Retired Judge David B. Irwin was presented the A. R. “Gus” Barksdale Lifetime Achievement Award and Pastor Sheldon Landy was presented the Charles C. Walker Community Spirit Award at the Conyers Rockdale Chamber of Commerce 2021 Annual Meeting on Apr. 27.

Other award winners included Jeff Beech being named the Partner in Education Award winner, Jason Witcher named Ambassador of the Year, and Brenda Landers being presented the James P. Culpepper Volunteer of the Year Award.

The luncheon meeting was held for the first time at Camp Westminster, a non-profit Christian summer camp located on Lake Rockaway Road.

Scot Ward of Scot Ward Funeral Services, the 2020-21 chamber board chair, gave a review of the past year, noting that it was a most unusual year for the chamber with the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the chamber staff stepped up to provide needed information to its members.

“Several of you are in a place of work where you actually have the staff or individuals or a team that can learn and understand all of the new rules that we were faced with last year,” Ward noted. “I know small business. It’s tough to find the information we feel like some of the big guys get.

“You know where we were blessed to be able get information from throughout the last 12 months? This chamber of commerce. This past year they’ve sent us emails that have shown us where to go, how to find money, where to go find protocols, where to go find signages, where to go find legal advice, and where to go to find things that we knew nothing about. I want to get a standing ovation (he did) for what this chamber staff has given to you and given to this community through one of the toughest challenges. We stand above chamber of commerces all around Georgia because of them.”

Partner in Education Award

Cindy Ball, Chief of Strategies and Innovations for Rockdale County Public Schools, presented the first award. She was accompanied by Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts and Pam Brown, vice chair of the Rockdale County Board of Education.

Ball said the Partner in Education award recipient is someone who quietly makes things happen and does not want any recognition. She said he has been partnering with the school system for a long time, and especially made his presence felt this year during the pandemic.

“It was a little over a year ago when we found ourselves reinventing our school meal program from being the largest restaurant chain in Rockdale County to being the biggest ‘Uber Eats’ in Georgia for breakfast and lunch for every child in the county,” Ball said. “This came with a myriad of challenges... This partner in education went above and beyond to provide much needed equipment for a successful full-scale meal delivery program.

“This person has also had a long-standing interest of those in need in Rockdale County. In 2011, RCPS and our partner served on a Rockdale committee called HOPES — Housing Opportunities for People Experiencing Setbacks. It was from this contribution that the discussion of Restoration Storehouse began. This person led the group in realizing its potential and bringing it to fruition. With a daily concern for the birth to age 5 population and families, this person worked with our early learning department to develop the Headstart center at Restoration Storehouse.

“This year’s Partner in Education is Jeff Beech and the Beech Foundation.”

Beech thanked the BOE for the award and praised the school system

“The value of our public school system and what it does go far beyond just education, feeding, serving, growing, being an example, it’s just an amazing blessing,” Beech said.

Ambassador of the Year

Michael Hutcheson, chamber board member and chair of member services, presented the Ambassador of the Year Award.

“The Ambassador of the Year award goes to the ambassador who had the highest overall points accumulated throughout the year by participating in various chamber activities,” Hutcheson said. “And even with much of 2020 being ‘cancelled,’ this ambassador found a way to stay engaged, connected and supportive with chamber activities, which included a lot of phone calls and virtual outreach. The winner had 750 points and is a dedicated ambassador who the chamber can call on for just about anything. The Ambassador of the Year Award goes to Jason Witcher of Edward Jones.”

Witcher said he tells everyone who joins the chamber that they will only get out of the chamber what they put into it.

“You can’t just pay every year, have your name put on a roster, and think people are just going to come see you,” Witcher said. “You get what you put out.”

James P. Culpepper Volunteer of the Year Award

Thomas C. Dean III of Premier Flooring Group, last year’s volunteer of the year winner, presented the award this year He said the award goes to “one of the most enthusiastic human beings you will find anywhere. She is always smiling and sharing words of encouragement. She finds the good in every situation.

