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Wheeler County Chamber Holds 27th Annual Banquet

Wheeler County Chamber Holds 27th Annual Banquet
KEYNOTE SPEAKER—Rep. Leesa Hagan, who represents Wheeler County as part of the Georgia House of Representatives’ District 156, speaks at the Wheeler County Chamber’s 27th annual banquet. She urged Wheeler Countians to take advantage of current opportunities to advance growth in their area.Photo by Deborah Clark
Wheeler County Chamber Holds 27th Annual Banquet
KEYNOTE SPEAKER—Rep. Leesa Hagan, who represents Wheeler County as part of the Georgia House of Representatives’ District 156, speaks at the Wheeler County Chamber’s 27th annual banquet. She urged Wheeler Countians to take advantage of current opportunities to advance growth in their area.Photo by Deborah Clark

Wheeler Countians came together on April 28 for the local Chamber of Commerce’s 27th Annual Banquet, held at James Stapleton Auditorium on the campus of Wheeler County High School.

During the evening event, the Chamber honored its first Citizens of Distinction, attorney Russell Clark and community volunteer Sandra Brown. Other highlights of the evening included a talk by keynote speaker District 156 Representative Leesa Hagan, R-Lyons, and the recognition of Leadership Wheeler Youth Academy graduates. Rep. Hagan Urges Seizing Opportunities As a small business owner, Rep. Leesa Hagan understands the issues facing those engaged in smallscale commercial operations in rural areas. But as a member of the House’s Committee on Small Business Development, she is also familiar with how to find solutions for these issues.

“Businesses create part of the personality of your community. Hometown business owners know their employees well and their customers’ needs. They are personally invested in the community,” Hagan said, adding, “Small businesses matter. Over 40% of people employed in the state of state Georgia are not employed by large corporation, but by small businesses. The importance of what businesses and the chamber do in the community cannot be overstated.”

Commenting on opportunities for rural South Georgia, Hagan pointed out, “We have some things going for us we have not had in the past 10 years.” Now is the time to act on reversing negative trends like loss of population, a stale economy, and an aging population not being replaced with a younger workforce. “If we take advantage of current factors, we can renew the dream of a thriving rural community where people can live, work, worship, and raise families. We can make this dream a reality.”

She noted that the Hyundai Plant being built in Bryan County is expected to create 8,000 jobs. “That’s not a direct benefit to Wheeler County, because studies have shown that workers will commute about an hour to get to work. Wheeler County is outside of that radius, but suppliers and manufacturers are looking up and down I-16 for warehouse sites as support services for the plant. Wheeler County and its proximity to I-16 means it could benefit from this secondary development.”

Hagan emphasized, “Workers for these auxiliary sites need places to live, eat, shop. Think about what Wheeler County could do to lure these people who will be working at these support sites,” Hagan said.

She noted that the One Georgia Authority, which exists to assist rural Georgia development, has $35.7 million in unutilized grants. “No one applied. That excess that was not used has been allocated specifically for a rural workforce housing fund. Apply for that so you can get affordable housing for your workforce,” she urged.

The representative also pointed out that Generation Z and Millennials are open to remote working. “With access to fast internet, they might live in rural areas where they previously could not find work. Younger people are open to those options,” Hagan said.

South Georgia is now in a unique and advantageous situation regarding leadership, Hagan explained. The new speaker of the House, John Burns, is from South Georgia. “He understands our issues,” Hagan said. Senator Blake Tillery of Vidalia, whose district includes Wheeler County, is Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“New House Appropriations Chair Matt Hatchett is just a stone’s throw away in Dublin. Finally, Governor Kemp is incredibly rural Georgia friendly, and knows how important rural Georgia is to the state’s economy,” Hagan said, referencing that the number one industry in the state is agriculture and Georgia is the number one state in the nation for forestry. Agriculture and tree farming and harvesting are big business in Wheeler County, said Hagan, who also sits on the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, Natural Resources and Environment, and Industry and Labor Committees, among others.

“The climate is favorable toward rural Georgia, and I urge Wheeler County’s leaders to work together and take advantage of these opportunities,” she concluded. Citizens of Distinction

Wheeler County Chamber President Tommy Spell bestowed the honors as Clark and Brown came forward to receive commemorative plaques and congratulations.

Russell Clark

Clark has been practicing law in Wheeler County since 1975, and is legal counsel for the City of Alamo, the Little Ocmulgee EMC, the Wheeler County Chamber of Commerce, and the Wheeler County State Bank. Additionally, he is the community’s “go to” person for family law. He has drawn up thousands of wills, powers of attorney, and more, but real estate transactions have become a dominant part of his practice, now.

Returning to the town where he grew up to build a career was a natural inclination for Clark. His roots go deep in Wheeler County. He grew up in a house on McRae Street across from the county courthouse where his father worked as Clerk of Superior Court. He went to high school in the then-new school in Alamo, graduating in 1966. He began his college studies at Middle Georgia College, and earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia and a juris doctor degree from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1973. What Clark loves most about being a lawyer in a small community is that he personally knows just about everyone in the county; in fact, he is usually familiar with several generations of a family and how they are related to other families. Russell is not only invested in his community by blood and profession, he is firmly committed to preserving local history and helping to facilitate the county’s future.

