By Justin Smith, The News Reporter
The Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism honored local leaders at its Annual Meeting and Business Expo Monday night at Northwood Church in Whiteville. Jonathan Medford, owner of Inspire Creative Studios, was named the inaugural winner of the Young Professional of the Year Award.
In addition to serving on the Columbus Chamber board of directors, Medford has held leadership positions in numerous community organizations, including the Columbus Jobs Foundation and Whiteville Rotary Club. He also coaches tennis and is an alumnus of Leadership Columbus, explained Joan McPherson, outgoing chair of the Chamber’s board of directors. She said Medford “was instrumental in the development of the Columbus Young Professionals group and served as the first chairman.”
Medford, who was unable to attend the ceremony, lives in Whiteville with his wife, Sally, and their children, Carrie and Riley.
Left to right, Jonathan Medford, Rev. David Heller, Janice Young
Rev. David Heller, Columbus Baptist Association’s director of missions, was presented the Sol B. Mann Community Spirit Award. Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann said the Chamber created the award in 2002 to honor his late father. The award’s purpose is “to recognize an individual that goes out of their way to make our community a better place to live,” Mann said.
Heller entered the ministry in 1982 and served for 18 years as the pastor of Pleasant Plains Baptist Church. He has served as the senior chaplain of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office since 1998. He hosts a television show on Southeastern Community College’s EDU-Cable that highlights area non-profit organizations and volunteering opportunities. Heller was instrumental in establishing the backpack buddy program that provides non-perishable food to ensure that area school children in need do not go hungry over the weekends.
Heller and his wife Cindy have three adult daughters and one granddaughter. “My wife and I have made Columbus County our home for the last 23 years,” he said. “We love the people of this county, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to serve.”
Honorary Lifetime Membership Janice Young, the past executive director of the Chamber, was honored with a Lifetime Honorary Membership. She has served as president of the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society, deacon at First Baptist Church of Whiteville and a board member of Columbus County Tourism Bureau, American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. “The award pays tribute to individuals who use their time, their talent and their energy to change the lives of others and their community,” said John Elliott of Duke Energy, who presented the award.
Elliot explained that Young “has a long resume of service in Columbus County that epitomizes community leadership at so many levels.” She “is a stellar example of what can be accomplished with passion, conviction and dogged determination,” he said. Young has been married to her husband Bob, for nearly 50 years. They have two daughters, Julia and Peyton, and five grandchildren.
“It has been my honor for over 40 years to be a part of Columbus County,” Young said. “We moved here really hardly knowing anyone and were immediately embraced, and that is exactly what the people do here. They embrace you; they love you. We become family, and families can do anything together.”
LEAD Award Elliott presented Duke Energy’s the company’s Leadership in Economic Advancement and Development (LEAD) Award to outgoing Columbus Chamber Chairman Joan McPherson, owner of J. Mac’s Creative Plans by Design.
“The LEAD Award was created by Duke Energy to recognize deserving business leaders who have spent extraordinary time, effort and personal talent preparing the community for job growth, investment and a competitive economic development climate,” Elliott said. He explained the award is presented once a year in North Carolina, and it was last presented to someone in the eastern part of the state in 2015.
McPherson “is a community leader who employs inclusion as their mindset, integrity as their strength and collaboration as their practice,” Elliott said. “I hope that beyond anything else my love for Whiteville and Columbus County shines through,” McPherson said. “In light of negativity, I’m a firm believer that if we can all just say one thing positive every morning when we wake up and look at our business community and our community as a whole in a positive light, we can make great changes.”
After accepting the LEAD Award, McPherson delivered a farewell speech, which is reprinted on page 10A.
Following her speech, McPherson introduced her successor as chair of the board, Jamille Gore of Tabor City, a financial advisor with Edward Jones Investments.