The Tallassee Chamber of Commerce held the annual Awards Night on Thursday, Feb. 25 at Restoration 49. The event was held virtually via Facebook Live. This year's banquet had to be canceled due to COVID-19 safety precautions.

"We regret that we are unable to have the banquet," 2021 President of the Tallassee Chamber of Commerce, Melinda Emfinger, said. "Hopefully we will be able to resume that next year."

Only a few board members and the night's award recipients were present for the ceremony.

"I would like to thank our Board of Directors, Restoration 49 for letting us use this beautiful facility, Jordan Cunningham for helping us with the Facebook Live and the sound system, and Johnathan Haywood for helping with that as well. Thank you to the Chamber members who are participating."

Mayor John Hammock delivered a prerecorded welcome speech.

"Welcome to this year's 2021 virtual Chamber Banquet. Jerry Cunningham and his Board of Directors have done an excellent job during these unprecedented times with COVID 19 and being able to have a banquet. We want to welcome everyone on behalf of the City of Tallassee to this year's banquet and thank you for tuning in," he said.

The silent auction, which is held yearly in conjunction with Awards Night was held virtually this year. The Chamber office was also open for walk-in bidding on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

"Thank you all, the community, for participating in the silent auction yesterday and today," Chamber Immediate Past-President, Cheryl Henderson said.

This year's silent auction raised a total of $3,380 which will benefit a deserving area student through the Chamber's scholarship fund.

Chamber Executive Committee member, Cory Eckstein, and Chamber Board of Directors member, Jennifer Crain, introduced the 2021 Chamber Ambassadors were also introduced during Awards Night. This year, Tallassee High School's Taliyah Adams, Steele Segrest, Faith Nelson, Emma Kate Holly, Lexi Love, Carly Hornsby, Kennedy Taunton, Tristin Carter, Haleigh May, Will Smith will represent THS as Chamber Student Ambassadors.

Tallassee Mayor John Hammock, Chief of Police Matthew Higgins, and several members of the Chamber spoke in prerecorded video segments during the event.

Chief Higgins spotlighted the members of the city's Public Safety Department. Pam Burton who has worked in communications at TPD for over 20-years, Senior Sergeant, Sergeant Chris Howard who has been a law enforcement officer for more than 20-years, and officer Perry Gilliland were honored with the Making a Difference Award.

Tallassee's Debra Hughey was also honored with the Making a Difference Award for her dedication to the community throughout the years. 

"Debra could very easily bear the moniker of ticket master, or the moniker box office for the Tallassee area," Cunningham said. "Over the years, she has sold thousands of tickets for many different events. Events include the Community Development Corporation Barbeque, Mt. Vernon Theater, McCraney Cottle Arts Council, Historical Society, Sons of the Confederate Veterans, area schools, and many other nonprofit organizations. She is also a published author and has sold numerous books for local authors. Year after year, Debra continues to be the top seller of the Kiwanis Christmas ornament. She has also offered her expertise in Native American history and was instrumental in helping to set up the Native American exhibit in the Talisi Falls Museum. Many of you have witnessed her theatrical parts in the Friends of Tuckabatchee play Tecumseh, which she helped to write."

Sarah Covington with Tallassee's Covington Healthcare was honored with a Making a Difference Award for her hard work and dedication to serving the community during the COVID-19 health pandemic, including the underserved in the community.

"In the past year, Covington Healthcare has been a different place," Cunningham said. "They decided that if someone has COVID symptoms, but no insurance or ability to pay, they would take care of them regardless. This was their way to slow the spread and the death toll."

Covington and her dedicated staff have worked tirelessly to vaccinate the unserved communities in the area, and with minimal reimbursement for the service, they consider it "volunteer" work.

Longtime Tallassee resident, Michael Bird, was honored with the Chamber’s 2021 President's Award.

"He and his family have been a part of the Tallassee Community for nearly two decades. He spent many happy years as the band director for Southside Middle School and founded the annual Tallassee Jazz Fest in 2010. Later, he moved over to one of the Choral Director positions at Tallassee High School," Emfinger said.

Bird is also a weekly columnist for the Tallassee Tribune since 2005 and has been a talk show host on Tallassee's WACQ since 2011.  He has also worked at SuperFoods since 2008. He also served a partial term on the Tallassee City Council as the representative for Ward 5. Bird was president of the Troy University Alumni Association from 2014-2016 and he authored a book about the Troy University band program. Book sales raised over $20,000 for music scholarships at the university.

"Over the years, Michael has participated in community service activities with the McCraney Cottle Arts Council, the Knights of Columbus, and in Troupe 59 of the Boy Scouts of America," Emfinger continued.

Bird and his wife Sienna have seven children, six girls, and a boy.

The Francis Wagnon Award went to Andrus Love, founder of the non-profit organization S.O.A.R Inc., and a valuable member of the Tallassee community who has spent countless hours giving his time to help others. Tallassee native, Suzannah Wilson delivered Love's introduction.

"I watched him grow from a kid into a teenager who thought he knew a lot, just like most of us do, into a man who really does know a lot," Wilson said. "And he shares his knowledge with others. If your child has ever participated in youth league sports here in Tallassee or sent in an entry to the artistic expressions coloring contest or joined in on the 2019 nighttime swimming program at the Tallassee swimming pool, then you have probably met Andrus Love. Andrus is the director of a nonprofit called S.O.A.R. Inc., which stands for Serving Others, Accepting Responsibility. It was his brainchild, and he has taken that idea and nurtured it into a thriving community action organization. Andrus is passionate about his work with S.O.A.R, his motto is One Love, One Life, One Lesson."

