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2 eateries share Taste of Liberty title at Chambers Annual Banquet
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Former Hinesville mayor Jim Thomas stands with the plaque he received for being named 2015 Civic Leader of the Year during the Liberty County Chamber of Commerces Annual Banquet and Taste of Liberty at Dorchester Civic Center on Friday evening. Standing with Thomas is new Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Roger Hutchinson. - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon

Awards given at Chamber’s Annual Banquet

• Self-Employed person of the year: Kathy Villafane, AAB Realty
• Business with 2-15 employees – Molly Maxine
• Business with 16-35 employees – The Pour House
• Business with 35-plus employees – CH2M
• Business Leader of the Year – Barbara Pilkinton, VIP Office Furniture and Supply
• Taste of Liberty winners – Sho-Nuff Smokin’ Good BBQ and JJ’s Bar & Grill

The Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet welcomed the new Board of Directors for 2016 and offered up the Taste of Liberty from several local food vendors Friday night.

Each room at the Dorchester Civic Center had different community eateries or caterers serving up their top meals for the attendees to vote on.

From the full-service taco bar to the delectable dessert treats, there was something for every taste bud and craving. Panera Bread, the Pour House, Sho-Nuff Smokin’ Good BBQ, Club Stewart Catering, JJ’s Bar and Grill, and Southern Sweets Smoking Pig were but a handful of food vendors vying for the People’s Choice Award.

In the end, it was a tie with Sho-Nuff Smokin’ Good BBQ and JJ’s Bar and Grill taking the top food honors.

The evening was more than just a food affair, though, as local leaders and Chamber members gathered to meet the new Chamber board and pay tribute to those stepping out.

Roger Hutchinson of Yates Astro, the new Chamber board chairman, introduced and recognized outgoing board members Isabelle Hernandez, PJ Schneider and Daniel Clark.

Clark, the outgoing chairman, addressed the group, saying the experience was memorable and that he would still be around.

“I just want to thank everybody for this,” Clark said. “It’s been a great ride with the Chamber. I’m not going away. I am still participating with the Young Adult Liberty Leaders (YALL) group. I want to thank (Chamber CEO) Leah (Poole). It’s been a very enriching experience and honor to be with the Chamber and watch it grow and become more involved in the community and become a partner to Liberty County.”

Hutchinson then introduced the 2016 Board of Directors: Jimmy Shanken, Karen Bell, Susan McCorkle, Kathy Villafane, Levi Moody, Felecia Boatwright, Barbara Martin, Leigh Smiley, Chip Adams, Bobby Ryon, Charlene Parlett, Kateland Arroyo, Chris Ellison, Hasit Patel, Greg Higgins, Jack Standard, Rodney Edwards, Jeff Ashman, Lee Burkhalter, Dr. Vayla Lee and Joe Ford.

Hutchinson had the new board members take the Chamber oath and then turned his attention to the Chamber employees.
Leah Poole, who is CEO of the Chamber and Liberty County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Hutchinson recognized employees Molly O’ Hearon, who is the public information assistant; office manager Erin Johnson; membership coordinator Amber Barbaro; visitor information specialist Mary Prince; and program manager Amanda Scott.

“I’ve seen them in the office when they are doing their individual job responsibilities and they are all dressed nice. … But when it comes down to loading trucks, setting things up, cleanups and that kind of stuff, regardless of what their individual responsibilities are … they all pitch in as a team 100 percent,” Hutchinson said.

He then honored Poole for her longtime efforts in making the Chamber successful the past five years.

“This month marks Leah’s fifth year as the CEO of the Chamber,” he said. “In my time with the Chamber and in talking with other members of the Chamber, I would like to recognize that the CEO of the Chamber has an awesome amount of responsibility, and Leah has done a great job of improving the image of the Chamber within the community and outside the community.”

He added that Poole has been heavily involved with bringing the movie industry to the area.

“Since her involvement, the Chamber has really become an information distribution hub for the community,” he added, noting that the Chamber prepared packets for soldiers who were interested in moving here from all over the world and that Poole was the prime instigator for the first-ever 3rd Infantry Day at the Capitol. “She was invited to Washington, D.C., to represent the community when we won the Army Community of Excellence award … and she has done a great deal to put us on the map. We find ourselves in the Chamber more involved in the community than we ever have before, and a lot of that falls on Leah’s shoulders, and she does a great job.”

Poole was presented with a photo print of the Liberty coast signed by the board of directors and a flower arrangement from her staff members.

“Thank you very much. I appreciate this … It has been a very interesting five years, and I’m sure there will be an interesting five more, so I’m looking forward to it,” Poole said.

Poole then presented local business awards and introduced the 2016 Civic Leader of the year winner — former Hinesville mayor Jim Thomas.

“This is a fitting moment for me. … One of the things that we are really appreciative of is the growth of our area in the past eight years. And to a large degree, that growth has depended on the Chamber and all its members,” Thomas said. “Without the Chamber, Hinesville and Liberty County would not have been known as well as they are now, and they are known in Washington, D.C. and in China, Atlanta and up and down the Eastern Seaboard. One of the things that I am proud of is working with the Chamber and the CVB in spreading the word about Liberty County and Hinesville. This is a great place to live.”

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