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FB chamber hears state legislative leader and recognizes several award recipients

The Greater Fair Bluff Chamber of Commerce held its annual dinner banquet Thursday night, honoring several local citizens and businesses and hearing about a proposed $5 million apartment complex in the town that would be paid for by state dollars (see separate story elsewhere in this issue).

Gilbert “Doug” McFadden received the prestigious community service award for his efforts to help others following Hurricane Matthew, despite being displaced himself from his home due to flooding, and Fannie Lou and Harold Cribb were honored as citizens of the year.

In addition, several businesses, organizations and individuals received special recognition for their efforts to help the community bounce back from flooding in October.

Rep. John Bell, the majority leader of the N.C. House of Representatives, was the keynote speaker. The Wayne County Republican joked about the number of politicians in the audience and said, “‘Poly’ means ‘many’ and ‘ticks’ means ‘blood-sucking animal,’” before saying, “People like (Tabor City Rep.) Brenden Jones make sure the people in the General Assembly know where his district is and that your needs are met. He’s your man. Even before he was elected, when we were putting together a $200 million hurricane relief package, Brenden was constantly letting us know what was going on.”

Bell said that North Carolina has the fastest-growing economy in the United States and called the state the second best place in the nation to do business. He touted, “North Carolina’s economy is the 23rd largest economy in the world. Regulations that stifled business and industry in North Carolina have been rolled back, and the state has a budget surplus. The businesses of this state did that, not the politicians.”

The legislative leader said he was impressed by the number of people turning out for the dinner, especially after devastation suffered by the town after Hurricane Matthew. “For this many people to show up is awesome. You’ll never lose your community, because you’re the backbone of the community.”

Calling him the “servant of the year,” Chamber board member the Rev. Neill Smith presented Gilbert “Doug” McFadden the group’s annual community service award. “I came to know this person in the midst of Hurricane Matthew,” Smith said. Calling McFadden a “praying person who gives of himself all the time,” Smith said that McFadden and his family had to leave home because of water in his house, but that he went to his church and started helping others who also had been flooded. “He has given back to the community in a way that he is a servant who wants this community to come back,” Smith said. “He had to live in a motel after the flood. Now he’s back in his home, but he’s not through serving. Tonight it gives me great pleasure to recognize my brother in Christ who is a true servant of this community, Gilbert McFadden, better known as ‘Doug.’”

An overwhelmed McFadden thanked God and members of the community for the recognition.

Outgoing Chamber president Karen Grainger recognized Fannie Lou and Harold Cribb as citizens of the year. “They’ve been very instrumental in the health of Fair Bluff and they’ve always been instrumental in the success of Fair Bluff,” Grainger said, “They’ve both worked their entire lives for companies in Fair Bluff.” Cribb worked 55 years for Ellis Meares and Son before it was shuttered by flooding in October. His wife, Fannie Lou, worked for Fair Bluff Motors, TDS Telecom and Tri-County Auto Parts and now is a part-time employee of the Fair Bluff Visitors Center. “If you ever meet them, you’ll never forget them,” she said. “They are the epitome of wonderful neighbors and friends, and they have helped make Fair Bluff the town that it is.”

Grainger also made special presentations to businesses and organizations that have either re-opened since the October flood or continued their community service work. Checks for $500 were given to each, although several of the recipients returned those checks to the chamber.

Randy Britt of B.H. Small Co. and George and Laurie Roy of Yokos Japanese Restaurant were recognized for being the first businesses to reopen in town after the flood. In addition, Britt’s daughter, Weatherly, set up a GoFundMe account that raised over $15,000 for flood relief, much of which was used to purchase school clothing and school supplies for 55 children who had been displaced by the flood.

“We also wanted to help the businesses that have come back,” Grainger said. In addition to B.H. Small and Yokos, she recognized Jeff Axelberg of SMP Southeast Marketing who has reopened after his business was destroyed, Esther Scott of Scott Properties, who redid her building after the flood to allow SMP to reopen there, and Jody Johnson of PhotoRad Photography. Although Johnson lost both his home and his business in the flood, his documentation of the flooding will serve as the historical record for what happened in Fair Bluff in October. Johnson’s work after the flood has been seen in print and broadcast media internationally and internationally and was featured in a film by Leonardo Dicaprio.

Grainger also presented a community service agency and two churches -- Carol Graham Williams of the Building Bridges afterschool learning center, the Rev. Todd Padgett of Fair Bluff Baptist Church and Elder Billy Johnson, pastor of the Fair Bluff Church of God and True Holiness – with checks to help them rebuild.

In addition, Grainger gave a check for $1,000 to the Columbus College and Career Academy to continue to further vocational training provided by the school, which operates from both Fair Bluff and Southeastern Community College campuses. Accepting the check for the academy was faculty member Sherman Axelberg who said, “Our children are becoming college and career ready because of the school and because of you all. This money will go for great use for our children.”

Ray Lundy, father of Elvington Pharmacy owner Emily Thompson, also recognized Dr. Melvin Gerald of G&G Healthcare at Cerro Gordo. Gerald allowed the drug store to re-open in his building in Cerro Gordo after the business was completely destroyed by the storm.

Kathy Ashley was installed as new president of the chamber to succeed Grainger, who has served in the post for several years. Rev. Neil Smith was installed as vice president and Tiffany Burroughs was installed as secretary/treasurer. Incoming directors for the group, Carol Williams, Shirley Foley, Todd Padgett, Jeff Axelberg and Carolyn Foley, were installed and outgoing directors Karen Grainger, Eddie Burney and Kira Godwin were recognized.

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