A crowd of nearly 400 gathered at Milner Recreation Center Monday night as the McMinnville - Warren County Chamber of Commerce honored some of the county's top citizens and businesses at its annual banquet. While serving as the kickoff to a new year with new leadership for the chamber, the spotlight was also pointed at those deemed to have a significant impact on both the chamber and the community as a whole.
Walking away with the top honor - the 2022 Distinguished Citizen Award, was Wayne Wolford. Wolford, a 20-year veteran of the US Army, an author, a teacher and a historian, among many other things, was particularly recognized for his work in creating and serving as director and curator of the Black History Museum of Warren County which was founded in 2021.
As explained by outgoing chamber board chair Shane Brock, the Distinguished Citizen Award goes to an individual who exhibits three major traits: Civic responsibility, vocational achievement and general character.
Of Wolford, Brock said, "To possess just one of those traits is a great claim in today's environment. To possess all three puts an individual in a whole different category of recognition and achievement."
Wolford, greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd filling the auditorium floor, encouraged everyone to pay a visit to the Black History Museum of Warren County. "What I would like for you to do is come visit the museum. I want to educate you and I want you to have fun. There's a lot of artifacts in there we can talk about for years. Thank you. I'm very honored and humbled to receive this award" Wolford said.
Winning the 2022 Free Enterprise Award was High's Funeral Home. High's was honored for its long history of service which was begun by founder John High and continues to define the business under current leadership.
In addition to serving many generations of Warren County families during the toughest days of their lives, the funeral home has helped the community in many ways, including the John W. High scholarship presented to deserving high school students in Warren and surrounding counties. The award was accepted by High's president Woody "Rocky" Davenport, Jr. and secretary/treasurer Brandon Harris.
The 2022 Edwin Partin Retailer of the Year was delivered to family-owned Viola's Pizza Company. Newly installed chamber board chair Bryan Kell reminded the audience of the impact made on the community for the namesake of the award, Edwin Partin, who is remembered by many for his business, Warren County Furniture, his friendly nature and his memorable radio commercials. Kell then welcomed Brian and Sara Covert to the stage who, along with their children Bradley, Lillianne, Thomas and Georgia, own and operate the popular restaurant in Viola.
The 2022 Community Impact Award went to the Bridgestone Warren County Plant and was presented by Dale Humphrey, president and chief executive officer at Saint Thomas River Park Hospital. Humphrey said, "Bridgestone has made an impact in Warren County for over 33 years. The company has received certifications for safety leadership, quality management and environmental responsibility, including the Tennessee Green Partnership and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, becoming the first of its kind in the world to achieve this designation."
Humphrey commended Bridgestone workers for their dedication both to their customers as well as their involvement in the community, donating time and goods to organizations such as Meals on Wheels, Warren County schools, Kids of the Community, the McMinnville - Warren County Senior Center, Habitat for Humanity, Blood Assurance, volunteer fire departments and others.
Bridgestone began manufacturing truck and bus radial tires in 1990 and have produced over 70 million tires. The plant currently employs 1,200 and expects to add 380 jobs with its planned $550 million expansion. Accepting the award for Bridgestone was plant manager Tim Painter.
The 2022 Volunteer of the Year award was presented by chamber president Melissa Mullins to John Chisam for his work with several community groups including youth sports, Habitat for Humanity, Caring Hearts United, Kids of the Community and many others. In presenting Chisam the award, Mullins summed up his volunteer spirit by saying, "There is a quote that says volunteers don't get paid not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless."
Earning the 2022 Ambassador of the Year award was Ashley Gillentine Wright. This award goes to the member of the chamber ambassador program who earns the most points throughout the year by attending and serving at various chamber events and ribbon cuttings, recruiting other members and visiting chamber members.
The award was presented by Kell and last year's ambassador of the year, Devonya King. Kell recognized Wright's love of the community, her constant support of the chamber and her work in local public relations, marketing and digital media for nearly 20 years. He also noted her work with United Way of Hwy 55, the National Exchange Club and her emcee work at many chamber ribbon cuttings.
Wrapping up the evening's proceedings was the recognition of departing chamber board members Vicki Dodd, Dayron Deaton-Owens and John Chisam. New board members Sherry Cotten, Carla Bush and Justin Scott were welcomed. Outgoing chair Brock then passed the torch to new chairman Kell as the banquet concluded.