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Chamber honors Ken Youngblood for a lifetime of service

Kaye Youngblood poses with Chamber Chairman Michael Thompson and President Bob Williford. Kaye Youngblood poses with Chamber Chairman Michael Thompson and President Bob Williford.

Kenneth R. Youngblood, a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker and difference maker in Henderson County for more than 50 years, was honored Friday night as the winner of the G. Ray Cantrell Award at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner.


Known for taking projects in their infancy and moving them to fruition, Youngblood has been on the ground floor of numerous charities and education improvement efforts and has been a leader in the legal community locally and statewide. He volunteered his legal counsel for the Henderson County School Board for 30 years. He also was a founding board member of Community Foundation of Henderson County and helped launch the Henderson County Education Foundation in 1986 and was instrumental in getting the Historic Johnson Farm onto the National Register of Historic Places.
He and his late father, Pete Youngblood, were the first father and son duo induicted into the Henderson County Education Foundation Hall of Fame.
He played a familiar role as a leader role when he helped start Carolina Village, the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra, the Henderson County Cancer Society and the Historic Johnson Farm. He helped organize and establish every volunteer fire department in the county. He also helped create the Blue Ridge Community College Education Foundation and donated a great many hours of legal work to the Town of Fletcher. He has been a major supporter of United Way of Henderson County, the Fletcher Elementary School Endowment Fund and other Fletcher projects.
It was through his influence that the Kellogg Center property located off Broyles Road was donated to the state of North Carolina along with matching cash funds for perpetual maintenance. Along with grants from the State of North Carolina, the Kellogg Property is currently used by the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the YMCA of Henderson County.

Among his volunteer board service:

  • Past – Chairman - North Carolina General Statutes Commission, 1984-1994
  • Past Counselor to the N.C. State Bar for the 29th Judicial District of North Carolina, 1972-1983
  • Life Fellow, American Bar Foundation
  • Past Chairman – Henderson County Chamber of Commerce 1963
  • Henderson County, North Carolina, and American Bar Association
  • North Carolina State Bar (member of sections on taxation and estate planning/fiduciary law; Council on Estate Planning and
  • Probate Law Section; Board of Continuing Legal Education) Bar Fellowship, American Bar Foundation.
  • Community Foundation of Henderson County Professional Advisors Council
  • Founding Board Member of Community Foundation of Henderson County serving on the Board of Directors from 1981-1989. He served as the Board Vice Chairperson from 1981-1985
  • Helped launch the Henderson County Education Foundation in 1986
  • Founding Member Carolina Village
  • Fletcher Advisory Committee since inception (1990)
  • Friends of Fletcher Library 1987-1994
  • Celebrity Chefs Committee with Community Foundation of Henderson County 1993-1994
  • Acceptance Committee Community Foundation of Henderson County 1985-1987
  • Distribution Committee Community Foundation of Henderson County 1985-1986


Accepting on his behalf was his daughter, Kaye Youngblood.

The list of previous recipients is a “Who’s Who” of community leaders Duane McKibbin, RE Harmon, Dan Gibson, Sam McGuirt Jr.,  Bill Stokes Jr., Bill McKay, Dan Waddell, Herb Young, Jim Crafton, Bill Lapsley, David Reeves, Bill McGee, Rob Cranford, Roger Hill, Bud Hunter, Jim Maher, Jeff Egolf, Fred Pittillo, Ervin Bazzle, Art Cooley and Steve Johnson.

Small business leader

After thirty years of working in corporate sales, marketing and customer service management roles, Jim Smeaton was led to the Senior Care field where he used his people skills and leadership abilities to impact the lives of others in the senior services market as the owner of Always Best Care Senior Services.

Always Best Care specializes in providing personalized, in-home care for seniors who wish to remain independent and safe in the comfort of their home and maximize their quality of life.

While he wears many hats in the business, Jim most enjoys visiting referral sources and current and prospective clients and listening to their life stories. He serves on the board of Aging Projects, Inc. and is on the local Walk to End Alzheimer’s committee. He is very engaged in the Chamber of Commerce and participated in the first Business Acceleration Class. Jim’s mantra regarding that class and said with enthusiasm; “I always want to keep learning!”
Jim has grown Always Best Care from a small franchise with less than 25 employees five years ago to one of the fastest growing businesses in the franchise, with more than 50 employees. He is also a three time recipient of Blue Ridge Business Growth Awards.
Jim and his wife Anne are the proud parents of three grown sons who are all “off the payroll” and living in North Carolina. His interests include playing golf, hiking, softball, ball room dancing, anything related to the water and snow skiing with the FROGS (Five Really Old Guys Skiing). And he has been known to always wear colorful socks which are an example of his fun and outgoing personality.

