Chamber awards gala is Thursday

Published 1:30 pm Monday, November 6, 2023

It is going to be a dazzling evening of glitz and hometown recognitions as The Harlan County Chamber Of Commerce hosts its 2023 Awards Gala on Nov. 9, honoring the stars of the area who have made their communities brighter places in which to live.

Sponsored by Appalachian Wireless, the chamber is planning the evening at The Harlan Center to not only spotlight local VIPs but also to place the importance of community involvement and promotion in the limelight.

Gail Hensley of Harlan Health And Rehabilitation Center Long-Term Care is this year’s chamber awards gala chair and provided some information about the event in a recent interview.

“It’s a big event for The Chamber because it allows us to recognize local businesses and individuals who are an asset to our community,” Hensley said. “These people go above and beyond to make Harlan County a better place. We invest a lot of time and effort into this event to make it special for those being recognized, but also offer something interesting and fun for all those who attend.”

Hensley described this year’s gala honorees  as “a wonderful group of well-deserved award winners.”

“What stands out about this group is the longevity, selflessness, and dedication of these folks,” Hensley said. “We were trying to think of a theme that relays the meaning and purpose of the gala, and we chose ‘Starry Night,’ because the gala is about recognizing some of our community’s brightest stars. These individuals, businesses, and organizations have contributed so much to our county. We are fortunate and very blessed to have them.”

The night of Nov. 9 including recognitions in business, non-profit, community development, customer service, healthcare, education, and volunteerism.

Two of the most esteemed awards that will be presented will include Harlan Countian Of The Year and the Harlan County Chamber Of Commerce’s Lawson/Hoskins  Lifetime Achievement.

Harlan County Chamber Of Commerce president Ron Frazier, who is a vice-president at Hearthside Bank and branch operations manager in Harlan, said the Lawson/Hoskins Lifetime Achievement Award was named after the late Gayle Lawson and Gladys Hoskins, two longtime, devout community volunteers who worked tirelessly to see progress brought to the area.

Frazier said the chamber’s selection of Dr. James Greene was an appropriate choice in recognizing the persistence and passion that goes into community development and furthers the work of the late Harlan County trailblazers who embodied the spirit of community engagement and enhancement.

“Dr. Green has been a teacher, school administrator, structural supervisor for over 50 years, and award recipient for his outstanding contributions to education,” Frazier said. “His knowledge of Harlan is noteworthy, giving lectures on the origins of Harlan and our transformation in the early years. He also has served on the Kentucky Historical Records Advisory Board and Pine Mountain Settlement School Board of Trustees. I am glad that we are able to express our deep gratitude for the dedicated work he has done day after day with honoring him with this Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Greene’s daughter, Betsy Burkhart, a retired band director at Harlan High School, described her father as a humble man but much deserving of the recognition. She said a co-worker at school once described her father as a Renaissance man and that she could think of no other better label.

“To people who know him from school, he is a brilliant educator, but to those who know him from church, he is a gifted musician and a solid man of faith,” Burkhart said. “Some in the community know him for his love of history and his vast knowledge of Harlan County’s past, but to my siblings and my mom, he is just dad who fills the house with piano music, could always help find the answer to a tough homework question, who  continues to encourage us to read books and love learning as much as he does.”

Burkhart also said her father had contributed to many books about Kentucky and Harlan County, even writing some sections of the Kentucky Encyclopedia that was published during the time of the state’s bicentennial.

“He doesn’t usually write from his own desire to see his name in print but is usually asked to contribute an article based on his knowledge of the history of our region,” Burkhart said.

Frazier said the chamber’s choice for Harlan Countian Of The Year, Sharon Dean, exemplified the selfless volunteer spirit that has given the community its foundation of humanitarianism and compassion.

He said this year’s Harlan Countian Of The Year gives back to the community every day by volunteering at Christ’s Hands and organizing food and clothing drives for the homeless.

“Sharon Dean is also available to help with Lydia’s House, Cindy’s Place and the Hope Center (drug recovery programs),” Frazier said. “She started her volunteering career with Hospice Of The Bluegrass. She is a mentor to the youth and encourages them in every way possible. Sharon worked in education as a teacher, and then as a principal at Cawood Elementary School. She never expects recognition for her selfless work, and we should all follow her example for a better community.”

Dean is also a charter member and active in the Harlan Mission Outreach program and is retired from the Harlan County Board of Education.

The Rev. Sean Daniels, a pastor of over 20 years who currently heads up the Harlan Mission Outreach, said he has known Dean since he was five years old, dating back to when she was his school principal from first to eighth grade at Cawood Elementary.

“Sharon has worked non-stop with the Harlan Mission Outreach,” Daniels said. “She helps organize a lot of our mission projects in the community. She is very faithful to her Lord and to his church. She’s been a huge support of the work of the mission and is always willing to be hands-on.”

Daniels said it was Dean’s strong sense of dedication that made her worthy of the chamber’s distinguished award, adding that she is one of the most committed people he’s ever known.

The awards gala begins with dinner and entertainment provided by the famed E.G. Kite Blues singer and songwriter from Dublin, Ga., starting at 6 p.m.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for an open bar and mix and mingle. Taco Holler will provide dinner. Tickets can be reserved by calling (606) 573-4717 or by emailing info@harlancountychamber.com. Tickets may also be purchased on the night of the event. A silent auction will also be held during the awards gala with donated gift boxes and gift certificates.