“This volunteer shows up. She is present at almost every chamber function, often offering a hand to set up or clean up, or anything inbetween. With 2020 being the unusual year that it was, she stepped up to work with chamber staff and other volunteers to find alternative ways for members to stay connected by implement new and creative networking opportunities. The James P. Culpepper Volunteer of the Year Award goes to Brenda Landers of High Priority Plumbing and Services.”

Landers said it is an honor to be a chamber member.

“I love every one of you,” she said. “We made it through and we’re almost out of Covid. I feel hope rising up and believe the best is yet to come.”

A. R. “Gus” Barksdale Lifetime Achievement Award

Rockdale County Superior Court Judge Nancy Bills presented the lifetime achievement award. She said the winner came to Conyers in the early 1980’s and served as a public defender for the county before joining the law firm of Barksdale, Irwin, Tally and Sharp . He also served in the State House of Representatives.

“In 1999, he became Superior Court Judge and was elected for six consecutive terms, retiring as Chief Superior Court Judge in 2020,” Bill said, noting that upon his retirement, Gov. Brian Kemp appointed her to fill the Superior Court vacancy.

“Judge David B. Irwin not only served the county well in public office, he also left his mark around the community in countless other ways, including:

♦ Rockdale Cares board member

♦ State of Georgia YMCA board member

♦ State Health Planning Review Board past chair and member

♦ Rockdale County Sheriff’s Merit Review Board past chair and member.

♦ Sunday School teacher and active member of Conyers First United Methodist Church.”

Irwin said he was caught by surprise and was tricked into thinking he was coming to present an award. He said it is an honor to be associated with A. R. Barksdale.

“Mr. Barksdale hired me and gave me an opportunity when other people would not,” Irwin said. “He said, ‘You need to move to Conyers; they have a great school system and are great people.’ He was one of my mentors who impacted me in ways that I can’t explain. He taught me the value of relationships with people and how important it is to help somebody who may need help. It is an honor to have the name Mr. A. R. Barkdale linked with me in another way.”

Charles C. Walker Community Spirit Award

Darlene Hotchkiss of Hedrick Family Dentistry, the 2022 chair-elect, presented the spirit award, which she said is bestowed annually on a person or organization that through positive attitude and action exemplifies the most notable of those who enhance the quality of life for all in the community.

She said the 2020 winner founded a ministry in 2006, with food ministry a major focus.

“In 2020, when the need became tremendous — especially with our most vulnerable population, our seniors — he responded in a remarkable way by forming a partnership with Rockdale Coalition of Children and Families to start a senior food delivery service,” Hotchkiss said. “Between 300-400 individuals are now served through this ministry per week. While most stores were out of essentials (eggs, bread, sanitizer, and toilet paper), he was able to secure these items for our seniors.

“He has had other significant outreach as well, such as hosting a special needs prom, providing community mobile church, seeking out the homeless to nourish with food and love, provide gifts for more than 500 needy families throughout the holidaysm, and the list goes on. The Charles C. Walker Community Spirit Award goes to Sheldon Landy, founder of One Heart Ministries.”

Landy said when people do charitable work, the Lord commanded them to do the work in secret and the Lord will reward them openly.

“I can speak personally for everybody who has received an award thus far,” he said. “You would have had to trick them to get them here to receive anything, because they are masters of doing their work in secret. And so we have to believe that this is one of those moments when the Father chose to reward us openly.”

Passing the Gavel

The luncheon ended with a slightly different version of the tradition of passing the gavel to the incoming board chair, since Ward was asked to serve a second year as board chair. Jm Baker of Edward Jones did a humorous rendition of Ward’s chamber work during the past year before presenting him the gavel for a second year.

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Senior Reporter

I've worked in community newspapers for 30 years, including Editor of the Jackson Progress-Argus from 1993-1999. Started at Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen in January 2016. Started as Senior Reporter at the Jackson Progress-Argus in December 2019.

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