More than 40,000 votes were cast by the Liberty County community for Best of Liberty 2017, the annual reader’s choice contest.
Best of Liberty is sponsored by the Coastal Courier, where locals vote for their favorites in food, business, customer service, education and more.
This year’s winners were honored with a dinner Thursday evening at the Dorchester Civic Center. They shared the evening with family, friends and colleagues.
Jeff Arnold, of Arnold & Stafford, won Best Lawyer and Arnold & Stafford won Best Law Firm. Arnold and the law firm were the title sponsors of the event.
Arnold spoke to the room of business and community leaders before the winners were announced.
He grew up in Hawaii and at age 21 enlisted in the Army. After completing law school in California Arnold was asked where he wanted to be stationed. He requested Hawaii, however the Army had others plans for him and sent him to Fort Stewart.
Arnold called it "the best decision the Army ever made."
Arnold has lived in Hinesville since 1976.
"The reason we are all successful is because of the diversity of our community—the diverse race, religion, sex," Arnold said. "We have everything in Hinesville and we all get along for the most part. I want to underscore that we have a wonderful community."
Arnold then talked about the local school system.
"We have one of the best education systems around. My two (children) stayed through it and did very, very well," Arnold said.
His son and daughter are both products of the Liberty County School System, he said. His son went on to West Point, became a combat veteran and chose Fort Stewart for his first assignment. His daughter began her teaching career in Liberty County and is an award-winning teacher in Atlanta.
He was also proud to work alongside Craig Stafford, a graduate of Bradwell Institute.
Arnold said the criticism the school district receives is "totally unwarranted" and "unsupported."
Arnold encouraged everyone to support local education.
"While I enjoy my success, I enjoy it because of the diversity of our community. I enjoy it because of the education system, we produce qualified students that will go on to do well," Arnold said.
The time to announce the winners had finally come.
Each winner was called to the sound of cheers and applause.
-Best Photographer: Joanna Ng of Joanna Ng Photography
-Best Charity: Carpathia Paws
-Best Real Estate Agent and Best Customer Service: Kathy Villafane of A Plus Realty Group
-Best Dentist: Dr. Tad Jackson of Midway Family Dental
-Best Kid Friendly and Best Fast Food Restaurant: Chick-fil-A
-Best Teacher/Instructor: Sarah Hein of Liberty County High School.
-Best Sweets/Bakery: Southern Sweets Café and Bakery
After the ceremony winners had an opportunity to take photos on the red carpet.
Winners also watched themselves in a video, produced by Lawrence Dorsey of the Coastal Courier, thanking the community for voting.
The video can be watched on the Coastal Courier website and Facebook page.
Kathryn Fox, Coastal Courier business manager, thanked Dr. Tad Jackson, of Midway Family Dental, who was the platinum sponsor, and Judi Mills, owner of Southern Sweets Café and Bakery, for providing handmade cookies for the event.
Thomas Claxton provided live music during the event and the dinner was catered by Lynn Cannon, owner of Occasions.