The operation processes machinery from plate steel to finished product in-house, with an average output of 140 units per year by its 153 production workers plus 110 in management and support.
Caterpillar gives to the community through a foundation which donates substantial amounts of money annually to disaster relief, community organizations and partnerships with institutions of higher education.
They are also involved in the United Way, Relay for Life, the Christmas Store and Mariners baseball.
Kenneth Bowling presented the Business Executive of the Year award to Dr. Thomas Brewster, superintendent of Pulaski County Schools.
The winner is known throughout the region and the state for his enthusiasm, willingness to try innovative things and excellence in everything he undertakes, Bowling noted.
A former member of the Virginia Board of Education, he is serving as chairman of the Board of Directors of the Virginia Career Eduction Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by former Gov. Mark Warner to promote career and technical education in the Commonwealth.
He was appointed to the Board of Trustees for his alma mater, Bluefield College and was recently elected secretary and chairman of the Curriculum and Instruction and Institutional Advancement Committee. In 2013 he was appointed to the inaugural Bluefield College School of Dentistry Board, which he currently chairs.