Clark and his wife Marcia have four children and several grandchildren. When he is not happily spending time with his family, Clark enjoys working on his landscape at home. A member of Alamo’s First Baptist Church, he has said, “My relationship with the church and the Lord are of the greatest importance to me. Being a Christian lawyer with an emphasis on Christian has been my guiding star through the years. The real reward is feeling like I have helped people accomplish their goals.”

Sandra Brown

Brown is a familiar and much-loved face in the Alamo community, whether she is driving about in her golf cart visiting neighbors, attending community events and meetings, or volunteering her time to make Wheeler County a better place in which to live. It is not unusual to see Brown at Alamo City Council meetings, voicing concerns, or making suggestions to improve the continued from page

town she has called home for most of her life. She has served on the Board of the Alamo Housing Authority since 2009 and as its chair for 15 years.

She is also a member of the City of Alamo’s Eastside Park Committee, the City of Alamo Zoning Committee, and has helped to plan and orchestrate many city events. She has also been active in the City of Alamo’s “Yard of the Month” campaign which recognizes citizens who go the extra mile to beautify their landscapes.

At Alamo Methodist Church Brown serves on the Board of Trustees and the Pastor-Parish Committee. Brown and her husband, Leon, enjoy gardening, raising chickens, and spending time with their son Ernie and his wife Janet, and their two grandsons and their families.

Alamo Mayor Pam Lee said, “Sandra is always available and loves her community. I wish there were more people like her. She will tell us when there is a problem, but she will also offer a solution. She wants to know how we can work together.”

One of the people who nominated Brown for this honor said, “Sandra is the epitome of a good woman. She is interested in anything to make Alamo better. She also quietly supports several elderly people in the community by taking them to the doctor, or the grocery store, and offering financial support and food.”

Another person who nominated Brown for this award offered high praise. “Sandra is ready to help those in need at any time they need help. She has an encouraging spirit. She gives from her heart and never expects anything back.”

Youth Leadership Academy Jason Bedgood, J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership, University of Georgia, recognized the graduating members of the 2022-2023 Wheeler County Senior Youth Academy: Jasmine Soto, Payton Bowman, Baley Burkett, Amber Seabolt, Lilly Parker, Mircale Wilson, Jeannette Martinez, Cody McRae, Pippa Connell, Hannah Hughes, Marlee Veal, and Bryce Miller.

Chamber Executive Director Janice Mock recognized members of the 2022-2023 Leadership Wheeler Junior Youth Academy, who will be going forward next year to complete their leadership training. This class includes: Briley Rowland, Harmonie Jackson, Heidi Woods, Kaylee Grace Smith, Kierstin McRae, La-Marcus Woodward, Lyric Stanley, Brooklyn Kramer, Haven Griffin, Kayla Turner, Kenton Mincey, Layla Lampkin, Landon Wilson, Rhett Rogers, and Rosalio Rojas.

The two-year Youth Leadership Program is a Wheeler Chamber project supported by the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership. The project aims to groom tomorrow’s leaders by acquainting them with current events and issues, as well as providing an up close look at the day-today operations of their community, its legacies and culture, and strengths and weaknesses. Academy members visit local government offices, historic sites, natural amenities, and business and industry to gain insight into what makes Wheeler County unique. This two-year program also offers opportunities for learning how to work together to solve problems with an objective of promoting community growth and excellence.

CONGRATULATIONS—Chamber President Tommy Spell, left, announced during the annual banquet that community volunteer Sandra Brown, right, was a 2022 Citizen of Distinction.Photo by Deborah Clark

TRIBUTE—Russell Clark, left, is congratulated by Chamber President Tommy Spell as he is named a 2022 Citizen of Distinction.Photo by Deborah Clark

JUNIOR YOUTH ACADEMY GRADUATES—From left: Brooklyn Kramer, Heidi Woods, Kayla Turner, Kierstin McRae, Kyla Lampkin, and Lyric Stanley. Not present for the photo: Briley Rowland, Harmonie Jackson, Kaylee Grace Smith, La-Marcus Woodard, Haven Griffin, Kenton Mincey, Landon Wilson, Rhett Rogers, and Rosalio Rojas.Photo by Deborah Clark

SENIOR YOUTH ACADEMY GRADUATES— From left: Amber Seabolt, Cody McRae, Hannah Hughes, Jeanette Martinez, Lilly Parker, Marlee Veal, Miracle Wilson, and Pippa Connell. At far right is Jason Bedgood, representing the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership, University of Georgia. Not present for the photo: Jasmine Soto, Payton Bowman, Baley Burkett, and Bryce Miller.Photo by Deborah Clark

TOKEN OF APPRECIATION—Janice Mock, right, Executive Director of the Wheeler County Chamber of Commerce, presents a prayer quilt from the Wheeler County community to Representative Leesa Hagan in gratitude for her participation of the Chamber’s annual banquet and for her support of the community. Hagan said she would display the gift in her office at the Capitol.Photo by Deborah Clark

CITIZENS OF DISTINCTION — Alamo attorney Russell Clark, left, and community volunteer Sandra Brown, right, were honored as the community’s first Citizens of Distinction at the Wheeler County Chamber of Commerce’s 27th Annual Banquet April 28.Photo by Deborah Clark

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