The Tri-City Chamber of Commerce held its annual awards banquet in Benham on Thursday at the Benham Inn.
The chamber planned a fun evening for those in attendance with guest speakers, a silent auction, awards presentations and dinner.
After the introduction by the chamber’s Executive Director Bruce Ayers and invocation by Vice President Roland Cornett, Lonnie Lawson took the stage as the night’s keynote speaker.
Lawson is the president and CEO of the Center for Rural Development in Kentucky. He’s held the position since 2002. He spoke to those in attendance about the high-speed internet initiative in the state.
Lawson said Kentucky is ranked at the bottom among the United States in Internet connection speeds but will catapult into the top five in this category when the high tech infrastructure is completed.
He went on to explain how the state will install the infrastructure, how they will fund it and what careers will benefit most from the upgraded Internet connections. He said the state needed to begin training for careers in the medical coding industry, architecture and many other fields immediately, so when the infrastructure is complete the state will be prepared to join these job markets and generate money.
Lawson showed everyone what the infrastructure will look like when it’s completed as well. He showed diagrams of the infrastructure stretching across the state which showed what he called the “first mile.” The first and middle miles will be funded by the state, while the “final” mile will be the responsibility of the individual counties across the state.
He explained that the network will be an “open access” network. This means that anyone can connect to the grid – even other Internet service providers, so local ISPs can connect to the network and offer high speed Internet to people they serve locally and boost the economy.
Next, Ayers and Cornett announced the winners of the awards.
The R.E. Bob Frazier Foundation received the Roland Cornett Community Service Award for its Tri-City Trust, which has donated money to help people in the Tri-City area on numerous occasions.
The Reecie Stagnolia Golden Apple Award was given to Nancy Wilder. She is a retired English teacher who taught at Cumberland High School for 36 years.
The Business Award was given to SEKRI for their work with significantly disabled people in the area. SEKRI Chairman Ed Harris with Norm Bradley accepted the award on behalf of the organization. Ayers said SEKRI has placed about 650 disabled people in jobs they can perform efficiently across the state and that before SEKRI came along – there were no opportunities in eastern Kentucky for anyone who was significantly disabled.
Harlan County Solid Waste Department Director, Lakis Mavinidis, received the Public Service Award. Ayers said Maviinidis, with his 34 years of experience, was currently one of the longest serving public officials in the county.
Club 180 received the Youth Organization Award for their work with kids around the county. Club 180 is a religious organization that focuses on children in the area.
Administrator Donnie Fields accepted the Healthcare Award on behalf of the Harlan Appalachian Regional Hospital for their new Tri-City Clinic and Hospital Advisory Board. Harlan ARH was founded in 1956 as a United Mine Workers of America Miners Memorial Hospital.
Dorothy “Dot” Dixon received the Civic Organization Award for the Poor Fork Homemakers Club. Ayers said before Cumberland was called Cumberland – it was called Poor Fork. The Poor Fork Homemakers Club was established long ago when the area was still called Poor Fork. Dixon, a few years ago, revived the club and has since been involved in a plethora of benevolent activities in the area.
Terri Roark accepted the Volunteer Award for her volunteer work in the area involving tourism and many other organizations.
The Tony Turner Leadership Award was given to Jennifer Jones. According to Ayers, Jones has spent her life breaking down gender barriers in eastern Kentucky and become the first woman in the area to do a variety of things, including serving as the Bell County Judge-Executive.
Ayers gave the Executive Director’s Award to Reecie Stagnolia. The award is a Lifetime Achievement Award and was accepted by Stagnolia’s brother, because Stagnolia couldn’t make it to the banquet due to an illness. Ayers honored Stagnolia with the award for his lifetime of service to the Tri-City area.
Reach Bradley at 606-909-4146 or on Twitter @bradley_HDE.