The nonprofit program serves people of all ages but focuses on transitioning young people into responsible adults.

"In addition to his artistic expressions competition. He has coordinated gun safety classes fishing trips, a summer swimming, and feeding program at the Tallassee pool and "Ask Andrus" an online discussion session, and many cleanup days for elderly people and single mothers. In September, he announced a lifeline for suicide prevention, and in October some of his young chefs participated in a chili sampling at the rec department. His office on Parker street includes a snack center and a science place a game room and a book center, and an art wall. He is always available to discuss any topic," Wilson said

In addition to S.O.A.R. Inc., Andrus has been an adjunct professor of psychology at Southern Union State Community College. He is a 1995 graduate of Reeltown High School.

"He served as vice president of the Student Council, was elected Mr. RHS, and excelled in basketball, baseball, and football, in which he holds a punting record of 67 yards," Wilson continued. "Andrus holds a master's degree in clinical psychology and counseling from Troy University, and a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from UAB. His work experience includes juvenile probation, electronic monitoring counseling, and case management affiliated with the Department of Youth Services and the Department of Human Resources mental health activity therapist affiliated with the Alabama Department of Corrections. Working with incarcerated adults, adult group home residential treatment, and Clinical Health Management. Andrus served as former chairperson of the Macon County Head Start program and president of the male initiative program. He has continually mentored youth and young adults within the counties of Tallapoosa, Macon, Elmore, Lee, Chambers, and Montgomery."

Love is the author of several books and is often sought as a panel guest or motivational speaker. Additionally, he has served many years as a volunteer coach of soccer and baseball. He is married to his wife Beatrice and has four children and three stepchildren.

In November, Love didn't feel well, and after undergoing tests, it was discovered that he has a rare aggressive form of cancer called Lymphoblastic Lymphoma Leukemia.

"Despite Facing a year's worth of treatment, many trips to UAB hospital, and hours of chemotherapy, sometimes around the clock, Andrus has maintained his faith and exhibited strength and optimism. He and his soar family helped make Christmas a little more joyful by providing Christmas dinner and gifts for a family of four," Wilson said.

Before starting chemotherapy, Love was able to complete his 2020 artistic expression contest, awarding students in Tallassee Reeltown, and Dadeville with prizes for their artistic creativity. Even from the hospital bed, Love continues to inspire others through social media posts and even applying a recent mentoring session for adults on how to cope with depression, and anger during the pandemic.

"Unfortunately, he had to have some unforeseen medical procedures and was forced to cancel the session, but he plans to hold it as soon as he can," Wilson said. "Even when Andrus himself is feeling physically bad and a little down and out, he finds a way to encourage others. Recently he posted some of his own words to offer hope and advice. Some of his wise words are, "You got to change", "Growth is everything", "God is everything", "The more you learn equates to the less you have to understand", "Treat everyone with respect and overlook no one", "Try to develop another pace", "Look to see life from the other side", "Run to assist those in need", "Appreciate different opportunities", "Evaluate life painted with color", "Learn to seek understanding balance both hands accordingly". One of Anderson's friends summed it up beautifully, 'He is a gentle giant with the heart of gold, a man on a mission, and a plan.' Andrus, I'm so proud of the man that the young boy has become, and we continue to pray for you. Thank you."

Tallassee’s Community Hospital was honored as the 2021 Business of the Year.

"It's my privilege to say congratulations to the Business of the Year," Tallassee's Don Bryant said as he introduced the organization. Thank you to the Chamber for recognizing, in a very deserving manner, this business. If 2020 was the year of COVID, I guess it appropriate that it's the year of the hospital. I don't know of any organization that has done more to persevere through this than the hospitals. The fact is until I joined the hospital board, I did not know what they had to contend with every year, even in a good year, and last year definitely was not a typical or a good year."

According to Bryant, Tallassee is privileged to have a hospital such as Community Hospital in the small city.

"I don't know if folks realize how fortunate we are to have a hospital in our town," he said. "Most towns our size don't have that. We are doubly fortunate to have a hospital that offers the services that it does, and, I guess, trippely fortunately because we have administrators and staff that we do at our local hospital."

COVID-19 changed the healthcare world.

"This past year, you hear healthcare workers referred to as frontline fighters, and that's not a loosely used term. It comes directly from warfare and this past year, nobody has been in the combat zone more than the folks in the healthcare field," Bryant said.

Community Hospital was founded in 1926 and has been serving the community for 95-years.

Last year's Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Lamar Godwin, owner of Godwin Flowers, introduced Mr. Joe Jeffcoat, owner of Jeffcoat Funeral Home, as this year's Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

"This year's recipient of the award was not born in or educated in Tallassee but he got here just as quick as he could. He was originally from Ashford, Alabama, but now proudly calls Tallassee home having been here for over 50 years," Godwin said. "Joe Jeffcoat has served the citizens of Tallassee and the surrounding areas in numerous ways. He has been a member of the Tallassee Rotary Club, having served as president of that civic organization in years past. He was an active member of the Tallassee JC's and served as president of that corporation when they were extremely active in our community. Joe served on the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce for several years. And he is a longtime active member of the First Baptist Church of Tallassee. Some years ago, he was presented with the Francis Wagnon Award by the Chamber for his volunteer contributions in our city," Godwin said.

Locally owned and operated since 1969, Jeffcoat Funeral Home serves families in the communities with quality care and compassionate service.

Emfinger closed the night's ceremony with a thank you and a reminder about upcoming Chamber events, such as the Downtown Sidewalk Sale that is slated for March 13.