The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce held its 72nd Annual Membership Meeting Tuesday Night at Valle Crucis Community Park. The event was presented by First Horizon Bank with additional sponsorship support from Peak Insurance Group, Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, and Spangler Restoration.
North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders delivered the keynote address for the event, sharing a message about the economic resiliency of rural communities throughout North Carolina to an audience of over 300 members and guests of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. Secretary Sanders also discussed First In Talent, the Strategic Economic Development plan for the State of North Carolina, which provides recommendations and reference points for policy makers and economic developers across the state.
Dr. Sandy Vannoy, Interim Dean of the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State, was introduced as the Chair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors for the 2021-22 year. Her remarks highlighted current collaborations between the University and the business community and opportunities for the Chamber to unlock future partnerships.
David Jackson, President/CEO, delivered the annual State of the Chamber remarks, touching on the organizations work over the past year to connect the business community to resources during COVID-19. He also spoke about upcoming partnership opportunities with organizations throughout the state, the Chamber’s advocacy plans for the year ahead, and the refocusing of the Education committee to concentrate on partnerships that enhance workforce development.
The Chamber honored its 2021 Community Award winners as part of the ceremony. Nine local leaders and businesses were recognized for their accomplishments over the past year, each blending professional achievements with a spirit of resiliency that has served as a driving force throughout the business community this year.
2021 Community Award Winners
Wade Brown Award for Community Involvement: Stephen Poulos, Director, Watauga County Parks & Recreation
Stephen Poulos led staff and volunteers through conceptualizing, designing, and eventually opening the Watauga County Parks & Recreation Center, a 100,000-square foot facility that serves as the county’s first community recreation venue.
Since joining the department in 1992, Poulos has worked with various community groups to gather feedback regarding desired features for the facility. Once the building was complete, he has implemented customer-focused training for staff and volunteers while continuing to adjust layout and placement of various equipment to ensure the most efficient and enjoyable experience for users of the facility.
Throughout his 29-years working for Watauga County Parks & Recreation, Poulos has coordinated a variety of recreation programs for Watauga County residents, from youth sports to adult engagement. He helped create the Boone Roundball Classic, a regional basketball tournament in its 18th year of operation, which brings upwards of 150 youth teams to the area on an annual basis. Poulos is an active sports official throughout Western North Carolina and spends volunteer hours to benefit numerous community organizations.
The Wade Brown Award for Community Involvement is the Chamber’s oldest award, dating back to 1979. Named after the first recipient of the honor, this award recognizes a significant contribution through community engagement. The award is sponsored annually by Boone Golf Club.
Ben Suttle Special Services Award: Boone Sunrise Rotary Club
True to their motto of Service Above Self, the Boone Sunrise Rotary Club was an active participant in 14 community service projects over the past year. The club achieved 90% participation among its members and provided 646 hours of community service and volunteer support throughout the year.
The Sunrise Rotarians led dozens of volunteers that staffed COVID-19 mass vaccination clinics throughout the community, coordinated and placed signage to promote community social distancing regulations, and posted signage to provide thanks to local healthcare workers.
The club is an annual participant in the Boone River Clean-Up and maintains a key section of the New River along the Boone Greenway throughout the year. Sunrise Rotarians host American Red Cross Blood Drives throughout the year and serve as volunteers at the annual Back to School Festival in August. They also work alongside student Rotary Clubs at Appalachian State University and Watauga High School on various service projects throughout the year. Its fundraising efforts go to support local non-profits, world Polio eradication, and Alzheimer’s Research.
The Ben Suttle Special Services Award, named for the former Boone Town Councilman, recognizes the spirit of volunteerism in the community.
everGREEN Award for Sustainability: Blue Ridge Conservancy
Blue Ridge Conservancy (BRC) partners with landowners and local communities in northwest North Carolina to permanently protect natural resources that have agricultural, cultural, recreational, ecological, and scenic value. BRC’s land conservation projects protect the region’s vital and vulnerable natural resources.
Over the past year, BRC continued to work with Grandfather Mountain State Park to offer expanded opportunities for public access and recreation in this popular area. This work coincides with similar efforts around Elk Knob State Park and Three Top Mountain Game Land in Ashe County, where BRC completed a series of projects resulting in the conservation of over 1,000 contiguous acres on Three Top Mountain.
