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Bearden named Business Leader of the Year at annual gala
Dawson County Chamber of Commerce hosts biggest event yet
Chamber Gala 5
Ted Bearden gives a speech thanking the audience after receiving the 2017 Don Gordon Business Leader of the Year Award. - photo by Jessica Taylor

“When we leave this world all we leave is our memory and I hope and I pray that somewhere down the line God has allowed me to touch somebody else in a positive way,” said Ted Bearden, owner of Bearden Funeral Home, after he was awarded the 2017 Don Gordon Business Leader of the Year Award.

Bearden received a standing ovation as he walked up to the stage to accept the prestigious award at the 21st annual Dawson County Chamber of Commerce Gala March 3 at 6140 Events. 

 “For over four decades, Ted has served as the calm in the storm in the time of a loved one’s death, ensuring that every family is given the dignity, respect and compassion they deserve,” said Chamber of Commerce President Christie Haynes.

The Don Gordon Business Leader of the Year award began 17 years ago and recognizes leaders who are not only successful in their business but also genuinely care about helping the community.

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Ted Bearden, owner of Bearden Funeral Home, is congratulated on his way to receiving the Don Gordon Business Leader of the Year award. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Bearden, who was born and raised in Dawson County, began his funeral career working for Ford Bannister at Bannister’s Funeral Home in Dawsonville. He purchased Bannister’s and established Bearden Funeral Home in the summer of 1991. He served as the Dawson County Deputy Coroner until he was elected the Dawson County Coroner and has been a member of the Georgia Funeral Directors Association for 40 years.

 He is also past president of the Georgia Coroners Association and the Independent Funeral Directors of Georgia where he received numerous awards including Georgia’s Coroner of the Year.

“My wife will be the first one to tell you I am never speechless but right now I am speechless,” Bearden said to the audience. “I’m humbled. I spend a lot of time kidding and cutting up and trying to put smiles on people’s faces because I learned a long time ago you have to smile and you have to laugh in the face of tragic situations. It’s what gets us through.

“Well what gets us through here is the community. We have and we live in such a wonderful place. You don’t see people trying to get out of Dawson County. You see people trying to get in and that says volumes about each and every person in this room tonight. If there has been success in my life it’s because this community gave it to me.”

As the 2017 Chairman, Jo Brewer had the honor of selecting this year’s recipient of the Chairman’s Award: Steve Melching.

““There was one person who, to me, exemplified everything that the chamber is and was and the values of the chamber in Dawson County,” said Brewer. “(Steve Melching) encouraged me to be more active in the chamber and I’m so happy I followed his advice…because of the rewards of this position: Meeting so many great people, being exposed to so much new information about how the wheels of industry turn and how government works here in Dawson County.”

Melching served as the 2016 chairman, the 2017 membership chairman and is a board member at Good Shepherd Clinic.

Anna Duncan of the Keller Williams Community Partners Welch Team received the Linda Williams Ambassador of the Year Award for her dedication to supporting the chamber as well as seeking new members through the ambassador program.

Melissa Mayton, who announced the award, described Duncan as “bright and warm and welcoming to pretty much everyone she meets.”

Sharon Hall of AFLAC, and a lifelong citizen of Dawson County, received the Jim Wallace Volunteer of the Year, an award given to someone who has contributed in an outstanding way to the community.

“Her love for the community is reflected in literally everything she does,” said Haynes, who presented the award.

Hall is an active member of the Rotary Club of Dawson County, has served with the Bowen Center for the Arts and has been an ambassador and board member of the chamber multiple times.

“When someone asks for her help or expresses any sign of distress, she is the first volunteer to volunteer her help and support,” said Haynes. “She’s the person you want by your side. She is a cheerleader for all of us and she finds true joy in seeing others succeed.”

Newly sworn-in 2018 Chairwoman Mandy Power presented a new award this year: The Spirit of Leadership Dawson Award. The award recognizes alumni of the Leadership Dawson program who represent “the spirit of a strong leader,” said Power. The inaugural award went to Carol Tyger, who is not only a graduate but also the program’s current leader.

“Under her guidance, the Leadership Dawson program has thrived and has become a model for other leadership programs throughout the state,” said Power.

It was also the first year for the Outstanding Tourism Partner Award, which was awarded to Len Foote Hike Inn and accepted by Executive Director Eric Graves.

“Tourism plays an integral role in our local economy,” said Power. “Since the chamber and Office of Tourism Development are very fortunate to have so many great tourism partners to work with to promote our beautiful community we felt it is time to honor these members.”

Since its establishment in 1998, Len Foote Hike Inn has shown “a strong commitment to not only the environment but also our community” and “has helped put Dawson County on the map,” said Power.

“It’s great to be part of Dawson County,” said Graves. “We do have a great county and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

The Goodwill Career Center of Northeast Georgia received the Outstanding New Member Award for its notable impact on Dawson County. Since its opening in 2016, the Career Center has assisted 2,200 people and has put more than 400 people to work in Dawson County.

“I’m not going to stop until everybody who wants to be employed is employed,” said Lead Career Coach Tara Hardwick as she accepted the award.

Power addressed the audience and expressed her goals during her term as chair during the largest gala the chamber has ever had.

“I want to show appreciation to those who have been loyal to the chamber all of these years. I want to increase the communication to help each member engage in all the benefits they choose to help promote their individual businesses,” said Power. “We want to help make our community the best place possible, ensuring that we get your return on your chamber investment.”

In the past year, the chamber celebrated 46 ribbon cutting ceremonies as well as welcomed 91 new members.  It was also the chamber’s 40th anniversary. It was definitely the best year yet according to Brewer and Haynes.

“Seeing that our members truly enjoy spending time together and that you find joy in supporting each other’s businesses I think really reflects the spirit of our entire community,” said Haynes.

In a world where businesses are becoming more global through the internet, Haynes remarked that the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce will always be relevant.

“Google doesn’t know our community. It might know where we are, but it doesn’t know the spirit of our community. It won’t tell you which doctor to trust when you’re really nervous about your health or where to take your donations for the community Thanksgiving dinner,” said Haynes. “Even in this digital and busy world it turns out, we still need each other.”