Parking on the grass may have been frowned upon, but there were few options as Cross Creek Country Club was packed Thursday night for the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards Dinner.
A crowd of over 170 people gathered to network and give credit to deserving local businesses. After the hungry crowd of people got dinner plates and got a piece of cake, it was time to hand out the hardware.
In a room full of influential people in Surry County, there was something appropriate about the first prize going to Administrative Professional of the Year. Melanie Clark was recognized for her 20+ years of service to Rogers Realty & Auction Company by Wendy Guy of RidgeCrest.
“Take a minute, take a day, come in and you will be treated as one of the most loyal and genuine people you have ever met,” said Denise Rogers. Clark called her time at Rogers “the most rewarding experience of my life. I am very grateful and God has really blessed me to be part of a great team.”
Todd Ennis of Wayne Farms presented the Agribusiness of the Year award to Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse Inc. Judy and Jim Mitchell, both NCSU alumni, started in 1979 with an additional lot before moving to its current location in 1993. Collins offered: “ If you’re frustrated by a tree or bush, ask them they are the experts.”
Their willingness to share information, as well as their efforts to streamline the operation with environmental improvements to save energy and water, are certainly admirable attributes. However, Jim Mitchell added that growing the operation to nine full-time employees while married for 46 years and in business with Judy for 43 years is one of his proudest accomplishments.
Mount Airy News editor Sandy Hurley presented the Ambassador of the Year award to Joe Zalescik, owner of a business that drives people crazy: Station 1978 Firehouse Peanuts. The Mount Airy City Commissioner At-Large delighted in two tight minutes of stand-up comedy disguised as his acceptance speech. As a transplant from Mount Airy who started his business in the early days of the pandemic, he had no idea what to expect.
“I’m really thankful that I got to meet people through the camera,” he said. “I also know that I can refer to the chamber guide to find the services I need from another chamber member.” To a roomful of members, the Ambassador of the Year was still touting the benefits of the camera: The US State Department should take note of such an ability.
Wendy Wood of Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corporation explained that Plant Manager Rocky Killon of Shenandoah Furniture has opened its doors for field trips, tutoring and internships for local students by presenting Shenandoah with the Business and Education Partner Award.
“Anything school systems have asked for; Rocky has answered yes without hesitation.” she said. “The impact that Rocky and Shenandoah have had on children in this area is tremendous.”
Killon praised student internship programs: “If you’re not in the internship system or you don’t work with the school system – get involved, you’ll enjoy it. You may hear it, about this generation, but I promise you; today we have excellent students, they are very smart, intelligent, bright and willing to get involved.”
In an unintentional double dip, Rogers Realty & Auction returned to accept the Business Longevity Award. Founded in 1964, Bracky Rogers and his wife Rhonda based the business on the Golden Rule. What remains today is a company that its employees refer to as family.
Treating clients ethically allowed them to oversee “hundreds of millions of dollars” in transactions while building trust along the way. His staff can forgive the fact that Bracky can “arrive in a little later and leave a little earlier” because he still makes a very good strawberry shortcake.
Rogers said he has a great staff and the best agents. That is something important since real estate agents can be ambassadors. Collins commented, “They are often the first impression of a new community on a buyer, and that can make all the difference.”
Reeves Community Center is one of the crown jewels of Mount Airy’s recreational options. However, the Reeves Community Center Foundation that was formed in 2005 has a program that may be going unnoticed.
For children who cannot afford activities, the foundation subsidizes partial or full payment of membership fees or activity fees for recreational opportunities so they can share in the experiences. Lance Mueller presented the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award to the Reeves Community Center Foundation for their continued support allowing more children the opportunity to join.
A new award for 2021 was Entrepreneur of the Year. Betsy Tarn from Xtreme! Marketing presented Will Pfitzner of LazerEdge as Entrepreneur of the Year. A Mount Airy High and NCSU graduate who studied biomedical engineering, Pfitzner has made a name for himself locally in a short time.
His design business was originally meant to make gifts for friends during college, and that became a side hustle, just a way to make extra money. The pull of his passion and an entrepreneurial spirit called his name, and he launched LazerEdge.
“The support of my family and this community means a lot to me,” he said. “This is just the beginning for me, and this is just the beginning for the youth of this community.”
The winner of the Excellence in Tourism Award, presented by Jenny Smith of the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority, went to another conjugal powerhouse. Chris and Pam Bastin of Heart & Soul Bed and Breakfast have created a B&B experience here in Mount Airy that could be called legendary.
In the modern world of online shopping and more reviews to review than time, positive reviews certainly drive traffic back to Heart & Soul repeatedly. “With over 500 reviews on Trip Advisor, they have a 97% 5-star rating,” Smith read from a stack of reviews. “These reviews, you could read any of them: ‘Best B&B Experience’, ‘Feels like family when we visit’, ‘Can’t wait to go back’ are just a few.”
Recently, Darren Lewis has been busy changing roles within the city. A longtime Parks and Recreation employee, Lewis was deputy director from 2005 to 2021, at which point he took over as interim city manager. New city manager Stan Farmer called Lewis, now an assistant city manager, “a dedicated public servant.”
“I love my job, not many can say that,” Lewis said as he took the time to thank his family for being so supportive of his work. For his flexibility and continued service to the community, Lewis received the Outstanding Public Servant Award from Jennifer Laurel of Carport Central/Cibirix.
The chamber’s top award went to an institution that has been running at full speed for the past two years. The Surry County Economic Development Council presented Northern Regional Hospital with the 2021 Business of the Year, which CEO Chris Lumsden agreed to call “Quite an honor.”
Lumsden thanked NRH’s 1,000 employees for their tireless work during the pandemic. “I admire the people who take care of patients in this community and this region every day. We have a dedicated, compassionate and committed group of caregivers.
“As I think back to some of our successes in the last two years – we served 1,500 hospitalized COVID patients and saw the most acute level of care in NRH history. That is an indication of how sick the patients are.
“We’ve done 70,000 COVID tests, seen over 500,000 patients in two years, had 60,000 emergency department visits, and seen 20,000 patients in our Urgent Care that opened in November 2020.”
People-driven care means helping patients but also employees. NRH has invested $1.5 million in assistance for employees to get them back in school, “because people are our lifeline,” Lumsden said.
The staff “hasn’t missed a beat” while, at the same time, NRH has modernized patient records, achieved high marks in patient safety rating, and continued a two-pronged approach: growing its people and grow your services.
“Like many of you, if not all, NRH has been tried. We were tested to the core over and over again,” Lumsden offered in summary. “We are honored to accept this award on behalf of everyone who works for or is affected by the work we do at Northern Regional Hospital.”