BRC has advanced opportunities for outdoor recreation and environmental education. The Conservancy plays a pivotal role in expanding public access to land for hiking, biking, water paddling, hunting, and fishing. The Conservancy’s premier recreation project, the Middle Fork Greenway, will connect Blowing Rock to Boone, providing safe and healthy access to nature for residents and visitors while protecting the environment and strengthening the local economy. The organization recently moved into his new headquarters on a conservation campus off Aho Road, which will become a centerpiece for community outreach and education moving forward.
The everGREEN Award for Sustainability is presented to a business, organization, project, or person who has furthered the inclusion and integration of sustainable development principles. This annual award is sponsored by Mast General Store.
Dan Meyer Partnership Award: Quiet Givers
Quiet Givers is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization made up of civic-minded community members from the North Carolina High Country who are passionate about helping others. Board members come from area businesses and local non-profits in a collaborative effort to catch needs that fall through the cracks.
An agency identifies a need it can’t fill and submits the need to Quiet Givers. They work through a network of contacts and donors by use of their website and social media who contribute to the need via anonymous donations. The organization has served over 900 people throughout the last year.
Needs are defined by the organization as essential components of basic human dignity. Quiet Givers support needs covering any of the following categories: food, health, shelter, safety, transportation, and education.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Quiet Givers has provided rent support and funds for heating fuels and other housing essentials. They also played an important role in identifying education and transportation support for families whose work schedules were impacted by changes brought on by pandemic-related restrictions.
The Dan Meyer Community Partnership Award recognizes a community leader for their efforts to bring multiple parties together for a common cause. Meyer served as President/CEO of the Chamber for 12-years before retiring in August of 2016. The award is sponsored annually by LifeStore Bank.
Alfred Adams Award for Economic Development: LifeStore Bank
Providing customers with hometown, friendly service has been core to the mission of LifeStore Bank since it was established in 1939. As individuals and businesses attempt to make sense of the financial impact of the pandemic economy, LifeStore staff has worked to provide timely information with competitive loans and assistance to help meet these challenges.
Over the last year, LifeStore Bank has helped local small businesses by issuing 459 PPP loans exceeding $20 million. LifeStore Bank was also a leader in mortgage originations in the High Country during the past year. They expanded their contributions in the community to include: assisting with food insecurities and shelter needs, expanding educational opportunities, supporting business development, protecting our environment and improving recreation for this area.
The Alfred Adams Award for Economic Development recognizes individuals and/or organizations who have worked for the orderly growth and development of Boone and Watauga County. Adams served as a local banker and provided an influence on many Chamber committees in the organization’s formative years. This award is sponsored annually by Wells Fargo.
#KeepBooneHealthy Award for Community Leadership: Reggie Hunt, Pastor, Cornerstone Summit Church
Advocating for leadership through unity and understanding, Reggie Hunt has used his voice to share stories and experiences rooted in compassion and community well-being. Serving as Lead Pastor of Cornerstone Summit Church for 17-years, Hunt has been an established bridgebuilder, bringing voice and experience to important conversations involving race, inclusion, and treating community members with respect and an openness to learn from one another. His efforts have worked to bring numerous agencies and organizations to the table to discuss national issues that are impacting the High Country, and how community members can use this moment to use perspective as an opportunity for growth.
In addition to his pastoral work, Hunt is a sought-after facilitator of topics centered on leadership development. He serves as Student-Athlete Leadership Coordinator for Appalachian State Athletics and has authored and delivered leadership strategy sessions for business and community partners throughout the region. A 2000 graduate of Appalachian State, he is a frequent contributor to the Chamber’s Watauga Leadership Institute, and has expanded his scope to include facilitating corporate retreats and team building sessions throughout the State of North Carolina.
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors established the #KeepBooneHealthy Award for Community Leadership in 2020. This honor is presented to a person or organization whose leadership has been pivotal to maintaining the health and vibrancy of our community. The award is aimed at recognizing leadership that rises above the work of any one business or agency in order to unite and mobilize business, government, non-profit, and civic partners toward an improved quality of life for our entire community.
