The Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, during a reformatted annual meeting Thursday, saluted a Start-Up of the Year, a Small Business of the Year, a Large Business of the Year, a Lifetime Achievement winner, an outstanding Leadership Bulloch Alumni member and a Volunteer of the Year.
A few more than 200 tickets were purchased, and ticketholders filled most of the seats, arranged auditorium-style, in the Jack Hill Building at Ogeechee Technical College. In a break from the past, no dinner was served, but a 90-minute reception with hors d’oeuvres and drinks preceded the 6:30 p.m. main event.
From the master of ceremonies to the last award recipient, speakers made emotional mentions of Bruce Yawn, longtime owner of the fondly remembered Snooky’s restaurant and until his death earlier Thursday at age 74, chair of the Development Authority of Bulloch County.
“Before we start, let’s take a moment of silence, say a little special prayer for the family of Bruce Yawn and his loved ones,” emcee Terry Harvin said quietly in his opening remarks. “Certainly a pillar of our community – we’re all representing businesses here today – he was the epitome of a small business, and it was more than a restaurant. He was Snooky’s, and he fed a lot of us.”
Through the remainder of the program, Harvin, general manager of Georgia Southern Sports Properties, used his sports announcer voice to deliver brief introductions that speakers likened to those for players at the start of a game.
Chamber board member Matt Sawhill announced the nominees for Startup of the Year, an award for a member business “in the start-up phase” that “has demonstrated innovative products or services, exemplary customer service and community involvement.” The nominees were BigDog Snow Cones, Dolan’s BBQ, Grice Connect, Tandoor & Tap and Word of Mouth Therapy.
When BigDog Snow Cones was announced as the winner, Julie Miller came forward to accept the award. She and her husband, Ivey, started the business, which offers 125 flavors of shaved ice treats from a 22-foot concession trailer, in May 2021.
“I really don’t know what to say. I wasn’t expecting to win,” she said. “But thank you to all of Statesboro that supported us, and I’m here without my best friends, my husband Ivey and, of course, George and Oscar. We wouldn’t be BigDog without George and Oscar.”
George and Oscar are a pair of Great Danes. For human help, the Millers sometimes employ two or three students as they take the trailer to various festivals and for hire to private parties.
“We’re hoping to open up a storefront here this year, so look for great things in the future from BigDog,” she said.
Small Business Award
John Roach from Morris Bank presented the Small Business of the Year award. It is meant for a business with fewer than 50 employees that “has experienced revenue or job growth, … provides innovative products or services,” and “demonstrates exemplary customer service and community involvement while … providing for professional development of staff.”
The nominees were Brooks Financial Associates, Deal’s Furniture & Mattress Outlet, Forest Heights Pharmacy, Kid’s World Learning Center, Pioneer Design and Marketing, Rolling Monkey Handcrafted Ice Cream and Southern Chiropractic & Wellness.
Kid’s World won, and Steven Lank accepted on behalf of his wife, the center’s owner and director Michelle Smith Lank, reading a statement she had provided.
“I am honored, humbled and inspired for being nominated and winning Small Business of the Year. …,” she had written. “Thank you, to the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber. Thank you to the other nominees in the category for investment in Statesboro and Bulloch County. It is the small businesses that are the job creation powerhouses and enable minority groups and women to make an impact on our business world more easily.”
She also thanked Kids World’s team of educators and administrators for their collaboration and dedication and the community for supporting the center’s child care programs. In 16 years, Kids World has grown from 35 children and six employees to 200 children, 35 employees and four adjacent properties, Lank noted.
Large Business Award
The chamber’s board secretary, Michelle Davis, presented the Large Business of the Year award, with a “large business” being one with more than 50 employees. The nominees were Ag South Farm Credit, Bulloch Solutions and East Georgia Regional Medical Center.
Ag South was the 2021 winner, and Zach Murphy, the lending institution’s regional vice president came forward to accept the award.
“On behalf of our staff, not only in Statesboro but the 20-plus locations in Georgia and South Carolina, we’re very thankful for the opportunity not only to serve Bulloch County but the other counties that we serve,” he said. “We really appreciate what our county does to support agriculture. At the core our mission, with farm credit and Ag South specifically, is agriculture and rural finance.”
Statesboro is home to Ag South’s corporate headquarters, and the company has more than 200 employees, including those at 12 locations in Georgia and 12 others in South Carolina.
Stuart Gregory from Bulloch Solutions announced the Lifetime Achievement Award, meant to honor “visionary leaders who have made a tremendous impact on those in the community, inspiring others to get involved, taking responsibility, assuming leadership roles.”
Kenny Stone, who was chosen for this award, was away, but his grandson Bowen Hopkins accepted it on his behalf.
“I’m certainly deeply honored to have received it,” Stone said Friday morning. “Statesboro has been very good to me and my family. It’s a wonderful place to live and work, and we just appreciate having the opportunity to participate in this community.”
Stone, who retired in December after almost 45 years as an attorney and 27 years in his solo practice here, arrived in Statesboro with his wife, Julie, in 1977. They have been married for 47 years now. Originally from Bainbridge, he went to the University of Georgia for both college and law school.
He chaired the Development Authority of Bulloch County for about 11 years, concluding in 2001, during the period when the county landed the Walmart distribution center and the Briggs & Stratton and Viracon factories.
He currently chairs the Board of Trustees of East Georgia Regional Medical Center, having served on that board since 1997, and is active in the Statesboro Rotary Club. In past years, Stone volunteered with the United Way and served on the Georgia Board of Industry, Trade and Tourism for five years and also on the Bulloch County Board of Education.
Stone is a previous chamber Business Leader of the Year, Rotary Club Citizen of the Year and Deen Day Smith Humanitarian of the Year.
Leadership Bulloch alumna
Chris Williams, chair of the chamber’s Leadership Bulloch program, presented the Leadership Bulloch Alumni Award.
“Tonight’s winner has served the community for decades and is still actively serving in various volunteer capacities,” Williams said, before naming that winner, Trish Tootle.
A past Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber chair and 2021 Membership Engagement Committee chair, Tootle, a local banker for more than 30 years with what is now Morris Bank, was a 2009 Leadership Bulloch graduate.
Chamber President and CEO Jennifer Davis presented the final award, Volunteer of the Year, to 2021 Chamber Chair Mandy Fortune.
“As a true blue community servant, they knew walking away just wasn’t an option the business community could entertain,” Davis said. “This person chose to serve and lead with many personal hours and was dedicated to that mindset. This volunteer is the sole reason we are here tonight.”
As a volunteer heading the executive board, Fortune helped steer the chamber through the dismissal of its previous president and CEO last June and the appointment of Davis, followed by her selection of Dorsey Baldwin as program and events director and Landon Haralson as member relations director.
Fortune’s commitment, Davis said, allowed the chamber to do more with less, adding 60 new members and more than doubling its assets and then increasing its operating budget for 2022 by 30%.
Fortune smiled through some tears as she accepted the award. She had been ready “to throw in the towel” at times during the year, she said. But while symbolically “passing the gavel” to 2022 Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber Chair Allen Davis of Glenn Davis & Associates, Fortune said that the example set by Yawn as a servant leader was one of the factors that convinced her to continue.