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Posted: April 18, 2010 12:01 a.m.

United Way honors volunteer of the year

By Gabriel Khouli/

Behind every great volunteer stands a great family: Gail Smith was named the Newton County United Way Volunteer of the Year. (Back row, left to right) Greg Evans, friend, Jamie Gowens, son, Bekki Gowens, daughter-in-law, Jerry and Georgia Gowens, ...

Scott Gowens was a selfless man — a man who devoted all of his free time toward helping others, but never accepted an ounce of praise. It’s ironic and fitting that in death Gowens finally received recognition for his caring and generous spirit.

 On Friday, the Covington Newton County United Way gave out the first Scott Gowens Award for its volunteer of the year to Gail Smith, a long-time Snapping Shoals employee.

 The two share many similarities. Not only in their dedication to work, but in their dedication to helping the United Way and the larger community.

 "It didn’t take long for us to determine who would be the first recipient," said Greg Evans, purchasing director at General Mills and long-time friend of Gowens. "She went beyond the call of duty at her work and at the United Way."

 One difference between Smith and Gowens, was that while Smith is a life-long resident of the county, Gowens was actually from Loganville. That made his constant commitment to improving Covington all the more inspiring.

 Gowens was one of the first employees hired at General Mills’ Covington plant in 1989. The local plant celebrated its 20th anniversary in August, and Gowens recalled when he was first hired at the celebration.

 "I was looking at my family situation. I was 35 … and I knew it was time to stand up and be the dad and husband I needed to be. I needed a career, and General Mills fit that bill perfectly," said Gowens, who was a manufacturing technician. "They helped a fellow grow up and accept responsibility."

 One of the attributes that Gowens most appreciated about General Mills was their community involvement; it was a perfect match.

 Gowens unexpectedly passed away last fall at the young age of 54. His wife of 37 years, Patti remembered his great sense of humor and fun-loving personality, but like most others, his selflessness stood out. He began tinkering with computers, and became knowledgeable about how to build them.

 "If he knew of someone who didn’t have a computer, he would take it upon himself to throw one together for them," she said. "Friends found out about this and my basement today is still filled with computers that he had plans to fix and give to someone. That was who he was."

 At Friday’s ceremony, Evans spoke about how Gowens was so busy, but never too busy to serve. He was an elder at his church, a member of the United Way’s allocations committee and helped with General Mills’ various campaigns.

 "Sometimes he would work all night from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., go home and get a couple hours of sleep and then come back and drive with me to all of the industries (to help raise money)," Evans said.

 Gowens’ immediate family attended the ceremony and several of them ran in Saturday’s Cheerios Challenge wearing shirts honoring his memory.

 In addition to giving out the volunteer of the year award, United Way Executive Director Doris Strickland also honored several of the local industries and businesses that contributed to her organization’s annual fundraiser.

 Though the United Way was aiming to raise $475,000 this year, the economy hurt the group’s efforts. However, the $441,000 goal was hailed as a victory nonetheless. The largest contributor was General Mills, at $123,317, half of which was raised by local employees.

 "The people who don’t have the money, those that aren’t rich, they are the first ones to come forward to help," Strickland said. "The industries stepped up their efforts this year and were crucial to our fundraising efforts."

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