94th chamber dinner celebrates champions

Jan. 24, 2014 @ 01:07 PM

A champion is a person who takes on a cause with passion, and fights for that cause.

Thursday night, at the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce’s 94th Annual Dinner, “A Celebration of Champions,” members of the Caldwell County community who have done that were honored. Members of Caldwell County governments, businesses, schools, hospitals and more gathered for the dinner and to hear the legacies of three individuals who have given themselves and their works to Caldwell.

The keynote address was given by Penn Dameron, executive director of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, who spoke of the relationship between the mountain and surrounding attractions and the help that his foundation has received from Caldwell County, such as the bicycling race now called the Bridge Incredible Challenge that has connected the two for 25 years.

One of the starkest examples, he said, was when Grandfather Mountain needed a new eagle sanctuary. The Caldwell chamber was instrumental in a “penny war” fundraiser in local schools that ended up raising $9,400 for the foundation.

But the highlights of the night were the awards.

The chamber awarded the L.A. Dysart Awards, named for a bank executive from the Bank of Lenoir many years ago who was renowned for his outstanding citizenship, and given each year to a man and woman who embody that spirit of selfless citizenship.

The L.A. Dysart Woman of the Year was Trilla Annas, who spent nearly 45 years with the Caldwell County Department of Social Services so valuable to the organization that upon her 30th year with the organization, the county officially held “Trilla Annas Day.” A conference room at DSS bears her name.

She has been involved in the community since graduating from Hudson High School in 1951, starting with DSS the next June. Among other roles in the community, she also was president of the Caldwell County Heart Association and was a charter member of the Granite Falls Business and Professional Women’s Club.

“When I retired, I felt I needed to give back to the community or I felt my life would be a waste,” Annas said. As she became involved, it snowballed and she became more and more involved, she said, “And I’ve enjoyed all of it.”

The L.A. Dysart Man of the Year was Larry Taylor, a Caldwell County native and graduate of Lenoir High School, a successful business owner and volunteer. Taylor owns LW Taylor Development and Construction Co., volunteers as Hibriten High School’s golf coach, and has served as Caldwell County commissioner, chairman of the Economic Development Commission, with the Caldwell Democratic Party and the Shelter Home and more.

The measure of a person is if the have made a difference to someone, said Ken Boham, president of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, who introduced Taylor. “And Larry Wilson Taylor has made a difference and continues to make a difference, and he’s the quintessential embodiment of this award.”

Taylor thanked the audience, the chamber and his “associates,” saying, “Associates is a big word – remember, you are who you associate with.”

The last award given wasn’t an annual one. It was the Visionary Leadership Award, which hasn’t been given in years.

Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, introduced the recipient, Doug Johnson, the CEO of Blue Ridge Energies LLC, calling him a “visionary,” a “legendary leader” and a “captain of industry.” Johnson has led Blue Ridge into becoming one of the most successful energy cooperatives in the nation, as well as being heavily involved in Caldwell County, directing and founding a number of organizations, she said.

After accepting the award, Johnson spoke of the progress Caldwell County has made in recent years, helping Caldwell County citizens get an education and halving the unemployment rate, but said, “couldn’t we get it under 6 percent in the next five years, get more citizens out of poverty?”

He ended his speech, and the dinner, with a challenge: “Let’s not stop until everyone in Caldwell County has a chance to have a great life.”