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Chamber bet pays off in fun
Dixon earns Treutlen Award
Lori Middleton of Effingham County Power (from left) and United Way Area Director Elizabeth Waters try their hand at roulette Thursday. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
Bonnie Dixon
Julie Dickey (left) presents the Treutlen Award to an emotional Bonnie Dixon during Thursday’s 2019 Effingham Chamber Annual Membership Recognition Banquet. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SPRINGFIELD -- Bonnie Dixon won an award and the overwhelming approval of those in attendance at Thursday’s 2019 Effingham Chamber Annual Membership Recognition Banquet.

The audience at The Local on Laurel applauded enthusiastically when Dixon was named the recipient of the Treutlen Award, the chamber’s highest honor. Named for Georgia’s first governor, John Adam Treutlen, the award is presented annually to an outstanding citizen for exemplary service to the Effingham community. 

Dixon, area director of the United Way for 25 years, was in tears when she arrived at the podium after being introduced by Julie Dickey, who succeeded Dixon at United Way in 2015.

“They surprised me,” Dixon said. “I’m supposed to know what is going on. ... I’m truly honored.

“I’m a transplant from Chatham County but Effingham County is my home. We have lived here for 46 years and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Rep. Jon Burns read a commendation from Gov. Brian Kemp in honor of Dixon. It cited her service to United Way, Effingham County Family Connection, the Effingham County Emergency Food and Shelter Board, and the Sunrise Rotary Club.

Kemp also recognized Dixon’s efforts to start the Effingham County Victim Witness Assistance Program and work toward the establishment of a statewide five percent fee for offenders that provides assistance to personal injury victims.

“I didn’t do any of this alone,” Dixon said. 

Dixon thanked people who worked with her on the United Way Board and United Way’s many volunteers

“It’s a team effort,” she said. “That is so important in this community and what is so well loved about this community. I was really never told, ‘No.’ Honestly, when I would call and ask for donations or call and ask for volunteers, or a board member, no one ever said, ‘No.’

“I think that’s because they saw the work that was being done through the organizations that I represented. I think they, too, had a heart for being a part of such a great community.”

Dixon closed her short speech by strongly urging the audience to stay involved in the community and adding, ‘I love everyone of y’all and thank you so much.” 

Although Dixon’s remarks zigzagged from humorous to serious, most of the evening focused on socializing and entertainment. Everyone in the audience was given $5,000 in play money to use in a variety of casino games during the event.

Numerous prizes donated by chamber businesses were also awarded throughout the night.

“We listened to you,” Brian Dickey, outgoing chamber president, told the audience. “Our goal tonight was to have a little fun, have great food and have shorter speeches.”

Dickey briefly highlighted a few achievements during his chamber presidency. These include an update of the mission statement.

“The new mission statement is now, ‘The Effingham County Chamber of Commerce is a member-driven organization focused on business advocacy and sustainable economic growth in our region,” he said.

The chamber also has a new board manual and organizational chart designed to allow for better use of resources and manpower.

“We’ve updated our rules and bylaws to be consistent and relevant in today’s business environment,” Dickey said. “Above all else, we have examined and refined our fiscal policies. We want to go from being good stewards of the money we are provided to exceptional stewards of the money we are provided.

“We want to make exceptional use of the resources that you provide us.”

Guyton’s Southern Kafe on 17 won the evening’s other major award. It was named the Small Business of the Year.

“Every year, the chamber has open nominations (for this award),” Effingham Chamber President Brad Carr said. “This year’s winner won by a cinnamon roll. If you have been to a exhibition recently or one of several other chamber events, you have sampled what our small business of the year serves up daily as Southern Kafe on 17.

“Attend a small meeting anywhere in the county and there is a good chance the food will be from Southern Kafe.”

Like Dixon, Southern Kafe on 17 owner Tamela Mydell was stunned by her victory.

“It was very unexpected,” she said. “I thank the chamber so much for honoring Southern Kafe. I was at a meeting this morning and no one gave me any notice.”

Mydell started her restaurant and catering business six years ago.

Barbara Prosser was recognized for her six-year stint on the chamber board. The former chamber president’s latest term has expired.

Becky Shea, the chamber’s office manager and membership director, was also honored. She is set to retire later this month after seven years on the job.

At the end of the banquet, Brian Dickey passed the president’s gavel to Joe Marchese.

“Joe is a great advocate in the community for so many causes,” Dickey said. “Joe is a tremendous person. He has been a wonderful (chamber) board member for years and I think he will be a fantastic president next year.”

Marchese reciprocated Dickey’s kind words and presented him with a plaque with a gavel affixed to it.

“It is great to work with you and alongside you, and you will be sorely missed,” Marchese said.

Marchese, like his predecessor, vowed to listen to chamber members so that the organization can meet their needs.

“Open communication is so important,” he said.