Quarterly winners were:

  • 1st Quarter – Always Best Care Senior Services
  • 2nd Quarter – Hendersonville Lightning
  • 3rd Quarter – Sycamore Cycles
  • 4th Quarter – Reliant Mailing



First Citizens Bank Amazing Customer Service Award

This year’s recipient of the First Citizens Bank Amazing Customer Service Award has been in the apple growing business for multiple generations and in the tourism and education related pick-your-own apple business for 50 years. They were one of the first agricultural operations in Henderson County to expand into agri-tourism and they have been one of the most successful.

Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard focuses on two simple components to generate a great customer experience: treating their employees well and treating customers well. At Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard all employees are treated like family. They are respected, cared about, educated and engaged in their work.

Here are just a couple of things that customers and competitors say about Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard:

“Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard is community friendly and education minded – the staff is always friendly and provide for fair and honest dealings with customers. The orchard is well maintained and very family friendly with a fun store, apple cannon, delicious do-nuts & ciders”.

“At Hillcrest Orchard, after assuring that his family and employees are taken care of, his priority is to provide an unforgettable experience to the residents of Henderson and the surrounding counties.”

Mike Stepp and the entire Stepp’s Hillcrest Orchard team have a love for Henderson County and for the local apple industry. The family's mission statement reads: “The Stepp family’s goal is to provide quality products and service to our guests while exemplifying integrity and kindness with our focus being to honor and glorify God."

Environmental Sustainability Award

The winner of the Environmental Sustainability Award, the Highland Lake Inn & Resort has a long list of initiatives aimed at reducing their carbon footprint by recycling and reusing materials and reducing consumption. The inn is also active in educating the public about sustainability. The inn and resort improved energy efficiency by 10% and facilitated the Climate Crisis Forum, established this year in Flat Rock. The inn operates a 2-acres organic garden on site which provides many of the ingredients needed by their restaurant. Other ingredients are sources locally to reduce transportation emissions and costs. The entire resort uses composting as well as a drip irrigation system from the 40-acre lake to the organic garden, uses compostable carryout trays and straws, participates in the Sustainable Seafood program to ensure that seafood was not harvested in an environmentally damaging way. Other environment-friendly factors include:
• Recycling bins are located throughout the property – encouraging and increasing the recycling of paper, plastic and glass.
• All office supplies are recycled and recycled paper is used for printed products.
• The use brown, unbleached paper towels and toilet paper made from recycled materials.
• The restaurant recycles its grease and oily liquids.
• They use ceramic or compostable corn cups instead of Styrofoam or plastic.
• Their compact fluorescent bulbs are recycled at Home Depot
• They use “Save Our Planet” signage to encourage the reuse of towels.
• They use bulk dispensers for soap and shampoo to reduce waste.
• Use Low Flow showerheads and adjustable toilet valves to reduce wastewater.
• Their room cleaning products are all bio-degradable and no phosphates are used in the laundry.
• Motion sensor technology is used throughout the property to reduce energy waste in unused rooms, at vending machines and other areas.
• They use rechargeable batteries and all new appliances are energy efficient.
• All new HVAC units have SEER ratings of 19 or higher.
• All new window units are dual pane and energy efficient.
• The Entire property uses energy efficient LED lighting
• Digital programmable set-back thermostats are sued to reduce energy waste throughout the property
• Reversable ceiling fans are used in lodging, offices and the restaurant to reduce heating costs in cooler months.

 Accepting the award for Jack Grup was Peter Fassbender.

2019 Ambassador of the Year

The Ambassador of the Year Award is presented to the Chamber Ambassador with the most accumulated points during the year. Points are awarded to Ambassadors that assist at Chamber events, attend ribbon cuttings and grand openings, serve as greeters at Business After Hours and other events as well as making personal contacts to welcome new members to the Chamber.

The 2019 quarterly recipients were:

  • Cindy Novak with Horizon Heating & Air
  • Jared Bellmund with ALLCHOICE Insurance
  • Mary Palermo with Rainbow International of Asheville
  • Donna Moore with WTZQ


The 2019 Ambassador of the Year was Cindy Novak. A veteran ambassador and recipient of ambassador of the year for 2018, Novak spent another year in support of the Chamber. Her dedication to her work as an ambassador and service to the business community embodies the sense of service to our community that Horizon Heating & Air strives to foster.

