Chamber Announces 2019 Spirit Award Winners

The Cashiers Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated its Annual Meeting & Celebration at The Orchard Restaurant Events Barn Thursday, November 21. The event serves as an opportunity to recognize new, returning and retiring Chamber Board members and announce the coveted Spirit of Our Community Award winners for Arts & Culture Advocate of the Year, Businessperson of the Year, Citizen of the Year, Educator of the Year, Evergreen Award and Volunteer of the Year. Guests enjoyed abundant hors d’oeuvres catered by The Orchard Restaurant, entertainment provided by Benjamin T Warner DJ + Musician and individual fudge truffles as a take-home treat thanks to J. Gabriel The Art of Living. Sponsors for the event included Highlands Sotheby’s International Realty Cashiers Office, Signal Ridge Marina, and Zoller Hardware.

Chamber Executive Director, Stephanie Edwards addressed the nearly 120 event attendees to recognize the 2019-2020 Chamber Board of Directors including officers; President Mary Lanning, of Hampton Inn & Suites Cashiers - Sapphire Valley, President-Elect Glenn Ubertino of Zoller Hardware, Treasurer Ben Harris of Harris Custom Builders and Past-President Debby Hattler of Highlands Sotheby’s International Realty Cashiers. Returning board members include Justin Allman of FireMoss Pottery, Tony Austin of Lake Toxaway Company, Ashton Harris of the Country Club of Sapphire Valley, Lec Hobbs of Highland Hiker, Sarah Jennings of Lonesome Valley, Kathy Korb of the Laurelwood Inn, Brandy Letson of Cashiers Village Pharmacy, Wendy Lupas of Gracewear, and Donnie Shuey of Signal Ridge Marina. The board welcomes Eduardo Cruz of Eduardo’s Painting, Thomas Taulbee of the Highlands-Cashiers Board of Realtors, and Dr. Don Tomas of Southwestern Community College as new directors and honored Ken Fernandez of Old Cashiers Realty as a retiring board member. 

“We have a diverse group of committed board members who dedicate their time to serve the Cashiers area communities,” said Edwards. “Their input provides the foundation for Chamber success each year and guides Chamber focus on key strategic initiatives including beautification initiatives, diverse housing opportunities, pedestrian mobility & safety and more,” she said. “We are grateful for their valued investment in our communities’ futures.”

Per-tradition, the winners of the Annual Spirit of Our Community Award winners were announced. This year’s Arts & Culture Advocate of the Year Award, presented to an individual, business or organization that promotes artistic enhancement or cultural awareness was bestowed to educator Sarah Hall of Blue Ridge School. Sarah joined Blue Ridge School in 2015 and is responsible for establishing Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM), an opportunity to educate students on Appalachian history and foster a love for music. She serves as the foundation for the Blue Ridge School music program for kids Pre-K through early college, is responsible for collaborative musical theatre productions and is a constant support to students to explore music and develop their abilities. JAM students led by Sarah have been featured at the Annual Barn Dance hosted by Mountain Youth Charities, during the annual Cashiers Christmas Parade, and at numerous community performances throughout the year.

The Businessperson of the Year award is presented to a business representative who has leveraged commercial resources to support community initiatives in an extraordinary manner. Winner Brien Peterkin Sr., is the current president of High Hampton Resort project. A resident of Cashiers for over 40 years, Brien has been instrumental in community developments including Cornucopia, the Country Club of Sapphire Valley, The Greystone Inn, Lake Toxaway Company, Lonesome Valley, Summit Charter School and served on boards ranging from Highlands-Cashiers Hospital to the original Hampton School and more. Brien and his team are responsible for High Hampton Resorts’ renovation and reopening in 2021 for year-round operations.

Educator of the Year is presented to a teacher or administrator who has uniquely promoted character development and motivation as a foundation for future success and this year was bestowed to Wendy Stewart of Blue Ridge School who has taught public school for twenty-seven years. Serving students of all ages, she dedicates personal time as a tutor for both Blue Ridge and Summit Schools, has developed and encourages students during summer reading programs, mentors WCU interns, volunteers weekly at the local English as a second language classes, writes grants, plans and arranges theatre productions and shows as learning opportunities in the school and has served on multiple education committees. She is an active volunteer for the Literacy Council, Fishes & Loaves, and the Rescue Squad Auxiliary. Wendy will retire from Blue Ridge School at the end of the 2019-2020 school year but will undoubtedly continue her education legacy.

This year’s Evergreen Award, presented to an individual, business or other organization whose work reflects the respect of natural resources and the value of sustainability, was awarded the Cashiers Historical Society for their dedication to preserving, sustaining and educating future generations about historical horticulture. The Society’s Zachary Tolbert property is a diverse ecosystem with 400 year old trees, stream, heritage garden and more. Stewardship efforts extend to preserving apple varieties and teaching grafting methods. For more than a decade, the Society has partnered with the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust for the annual Founders Day Event and in 2009 the organizations constructed the property’s nature trail for tours to students and visitors to honor 100 years of land conservation by HCLT.

The 2019 Volunteer of the Year, presented to an individual who has generously given their personal time, talent and/or financial support to improve the lives of those in the community, was awarded to Melanie Jones. Melanie has made extraordinary commitments to focus on community needs and for ten years, has dedicated her time and talents with organizations such as Cashiers Valley Preschool, Boys & Girls Club of the Plateau, Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society, Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic, Mountain Youth Charities, Fishes & Loaves, Friends of Panthertown, Summit Charter School Foundation, Circle of Hope for Cashiers-Glenville, Church of the Good Shepherd Bazaar, Rotary Club and more. She has graciously served on volunteer boards, consulted on grants and policies and assisted with special events and development efforts. She has selflessly worked with these programs and projects often under-the-radar and with humble influence.

The coveted Citizen of the Year award, presented to an individual who has significantly and positively impacted community development through vision, innovation, and leadership was given to Carl Hyde. Carl has dedicated years of leadership to support Blue Ridge School & Early College students as a foundation for future success. The Blue Ridge School Education Foundation was formed in 2002 and under Carl’s leadership in 2014, the Foundation was incorporated to accept tax-exempt donations on behalf of the school. His efforts greatly influenced the Foundation to be able to award $109,500 in scholarships to graduating seniors and grant over $146,000 in the 2018-2019 school year for improved library facilities and books, off-campus learning experiences and enhanced programs for classes and teacher support plus medical personnel for the school. Carl has tirelessly served to establish the Cashiers Scholarship Alliance, as a member of the Education Task Force for Vision Cashiers, Rotary Club of Cashiers Valley, Country Club of Sapphire Valley, and United Methodist Church. He has served as a volunteer Tooth Fairy with the Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic, an advocate for the Jackson County Senior Citizen Center and contributor at the Boys & Girls Club of the Plateau.

“We are pleased to recognize these citizens for their hard work and dedication to our communities,” said Edwards. “Their commitment and positive influence touch countless lives and will continue to impact the future of our communities.” The Chamber noted that a record number of nominations were received this year for the Spirit Awards. “It’s wonderful to see nominations each year that showcase the efforts of the many dedicated individuals across the Plateau and we thank those who took time to place nominations. We are impressed by their far-reaching impacts each year and recognize the community would not be the same without their support and influence.”

The Chamber looks forward to the upcoming Village Lights Display with on Friday, November 29, the Cashiers Christmas Parade on Saturday, December 14 and the annual Chamber Board Strategy Session in January when the board focuses on key strategic issues for the coming year.