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A pillar of the community for many years, Sam B. Hay Jr.'s calm and steady presence on the Board of Education in the 1960s was instrumental in setting the tone for a peaceful integration of the county's school system.

For years he has provided support to a number of community institutions including The Washington Street Community Center and The Arts Association in Newton County and in doing so, set the example that his children and grandchildren follow to this day.

Hay was honored for his years of service Thursday night with the R.O. Arnold Award at the Annual Meeting of The Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center

The R.O. Arnold Award honoree is nominated by past recipients and by past chamber chairs who vote in secret. The award is given to an individual who has demonstrated significant service to the Newton County community.

Louise Adams, who along with her husband T.K., nominated Hay for the award, said that his sense of fairness and humility have been the basis for positive race relations in the community since the schools' integration.

Despite a few microphone malfunctions, the atmosphere Thursday night was light-hearted with nearly all of the seats in the spacious conference center filled.

Also honored Thursday night was Longhorn Steakhouse Restaurant which received the chamber's Dick James Small Business of the Year Award. The Covington restaurant is a Partner in Education with all of the elementary and middle schools in the county and is also a sponsor of many local fundraisers and charity events.

Longhorn Restaurant Owning Partner Michael St. Bernard is the business chair for Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful and has been a chamber ambassador for the past year. Bernard increased his restaurant sales by 10 percent in 2006 and 2007, making the restaurant one of the Top 10 restaurants in sales and profits for the Longhorn Steakhouse organization.

The third award of the evening was a new one for the chamber - The Spirit of Excellence Award - which was awarded to Kathy Silvio, retiring chair of the Special Events Committee for the chamber.

"As the chair of a committee that seems to be at work nearly year-round, our honoree has the ability to create a sense of team-work that inspires her committee members to not only willingly but gladly work their tails off to make their events special," said Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby of Silvio. "The dollars that she and her committee have raised over the last few years have been simply outstanding."

Outgoing 2007 Chamber Chairman Marshall Ginn, real estate agent with RE/MAX was also recognized Thursday night.

"It has been my privilege and honor to have served as your chairman in 2007," Ginn said. "I am proud of the successes we've had this year and I feel that our chamber continues to improve in our service to our members and our service to our community."

Ginn highlighted some of the chamber's achievements in 2007 including the chamber's admittance into the Regional Business Coalition, the addition of 68 new chamber members with 37 ribbon cuttings and the work begun on an economic development strategy with the Leadership Collaborative at The Center for Community Preservation and Planning.

The chamber's chair for 2008, Troy Brooks with Newton Medical Center was introduced to the audience Thursday night.

"My goal for 2008 is to stand here (in a year) and hand over a chamber in just as good a shape to my successor" said Brooks to Ginn after accepting the chairman's gavel.

The chair-elect for 2009 is Joe Stier with Edward Jones Investment Services.

The night's keynote speaker, Dr. Earl Suttle, a motivational speaker and the CEO of the Three E Corporation, an international training company, concluded the evening with a rousing pep talk which got audience members out of their seats and laughing at several points.

"Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job," Suttle advised the audience. "When you start working on yourself, you're automatically going to bring more to your job (and) bring more to your community."

Also receiving chamber recognition were five retiring members of the chamber's board of directors: United Bank of Covington President Reed Beard, AT&T District Manager Paul Chambers, Newton County Recreation Department Director Tommy Hailey, Arts Association Executive Director Buncie Lanners, Newton County Community Partnership Coordinator Stu Taber and former General Mills Plant Manager Cindy Hultine.

Replacing the retiring members, the chamber welcomed seven new people to the board of directors: Bea Jackson with the Washington Street Community Center, James Johnson with DeKalb Technical College, Shane Millwood with SteelCo. Buildings Inc., Greg Proffitt with Newton Federal Bank, Jerry Silvio with Silvio Development Company, Scott White with BB&T and Scott Willis with McIntosh Commercial Bank.