From a band director whose inspiration roars to life with the Princeton Tigers to an unexpected pageant director, a tireless baseball promoter and a business determined to “Do the Deal,” Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce saluted its best and brightest Tuesday.
New River Community and Technical College’s President Dr. Ted Spring served as the keynote speaker at the PMCCC’s annual dinner, enthusing a full house at the Chuck Mathena Center on the potential of the third-largest, fastest-growing community college in West Virginia.
Working from five community-based campuses — Princeton, Ghent, Beckley, Greenbrier County and Nicholas County — Spring said New River Community and Technical College educates some of the best and brightest students throughout the state, offering a quality education at an affordable cost, close to home.
Eighty percent of the nation’s firefighters, police officers and emergency medical response personnel have some sort of community college credentials, along with 35 percent of teachers and roughly 45 percent of the people who now hold bachelor’s degrees in science, technical, engineering and math fields.
“Ladies and gentlemen, determination drives our students,” Spring said. “...Students are coming to college with the realization that they can and will improve their lives.”
In 2010, New River Community and Technical College was recognized on NBC Nightly News for its amazing growth in students, campus and budget.
Currently, New River tallies an annualized student head count at approximately 4,300, and touts 158 full-time employees. Its budget is $21 million, but Spring said it makes an economic impact of $150 million annually.
Currently, New River’s Princeton campus is situated inside the Mercer County Technical Education Center, but Spring emphasized the need for more space Tuesday. The search is ongoing to locate a new Mercer County headquarters.
Once Spring completed his address, and outgoing PMCCC Chairman Rick Allen passed the gavel to current Chairwoman Brenda Woodward, the awards presentation began.
City Councilman and longtime Princeton Baseball Association supporter Dewey Russell hit a home run, when he introduced Princeton Rays General Manager Jim Holland as the Citizen of the Year.
“We have put 57 young men into the Majors,” Russell said, counting the likes of Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford. “They were nurtured by the fans and the people of this community.”
But, those fans couldn’t have nurtured the players without the management and marketing assistance of Holland, who joined the Princeton Baseball Association as the team’s general manager in 1991.
A native of Dunbar, Russell said Holland has “devoted his career and his life to providing Princeton, W.Va., with professional baseball in a family atmosphere.”
“His tireless efforts have brought thousands of visitors to Mercer County and millions of dollars into the local economy,” Russell said.
Holland is a previous member of the PMCCC Board of Directors and a past recipient of the Rotary Club of Princeton’s Service Above Self Award, and his office and mantle are crowded with Appalachian League and Minor League baseball honors.
Still, Holland said Citizen of the Year meant a lot to him.
“Nothing means as much as winning an award from your own community,” he said, accepting the honor. “... I’ve been here 21 years, and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Past PMCCC Chairwoman Sue Shields introduced Pat Whittaker as Volunteer of the Year, presenting her with a plaque. But, a sash and crown might have been fitting.
Whittaker has chaired the Miss AutumnFest pageant for the last two years — in fact, the only two years it has existed.
Shields saluted Whittaker’s enthusiasm, inspiration and her determination to find answers to a variety of intricate pageant questions.
“This honoree worked long, tireless hours and knew where the answers would be found,” Shields said.
For the first time this year, Miss AutumnFest, Morgan Cottrell, competed in the West Virginia Fairs and Festivals pageant and brought home a top-15 rating, an honor that PMCCC supporters said went, at least in part, to Whittaker.
In honoring Whittaker, Shields read excerpts from two individuals: Whittaker’s son, Casey, and her boss at Adventure Communications, Danny Clemons.
“You deserve this. I am so happy to see the accomplishments and the effort you put forth every day,” Casey Whittaker wrote his mother.
Meanwhile, Clemons referred to Whittaker as his “right-hand person” and a person he trusted, as the sales manager for the stations he operates. Clemons said Whittaker works with a sense of integrity and ethics that are rare.
“Pat is much more than an employee. I am proud to call her my friend,” Clemons wrote.
Whittaker, who said she thought she might pass out when her name was called for the Volunteer of the Year honor, said her mother would likely be chuckling in Heaven.
As a child, Whittaker said her mom often found her in a field or climbing a tree, not playing dress-up in grown-up gowns and high heels.
“I’m sure she would be laughing right now, if she knew I were actually the director of a pageant,” Whittaker said.
She accepted Tuesday’s honor, but she said she shared it with the many people who made the Miss AutumnFest pageant a success, particularly Charlie and Marquetta Mathena, who provide the Mathena Center each year for the pageant.
“[The competitors] feel like they are competing in the Miss America pageant,” Whittaker said.
Dr. Randy Maxwell delivered the news that Ramey Auto Group won the coveted EXCEL Award, reserved for businesses in the region. He focused much of his address on James C. Ramey Sr., who started Ramey Auto Group with three used cars on his mother’s Tazewell County property more than 55 years ago.
Ramey was a star athlete at Tazewell High School, who graduated and joined the military. Once his service was complete, Ramey returned home with “$1,500 and a lot of ambition,” Maxwell said.
Since then, the presenter said Ramey has learned a lot and taught many people much about cars, business, how to be nice to people, and the importance of all three.
The dealership that began humbly now boasts eight new car locations and 13 used car dealerships in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.
According to the website rameycars.com, “Whether you're looking for a Chevy, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Toyota, Scion, Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge or Mitsubishi, you'll find the right vehicle for you at your local Ramey Auto dealership. From fuel-efficient sedans to hard working pickup trucks to roomy family vans, Ramey Auto offers an incredible selection of new and used models for every budget.”
Over the years, Ramey’s marketing managers promoted the slogan, “We Do the Deal,” but Maxwell said the message is actually a promise to do everything possible for the customer to make the deal right.
There’s more to Ramey Auto Group than just sales.
The Ramey website continues, “Our dedication to providing genuine customer service does not end after the sale. Ramey Auto's convenient service hours and factory trained technicians make auto repair, service, and maintenance fast and easy. Whether you're browsing our inventory or bringing your vehicle in for service, you'll be treated like family every time you walk through the door of one of our car dealerships.”
Ramey accepted the honor, with a brief speech.
“What else could I add to that?” he asked.
But, he did take time to thank all of his friends who doubted his business’s potential, thus driving him on to succeed.
When the PMCCC dinner participants thought the evening was finished, Mercer County Schools’ Assistant Superintendent Rick Ball surprised them with another presentation — this time with the Eagle Award that salutes leaders who inspire, rather than flock.
Ball said he knew many people among the audience considered the eagle as a strong, independent symbol of American freedom, but he asked them to imagine another sort of eagle — one with tiny eaglets in the nest, who need nurturing.
“That eagle mentors. That eagle teaches; that eagle inspires,” he said. “That baby eagle has to learn to fly. That baby eagle has to learn to hunt.”
Tuesday, that was the sort of eagle Ball recognized, as he presented Princeton Senior High School Tigers Marching Band Director Julia “Julie” Kade with the Eagle Award.
Just like the eagle raising its young, Ball said Kade carries a bull horn and parades through the summers atop the hot asphalt of the PSHS parking lot, all in a bid to teach her high school students how to roll-step with inspired precision and noteworthy excellence.
“She helps them see something that can be award-winning,” he said. “She helps them see that the whole is greater than its parts.”
Kade started her teaching career in Greenbrier County, but she found her way to Mercer County as a traveling music teacher.
Today, her professional niche is as a band director that propels students to new heights, proving that the football or basketball teams are just one reason to attend a PSHS athletic competition, and that accomplishments won playing music are just as valuable and momentous as the ones garnered on a playing field or court.
— Contact Tammie Toler at email@example.com.