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Chamber's top award goes to a woman for the first time

Judy Stroud poses with Chamber Chairman Dan Poeta Judy Stroud poses with Chamber Chairman Dan Poeta

Judy Stroud, who has been successful as a basketball player, coach and referee and as an auto and life insurance agent and has served nearly 20 nonprofit and civic organizations in numerous volunteer roles, was honored with the top award at Friday’s 99th Chamber of Commerce Dinner and Awards program.

In winning the G. Ray Cantrell Lifetime Community Service Award, Stroud became the first woman to receive the prestigious honor, joining the list of 23 bankers, insurers, manufacturers, engineers, Realtors, attorneys, auto dealers, developers and small business owners who have won it.
In addition to filling numerous leadership roles on the chamber, Stroud serves currently or has served on the Henderson County Athena Committee, the Kiwanis Club of Hendersonville, Salvation Army, WCU Board of Advisors, WCU Hall of Fame Selection Committee, Four Seasons Hospice, YMCA, Community Foundation of Henderson County, Pardee Foundation, Interfaith Assistance Ministries, Free Clinics of Henderson County, American Red Cross, Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, Park Ridge and AdventHealth Foundation and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
She is a past president, Foothills Association of the National Association of Life Underwriters, Life Honor Agent for 17 years and Golden Triangle Agent with State Farm, a member of the Vice Presidents Club of State Farm and manager and agent for State Farm for 37 years.
She also serves as the South Atlantic Conference coordinator of women’s basketball officials. And has a long history of involvement of sports at all levels. A standout high school basketball player, she was her team’s MVP for three years, played on the Southern All-Star Team against the Russian Olympic team, played at Western Carolina University and received the “Big Cat” award her senior year, and coached basketball and volleyball at Boiling Spring High School for four years, winning two state title and finishing runner-up twice.
She was the head coach for WCU’s Lady Catamounts, where she helped oversee the transition to NCAA Division I, and was the youngest Division 1 basketball coach in the NCAA.
As a basketball official, she has refereed games in the South Atlantic Conference, the ACC, SEC, Big East, Big South and Southern Conference games, worked the NCAA tournament for 12 years and was among the 24 inaugural officials selected to worked in the WNBA.
She is in the hall of fame for both WCU Hall of Fame inductee and McDowell High School and was recently inducted into the Western North Carolina Hall of Fame.


Duke Energy Citizenship Award
Steve Wyatt, who served as Henderson County manager from March 2006 until last June, received the Duke Energy Citizenship Award for his leadership in “always building bridges and encouraging teamwork to get projects done in our community,” Craig DeBrew said. “Most of the time he received little credit — although we all know the critical role he played. Our former county manager has an unusual wit, dry sense of humor and a big love for Henderson County. During his 15 years of service he has help build Henderson County into a powerhouse.”
Achievements during his tenure include working to recruit numerous major manufacturing plants, guiding the partnership that built the Pardee-Wingate University-BRCC Health Sciences Building and Cancer Center, construction of the new Emergency Services headquarters and numerous public schools and building up the county’s fund balance while holding the line on taxes. During that time he worked with four different school superintendents, four sheriffs, three BRCC presidents and four congressmen and under four N.C. governors and four presidents.
State Sen. Chuck Edwards, who nominated Wyatt for the award, said “he thinks outside of the box, protects our tax dollars and remains steadfast to our mountain values.”

First Citizens Bank Forever First Customer Service Award
We all know the challenges that come with building a business, especially over the past two years.
Lasting success comes from working both harder and smarter. It’s these values we celebrate when we talk about our Forever First approach at First Citizens.
Created to recognize the independent businesses that best exemplify the principles of putting customers first, thinking long term and caring about the people who work for you, the First Citizens Bank Forever First Award went to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Like many businesses over the last two years, Sierra Nevada had to look for creative ways to continue operations, always with the health and safety of their employees and visitors in mind. During the pandemic Sierra Nevada began providing curbside service from both the restaurant and the gift shop, started offering prepackaged grocery item boxes and expanded their tour programs to digital and virtual platforms.
Brian Carr, facility manager for the Mills River plant, accepted the award.

Non-Profit of the Year

The three-year-old Non-Profit of the Year Award, which recognizes an agency’s impact on the community, ability to partner with other groups and efficiency and management of the non-profit itself, went to Interfaith Assistance Ministries and its executive director, Elizabeth Willson Moss.
In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, IAM provided service touches on more than 26,000 occasions, an average of more than 80 per day; provided more than 25,000 individuals with food, including fresh produce, meats and dairy products, enough to prepare more than 500,000 meals; assisted 758 households with rental and housing needs; subsidized utility payments for more than 1,500 families – an increase of over 72 percent from the previous year; provided clothing for nearly 2,000 adults and children; and provided contactless food and hygiene distribution weekly for more than 3,000 families.
Last year, IAM continued rental and utility assistance, provided more than 43,000 service touches, a 63 percent increase over 2020; provided nearly 900,000 meal equivalents, a 75 percent increase over 2020; and experienced a 67 percent increase in clothing contributions for adults and children.
IAM has a 4-Star rating from Charity Navigator and in 2021 was named Bank of America’s “Neighborhood Champion,” which came with a $50,000 grant.

