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  • Diana Matthews

Chamber celebrates 80 years

The board of directors includes, front row: Amber Bellamy, Nancy Sigmon, Joan Ward, chairman; Rebecca Murphy, and Pickett Council Ellis. Back row: Terri Edmund, past chairman; Jeremy Coker, John Elliott, David Holmes, Bill Gore, Brad Crowell, Matt McLean, J.E. Thompson, Stephanie Miller, Anthony Clarke, Gretta Heye and Jennifer Holcomb, president of the chamber.

The Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism held its annual banquet and mini business expo Monday evening at Northwood Church in Whiteville. Nearly 200 people attended the event, which welcomed new members and directors while honoring volunteers retiring from the board.

As always, special presentations were given to two individuals who had advanced the values of the Chamber through dedicated service.

During a pre-dinner expo time, guests networked among 25 tables decorated by sponsoring businesses. The official meeting began with presentation of colors by the Whiteville High School Junior ROTC, followed by the pledge of allegiance. Pastor Steuart Link of Lake Waccamaw Presbyterian Church gave the invocation before the 6 p.m. meal, which had been prepared by Sarah Gore Events and Catering.

Departing board chairman Terri Edmund described her challenging but inspiring year leading the chamber. Describing how businesses and individuals in the community had supported one another in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, she quoted Ecclesiastes 4, which says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil…a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.”

Before Edmund passed her gavel to incoming president Joan Ward, the chamber presented its most prestigious awards to two hard-working long-time members. The Duke Energy Honorary Lifetime Membership Award went to Danny McNeill of Baldwin Woods Pharmacy.

“I’m shocked,” McNeill said. “I don’t deserve this award, but I accept it wholeheartedly.”

In awarding the lifetime membership to McNeill on behalf of Duke Energy, John Elliott referred to the honoree’s years of business leadership, support of the chamber and the dozens of golf tournaments he had chaired for the chamber. “But, most importantly,” said Elliott, “our recipient is a compassionate community leader who has made Columbus County a better place to live by his unselfish actions and unbridled enthusiasm.”

McNeill has served on the board of trustees for Southeastern Community College since 2002, as well as volunteering for the college foundation, which he chaired for two years.

For five years he has volunteered with the Waccamaw River Watershed water testing project.

McNeill has golfed at Pebble Beach, Pinehurst’s Course Number Two and the Old Course in Scotland, said Elliott. “But he has frequently remarked that there is nothing like playing a round of golf and eating a chicken salad sandwich at the Whiteville Country Club for a total cost of $25.25.”

“Like all past recipients, this person has a hard time saying ‘no.’

“I’m pretty close to this person, and that makes me a little uncomfortable even doing all this since the award is named for my father,” said Mann, who has served on the selection committee since the award’s inception, but who has avoided influencing the choice of honoree. “This year’s recipient of the Sol B. Mann Community Spirit Award is my wife and best friend, Sally Mann.”

Edmund followed the nearly speechless Sally Mann at the podium, saying, “I hope Sally won’t be too angry with Terry for this. We ganged up on him.”

Chamber President Jennifer Holcomb pointed out that, “Sally has been nominated for the award every single year, and Terry has always said it wasn’t right to give it to her. And every year he won the argument, until now. Three people nominated her this year, and the committee finally overruled Terry. I’m saying this because I know that you two are the humblest people in the world.”

New board chairman Joan Ward spoke briefly about the diversity of strengths among businesses and individuals represented in the chamber and how, woven together like the strands in Ecclesiastes that her predecessor had referenced, they make a whole that is stronger yet than any of its components.

After the meeting’s close, Edmund said, “We’re excited. It was a great crowd. I think it’s going to be a smooth transition to Joan.”

Members of the audience were also enthusiastic. Paul and Kaye Pope, who attended representing new member organization Southeastern Oratorio Society, said that, for them, “While a highlight is always the heart-felt recognition of the outgoing president, we always look forward to the naming of the Sol Mann and Life Membership honorees. Tonight’s honorees richly deserved their awards.”

Table sponsor Thomas Jones of Swee-Dee Pie Cheesecakes described the banquet and expo as “fabulous.”

Bronze event sponsor Alan Thompson of Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams & Co. said, “I am always amazed at how much some of the members of the chamber do to make our town and county a better place. The two award winners were prime examples of people who give of themselves tirelessly to make all of our lives better. I am very grateful for these people and the standard they set for all of us.”

The Duke Energy Honorary Lifetime Membership Award, presented by John Elliott, went to Danny McNeill of Baldwin Woods Pharmacy

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