Baker/Jones Woman of the Year Award: Captain Carolynn Johnson, Watauga County Sheriff’s Department
Serving as one of the most visible faces of the Watauga County Sheriff’s Department, Captain Carolynn Johnson provides encouragement and optimism to her law enforcement co-workers and the community at-large.
Captain Johnson has progressed through the ranks within the department, starting her career as a call dispatcher, and now serves as lead deputy in the department’s Investigations Division. She served as a family liaison and provided investigative support during the tragic events that led to the loss of two co-workers, Sergeant Chris Ward and Deputy Logan Fox in April of 2021.
Through her role with the department, Captain Johnson works closely with the Children’s Advocacy Center of the Blue Ridge, OASIS, and Hospitality House. She is an active volunteer with the local chapter of the American Red Cross, the annual Blood, Sweat, and Gears cycling event, Special Olympics of Watauga County, Hunter’s Heroes, and was a participant in the Police Unity Tour in Washington, DC.
The Baker-Jones Woman of the Year award is named for long-time Chamber volunteers Gillian Baker and Susan Jones. This award honors an inspiring member who exemplifies the qualities of leadership, mentorship, and community involvement. This award is co-sponsored annually by Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and Blue Ridge Energy.
Sue W. Wilmoth Award for the Advancement of Tourism: Grandfather Mountain Vineyard
Since starting their operation in 2000, the Tatum family has grown Grandfather Mountain Vineyards from a start-up family business into a thriving tourism magnet.
Steve and Sally Tatum purchased the property in 2000, and along with son Dylan and daughter-in-law Nicole, blended the study of viticulture with the creation of a business model that showcases the unique attributes of the High Country’s first winery, nestled on the banks of the Watauga River.
As COVID-19 changed people’s travel habits, the Tatum’s adapted their operation to provide additional options for customers that prioritized outdoor experiences. They’ve added to their seating and event space, making their grounds a popular destination for weddings and other social gatherings. All service has shifted outside of the tasting room and the establishment of a menu of special events, food truck appearances, and live music throughout the week have helped the business draw record crowds of locals and tourists alike over the past year.
The Sue W. Wilmoth Award for the Advancement of Tourism is named for the former Chamber Director, who used her influence in tourism promotion to capitalize on the region’s natural resources while balancing progress with preservation. The award is sponsored annually by the Boone and Watauga County Tourism Development Authorities.
Kathy Crutchfield Citizen of the Year Award: Dr. Scott Elliott, Superintendent, Watauga County Schools
Providing leadership to teachers and staff through a global pandemic while prioritizing the delivery of quality public education as a cornerstone of community development, Dr. Scott Elliott has lead Watauga County Schools through a variety of challenges over the last 19-months.
Over the course of the pandemic, Dr. Elliott has worked with staff daily to maintain operations for the 10-school district, seeking creative means to provide reliable support services to students and teachers. In 2020, he helped facilitate a meal delivery program that prepared and distributed more than 250,000 meals to local children while schools were closed to in-person instruction. He has worked with State, Federal, and local partners to find creative ways to minimize the financial burden of attending school as families across the county grapple with pandemic-induced economic instability. He has also advocated for funding to increase the number of school nurses and school resource officers working throughout the district.
During his tenure seven-year tenure with Watauga County Schools, Elliott has overseen the foundation of the Watauga Innovation Academy, the district’s early college program, and The Watauga Virtual Academy, an online remote learning school. He implemented a salary study aimed at increasing wages for the district’s hourly classified staff and organized a facility study to address the needs of various buildings and properties. Dr. Elliott promoted cooperation between the Board of Education and Watauga County Commissioners to secure a site for a new Valle Crucis School, and established public forums to seek input on the impact of changes to one of the county’s legacy community schools.
Named as the 2019 regional Superintendent of the Year, Dr. Elliott works in various capacities with State leadership in Raleigh, and co-chairs a committee of Superintendents that works to improve literacy education across the State.
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce presents the Kathy Crutchfield Citizen of the Year Award annually to an individual who exemplifies a selfless work ethic while impacting and supporting a broad array of community partners.
Photos by Leila Jackson