While the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce's annual gala is always highly anticipated, there was extra cause for celebration this past weekend as the chamber nears its 40th birthday.
The formal event held at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame on March 25 was a time for members, community business leaders and their friends and family to reflect on another year of growth and prosperity in the quickly expanding county.
Chamber President Christie Haynes delivered her state of the chamber address to a room filled with sequined gowns and tuxedos. Her address centered on the history of the chamber and its growth over the past four decades.
"In preparing for this...I've thought a lot about the last 40 years," Haynes said. "It's almost overwhelming everything that's happened. But you don't know where you're going and you can't plan for the future if you don't know your past."
The two events that Haynes said stood out to her in the history of the county were the creation of a true Ga. 400 highway and the building of the North Georgia Premium Outlets. Haynes also mentioned Bill Elliott's championship year in 1988 as a big part of Dawson County history.
She also spoke about the history of the chamber specifically, as the articles of incorporation for the chamber were signed on June 28, 1977, nearly 40 years ago.
"As I researched our history, I began to understand the old adage ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same,'" Haynes said. "For example, it brought me great joy to learn about the chamber's consistent commitment to our county, but also of our chamber's commitment to consistency."
Haynes said that since at least 1990, the chamber has held a luncheon on the second Thursday of every month. And in 1992, the chamber also began sending a monthly newsletter, which is now received weekly as Chamber Chatter.
"Article after article that I read in the newspaper archives reinforced the idea that chamber leaders and volunteers in our community have always wanted one thing- only the best for Dawson County," Haynes said.
Haynes also recognized the growth of the chamber, which gained 91 new members in 2016 with 440 members total.
The chamber's 2017 chairwoman, Jo Brewer with Northeast Georgia Health Systems, also gave a speech about the importance of participation in helping the chamber thrive.
"As the inevitable growth flows through our region, now is the time [to get involved]," Brewer said. "Whatever your interests or talents, your chamber team is here to serve you."
Also presented at the gala were a number of awards recognizing outstanding leaders in the business community.
Carla Boutin, the 2015 chairwoman, won the Chairman's award; KG Cleaning Services won the Outstanding New Member award; Dr. Brian Burke of Dawson Vision won the Don Gordon Business Leader of the Year award; couple Dick and Nancy McNeill won the Jim Wallace Volunteer of the Year award and Norton Real Estate Agent Martha Holbrook won the Ambassador of the Year award, an honor bestowed in memory of the late Linda Williams, who served as the chamber's longtime president.
Different this year was an additional Founders' Circle award, given to the 40 longest-standing members of the chamber.
Those included AFLAC, Amicalola EMC, Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, Atlanta Gas Light, BB&T, Bearden Funeral Home, Big Canoe Property Owners, Bowen Center for the Arts, Bradley M. Maple CPA, Byrd's Mini Storage, Chestatee Regional Hospital, Dawson County Board of Commissioners, Dawson County Board of Education, Dawson County News, Dawson County Tax Commissioner, Dawsonville Hardware Co. Inc., Dawsonville Pool Room, Duncan Exterminating Company, Dawson Insurance, Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, First Baptist Church of Dawsonville, Forrest Hills Mountain Resort, Georgia Power, Georgia Softworks, Goodson's Pharmacy, Kroger, Lanier Technical College, Mark Heard Fuel Company, Mills Fuel Service, Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, RIC Rack, Roberts, Loia, Roof P.C., Sawnee EMC, SleeveCo., State Farm Insurance (Roger Slaton), Strickland General Agency Inc., Townley Construction Company, United Community Bank, University of North Georgia and Windstream.
In its 26th year, the gala is one of the chamber's most anticipated annual events and also serves as a fundraiser for the organization.