Chamber honors the service-minded

by Mary Katherine Murphy

January 24, 2014

LAURINBURG — During its annual membership meeting and awards banquet on Thursday, the Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce reflected on its growth in 2013 — and in its prior 74 years of existence — while looking toward continued contributions to the community.

Outgoing board chairman David McLamb credited Chamber president Tonia Stephenson with the organization’s financial success compared to its peers in similar communities.

“In a poor economic environment, many small Chambers are struggling to maintain their effectiveness and financial stability,” he said. “This year, Tonia expressed the goal was not to use fund balance to operate the Chamber. Under her leadership, this goal was achieved while expanding the budget. She is thinking outside the box.”

The 75th annual membership meeting, held at the Highlands, was attended by some 250 Chamber members and sponsored by Bowling Eye Clinic. The celebration was billed as a “Diamond Jubilee.”

Among the Chamber’s achievements last year include establishment of the Young Professionals’ Network and Committee of 100, as well as relocation of the Laurinburg After Five beach music concert series to a location with more potential for growth. Also in 2013, the Chamber’s membership grew by 10 percent.

Former Chamber chairman John Horne fulfilled the master of ceremonies’ duties with self-deprecating humor, referring to himself as “the bald-headed midget” when recognizing former Chamber chairs in attendance.

The St. Andrews University Choir provided the evening’s entertainment, with selections including the spiritual “Sing Allelu” and a medley of Scottish folk songs. North Laurinburg Elementary School part-time music teacher Allyn McLean also lent his vocal talents to the event, performing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the musical Carousel.

Three community members were recognized during the banquet for their service to others, in two cases independent of the Chamber.

The Dunbar-McCoy Quality of LIfe Award, typically presented to someone who was been an “unsung hero” in the community, was given to Virginia Ray, founder of Project Inasmuch. Even before starting her nonprofit, Ray went out of her way to help children.

“It was common for her to provide school supplies, clothes, shoes, and more, and this continues today,” said Earl Bowling, who presented Ray with the award. “This special lady, who already worked so hard to provide common necessities for school children in our community, learned that some of these kids were unable to concentrate on Mondays because they would come back to school from the weekend hungry. No matter how gifted a child is, if they are hungry, it is impossible for them to listen and learn.”

Thus, Ray said, Project Inasmuch was born, a cohort of volunteers working to provide bags of food for Scotland County Schools students to take home on the weekends.

“It will be eight years next month since Mrs. Jackson at I.E. Johnson School told me about the plight of some of her students,” she said. “That’s when Project Inasmuch started, with 50 bags the first week.”

Ray accepted the award, not for herself, but on behalf of the volunteers and sponsors who have made Project Inasmuch possible.

“We work at it because we love the children,” Ray said. “I have an MS victim who has written on every bag ‘Jesus loves you.’ Every bag for eight years.. There were some lean times, and I wondered if we were going to make it through the year, but there was always something there and somebody came forth to help.”

The Dormagen-McLean Youth Community Service Award, given annually in memory of Chris McLean and Josh Dormagen, was presented to Adam “Kendall” Romaine, a Scotland High School senior who was nominated by six different people.

“Each nomination contained words like talented, well-rounded, enthusiastic, fun-loving, a leader, encouraging, a positive attitude, and I could go on,” Steve McLean said before naming Romaine as this year’s honoree.

Romaine volunteers with the Laurinburg Optimist Club, Scotland County Parks and Recreation, and the American Red Cross, as well as serving as Scotland High School Key Club president and a member of the JROTC and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He is the bearer of the Scotland flag at Fighting Scots football games.

McLamb presented the Volunteer of the Year award to Chamber Green Committee Chairman Leroy McIntyre, who he said is “truly committed” to making Scotland County look its best.

“In 2013, the Chamber had and intern who chose the Green Committee to be one of his projects,” said McLamb. “(McIntyre) quickly took him under his wing and they went to work on the first anti-litter campaign for Scotland County. The two of them went to every fast food operator in the County to ask for their help in getting the word out.”

The Chamber’s two 2013 litter sweeps, which provide a monetary incentive for county residents to collect as much roadside garbage as possible, resulted in the removal of just over 14,000 pounds of litter from the streets.

Also during the meeting, McLamb formally passed chairmanship of the Chamber over to Nick Sojka, who will serve for 2014. Commending the Chamber’s members for the abundance of support they showed last year to new ideas and initiatives, Sojka put aside global competition and other daunting economic realities when identifying the Chamber’s focus going forward.

“Our collective challenge is to let go of the disappointments that we cannot undo and for all of us, every day, to be ambassadors for our community and economic developers in any way our time and talents will allow, whether that’s picking up trash along our city gateways, attending a ribbon cutting, or shopping local to support our local merchants,” he said.

“For all of our recent challenges and disappointments, we are still a vibrant, restless, and hopeful community, and the Chamber is the place where all of us can direct our energies to support our local economy and improve our quality of life.”

In addition to Sojka, the following will serve as 2014 Chamber board members: immediate past chairman David McLamb, vice-president of community development John Ferguson, vice-president of merchants Dean Nichols, treasurer Joel Hartwell, and chair-elect Lee Howell.

For 2014, board members Maria Bingham, Neal Carter, John Ferguson, Lee Howell, Greg Icard, Kim Liles, Dale McInnis, David McLamb, Dean Nichols, Matt Pracht, Mary Sue Rabon, and Rick Stout will continue to serve, with new board members Theresa Alexander, Kenneth Bethea, Brandi Deese, Wayne Freeman, Charles Nichols, Juliet McMillan, Kevin Patterson, and Angie Romaine completing the board.

Sojka also recognized outgoing board members Becca Hughes, Harley Norris, Charles Jenkins, Shep Jones, and Aletha Poole.