Education Champion Award

Presented by Four Seasons Rotary, the Education Champion Award winner was Laura Misner. Recently retired as a seasoned regional representative for College Foundation of North Carolina, Misner has guided many Western North Carolinians on the path towards success. She graduated with a degree in special education from Appalachian State and a masters in human resource development from Western Carolina University. After serving as career development coordinator for Asheville City Schools, she began a 17-year career with the College Foundation of North Carolina in 2002, helping thousands realize their own path to success by providing the proper tools and resources.

Not one to sit on the sideline, Misner has been an active volunteer at many to the educational events, scoring answer sheets at our annual trivia contest and volunteering at the Chamber Golf tournament and the Junior Leadership Class.

Camp Industry Award

Presented by Pardee UNC Health Care, the Camp Industry Award went to Frank Byrd, who first arrived in Henderson County in 1961 as a camp counselor  at Camp Mondamin in Tuxedo. His love and appreciation of the benefits of camping quickly became a fabric of his life.

He met camp Green Cove counselor Ethelyn and they married. He and his late wife had two children and two grandchildren. Shortly after working in the camping industry, Frank took a position at Blue Ridge Community College in 1978 and had a wonderful career retiring as the Dean of Student Services in 2007. He was a great resource and mentored thousands of students trying to figure out their career path.

Byrd has been deeply involved in many non-profits in Henderson County and has served on countless boards. In retirement, he has been very active with Camplify. Previously called Henderson County Young Leaders, the nonprofit was founded in 1994 by longtime Kanuga Conference Center guest George Howell and Kanuga President Albert Gooch. The first weekend camp had 90 Henderson County campers. Frank and George became friends and Frank had ideas about expanding the program. In 2006 he approached Camp Arrowhead about providing a one week scholarship to one of the campers who had participated in the weekend camps. And in 2007 Frank worked to establish the program as a non-profit organization.

Last year Camplify offered two weekend camp sessions for 134 campers and operated year round leadership programs. For the upcoming summer 24 local summer camps will provide 66 scholarships for Camplify participants.


Nonprofit of the Year

Presented by HomeTrust Bank, the Nonprofit of the Year award recognizes an agency that has demonstrated exemplary best practices and a positive impact on the community. The 2019 winner was The Storehouse, led by Lynn Staggs. In May 2000, Staggs started the Storehouse ministry in the back room of another non-profit. By the end of 2000, more than 24,000 pounds of food had been given – at no charge – to those who were struggling to put food on the table. Dreaming big, they also established the first Blessings in Boxes, providing Christmas gifts to 40 children.
Throughout these past 20 years the numbers have continued to grow. Last year more than 420,000 pounds of food were distributed, and 2,089 local children were blessed with Christmas toys and clothes. The Storehouse continues to serve chuildren and families because of the generosity of the people, churches, civic organizations, and businesses in Henderson County.

Industrialist of the Year


Since 2005 the Chamber has recognized a member of our manufacturing community for their leadership in the Community, in their facility and in their industry. This year’s recipient, Ernest Humphries, mills manager at Kimberly Clark Corp., exemplifies leadership in his facility and in our community. He volunteers and assists at local non-profit organizations and he encourages others at Kimberly Clark to do so as well. Humphries and Kimberly Clark are active locally with:

  • The United Way of Henderson County
  • The Boys & Girls Club
  • The Blue Ridge Literacy Council
  • AdventHealth
  • The Pardee UNC Healthcare Hospital Foundation
  • Safelight
  • Project Dignity WNC
  • The Children & Family Resource Center
  • The Flat Rock Playhouse
  • Camplify
  • CORPOINT veteran’s services

Over the past three years Kimberly Clark has invested more than $50 million at its Henderson County facility – generating nearly $300,000 in annual property tax revenue and adding 20 new quality jobs for local residents.

Kimberly Clark sponsors the Vision Leadership Alumni Association and assists in efforts to connect Vision Leadership graduates with opportunities to contribute in the community. It is a Presenting Sponsor of the Chamber’s Junior Leadership Program, a chamber program that provides leadership development and team building training to 23 high school juniors. Humphries has even personally provided (recommended and paid for) leadership books to class participants. He has a degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Florida and in his free time likes to golf and play bass guitar.