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Chamber hosts annual meeting
Needhams recognized with prestigious Arnold Award
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In the spirit of the evening’s theme of "the Value of Volunteerism" Beaver Manufacturing founders Ed and Nonie Needham were honored with the R.O. Arnold Award at the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting Tuesday night.

The Needhams were introduced by Beaver Manufacturing Chief Operating Officer Bill Loeble, who said of the couple’s many philanthropic endeavors in the fields of education and the arts "this couple has worked tirelessly over the last 40 years for the betterment of Newton County."

Nonie Needham said she was "almost speechless" when she received the award, which is considered to be the most prestigious award given in Newton County.

"We have only done what has meant a lot to us," Needham said of their years of gracious giving. "We have received so much more than we’ve ever given."

Approximately 175 chamber members and supporters attended Tuesday night’s event, held at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center. The chamber’s annual meeting is one of Newton County biggest social events of the year and is a time to thank and honor chamber and community volunteers for their years of service.

The other two big award recipients of the evening were Ozburn Electrical Contractors, receiving the 2008 "Dick James Small Business of the Year Award," and Newton County Home Builders Association Executive Officer Andrea Hammond, receiving the chamber’s "Spirit of Excellence Award."

Hammond is the second person to be recognized with the "Spirit of Excellence" award. Recipients of this new award are selected by chamber staff members.

"This person has contributed years of service to the chamber, quietly arriving early and staying late," said outgoing 2008 Chamber Chair Troy Brooks of Hammond. "This person may not be all that noticeable to many of our membership but they volunteer for every job, clean, dirty or in between."

The Dick James Award is judged independently by the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Other nominees for the 2008 Small Business of the Year Award were Associated Printing, Beyond Exterminating, JRJ Construction and Sunbelt Builders.

The keynote speaker of the evening was Brigadier General C. Stewart Rodeheaver, an Iraq Veteran and the commander of the 48th Brigade Combat Team, Georgia Army National Guard (which will be redeploying to Afghanistan shortly). While in Iraq, Rodeheaver commanded all U.S. forces in South Baghdad as well as some British coalition forces.

Rodeheaver drew comparisons from the work that chamber volunteers do to that done by Army National Guard volunteers in Iraq. He shared a brief story about the way coalition forces were able to build up trust with the area’s Bedouin tribes, who were persecuted under Saddam Hussein, by arranging for the retail employers of Guard members in Georgia to donate approximately 10,000 pairs of sneakers for Bedouin children, so that they might attend school.

After gestures like that, and the few successes the Guard had in bringing electricity and clean drinking water back to parts of Baghdad, Rodeheaver said the Bedouins began to share with the coalition forces information on the plans of insurgents in the area.

"They started telling us where the bad guys were burying bombs because we gave their children shoes," he said.

Tuesday night also marked the ceremonial handing off of the chamber chair gavel from Brooks to 2009 Chamber Chair Joe Stier.

"There is no working or retired person in this room tonight that has not been affected by the current challenges facing our country," Brooks said.

Stier briefly highlighted his goals for the coming year saying, "We want to continue building the chamber. 2009 promises to be a demanding year, both nationally and in Newton County. We ask that you remain steadfast and continue to participate in the chamber as in years past."

Also recognized for their years of dedication to the chamber were Otis Spillers, Hugh Steele, B.C. Crowell (all veterans and past chamber chairs) and Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby, who were all given special Army coins by Rodeheaver for their contributions to the community.