Industrialist of the Year

Bert Lemkes, general manager at Tri-Hishtil in Mills River, was honored as Industrialist of the Year for his leadership of a company that mixes industry, agriculture and biosciences.
A co-owner at Van Wingerden, Lemkes in 2014 took on a second role as the general manager of a newly formed Tri-Hishtil, a plant grafting operation that helps farmers grow higher quality fruit and vegetables at higher yields. He was a key player in landing the Israeli, Italian, American partnership to Mills River, where it employs 125 people.
Possibly because he himself is an immigrant — coming from the Netherlands to the U.S., Lemkes is a strong advocate for legal immigration to supply farm labor. His background and experience in agriculture includes growing up in the family greenhouse business on the Netherlands, training in Canadian greenhouses, working at a flower auction house in the Netherlands, managing a nursery farm manager in South Africa and serving as project manager at Double Harvest in Haiti before coming to Mills River as Van Wingerden’s general manager.
He serves, or has served, on the AgHC Board of Directors, Mills River Board of Adjustment, Mills River Agriculture Advisory Board, Henderson County Water Supply & Distribution Task Force and Mills River Partnership.He and his wife, Margarethe, who is also from the Netherlands, have five daughters.

Education Champion

Dr. Laura B. Leatherwood, president of Blue Ridge Community College since 2017, was named Education Champion for her leadership, collaboration and focus on supplying skilled labor to area industries.
A native of Western North Carolina, Leatherwood has served in higher education administration for 23 years. Recent accomplishments include partnering with community organizations to recruit seven companies to Henderson County, spearheading campus improvement construction projects to bring modernization and state-of-the-art learning experiences for students, expanding health care offerings to meet employer demand and securing funding for FREE College for the past year for Blue Ridge Community College, including securing a $2 million anonymous gift that will allow this offer to continue through Spring 2023.
Enrollment numbers have steadily increased year over year since her arrival with the highest student count in the history of the college this spring.
Leatherwood is the 2022 President of the Year chosen by the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges and received the WCU Alumni Association Professional Achievement Award last year.

Environmental/Sustainability Award

The Environmental/Sustainability Award, which recognizes companies that engage in practices that protect and sustain the world while also benefiting the company, went to Gaia Herbs.
The Brevard-based company with a large distribution center in Mills River, built its businesses around wellness and is committed to extending their belief in healing to the environment by embracing regenerative farming practices such as biodiversity management, multi-species cover cropping, low-till, organic agricultural practices to improve the tilth of the earth.
Gaia Herbs holds “leave it better than you found it” as a core value and puts this value into practice through sustainable operations. Gaia Farm’s regenerative farming practices have sequestered approximately 2,556 metric tons of CO2 – almost its entire operational footprint. It has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and has made significant advancement toward that goal with the adoption of a multi-year Climate Action Plan.
Brian Traylor accepted the award on behalf of Gaia Herbs.

Small Business of the Year

The chamber’s Small Business Committee assists and guides newer small business owners navigate the waters of building their business and succeeding, offering classes to help with writing business plans, marketing, accounting and human resource issues.
Quarterly Small Business Award winners in 2021 were 1st Quarter, Dry Falls Brewing; 2nd Quarter, Warren Restoration; 3rd Quarter, HenDough; 4th Quarter, Jeter Mountain Farm.
Small Business of the Year winner Toni and Josh Warren of Warren Restoration has participated in the United Way’s Rising Leaders program, Blue Ridge Humane Society, Junior Welfare and Hendersonville Women’s Club. The company has budgeted $7,000 for charitable contributions and sponsorships in the community.

2021 Ambassador of the Year

Ambassador of the Year Donna More along with her furry friend Dudley can be found at most Chamber events. A WTZQ sales rep, More works hard to connect members, new and old, with each other, and to the rest of the community. As a Chamber ambassador, she volunteers at ribbon cuttings, professional women empower hours and monthly networking events. Other 2021 quarterly recipients were Jared Bellmund of ALLCHOICE Insurance, Chris Angel of Mountain Credit Union and Sarah Leatham of Summit Marketing.
Ambassadors serve as volunteers and extensions of the Chamber, call on new members to welcome them to the Chamber and invite them to be engaged, attend ribbon cuttings and help the staff of three serve the chamber membership.