BATESVILLE — 2020 is the 100th year of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, and on Jan. 24, approximately 450 people came together to celebrate not only the chamber’s accomplishments but those of the community it serves.
The chamber held its Annual Meeting and Gala at the Batesville Community Center. Roger Rich, 2019 chamber board chairman, said in his opening remarks that the gala is an opportunity to showcase the various aspects of community development and recognize the sponsors of the event.
He said he’s learned a lot in the past year, and it has been a pleasure to work with “such progressive individuals.”
“The work of the chamber is evident anywhere you go — people want to talk about what’s happening in Batesville and Independence County,” Rich said.
Lance Lamberth, the 2020 chairman of the board, said Crystal Johnson, chamber president and CEO, asked him to be on the board a few years ago, but at the time, he was reluctant and unsure if he wanted to be involved. She told him, “Lance, it’ll be fun; you’ll love it.”
He said those three words — “board,” “fun” and “love” — didn’t really seem like they would go together, but she persisted in asking him until he agreed.
“Overall, it’s been a great experience,” he said, and learning what all the chamber does “is dizzying at times.”
Johnson, who already has a long string of awards, including being named one of Arkansas’ 250 Most Influential Leaders by ForwARd Arkansas and on AY Magazine’s list of Intriguing Women for 2019, and receiving the Batesville Rotary Club’s Making a Difference-Community Award and the Batesville Kiwanis Club’s Citizen of the Year Award, was then presented with one more.
Johnson is marking her 10th year at the chamber, and the staff presented her with a plaque to commemorate her efforts and dedication.
“I feel fortunate to work with these people. They are pretty amazing. They keep us organized, they keep us on budget, and they make me look good,” she said.
She said this community has some of the most progressive leaders in Arkansas, and each brings a unique skill set to the many partnerships that have been built. Those partnerships, she said, make this community unique as the chamber, city/county, businesses/industries, health care sector, schools and others “are all working toward the same goals.”
Johnson also introduced the IMPACT Steering Committee, which will review and begin the revision of the IMPACT plan in 2020.
“It’s already been five years, if you can imagine that,” Johnson said. “These folks work at strategizing and bringing our community together to re-envision that plan.”
She also recognized the chamber’s 2020 ambassadors, who help with chamber-sponsored events, including ribbon cuttings, grand openings and others.
Chad Whiteaker was named Chamber Ambassador of the Year. Johnson described him as a “complete overachiever. He goes above and beyond, he exceeds the basic requirements, and he always shows up with a smile on his face and makes our businesses, especially our new businesses, feel right at home.”
Johnson then recognized the 2019 Leadership Batesville class, saying the program was designed to educate and prepare individuals for leadership roles in the community. It also allows the 16 participants a behind-the-scenes look to see what is going on in the area, but the class does have strict attendance requirements, Johnson said.
Four graduates completed the program with perfect attendance: Amy Finster, Michael McDaniel, Stone Shewmake and Angie Taylor.
Johnson then presented the five major awards, as follows:
• Leader in Health Care — Wood-Lawn Inc.: Accepting the award on behalf of Wood-Lawn were current board president Kenny Allen and past president Dr. Terrell Tebbetts.
“Independence County and Wood-Lawn began their relationship 60 years ago,” Allen said. “County officials recognized a need in helping those who couldn’t help themselves, helping family members as they had loved ones who needed taken care of.”
After the Neeley Street facility was constructed, Allen said, “We branched out from there” to build Wildewood Independent Living and eventually decided a new nursing home was needed.
“It was like that guy in Jaws who said, ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat.’ We had to find a bigger boat.”
Wood-Lawn did just that and opened a new nursing home called Wood-Lawn Heights a few years ago, along with Woodcrest Assisted Living. All three facilities are in the same block on Neeley.
“There is a continuum there that as you go through your life span, you have care at each point,” Allen said.
Tebbetts, who is the longest-serving board member and the only one on the board through the construction of all three facilities, said Wood-Lawn Inc. has outstanding leadership in administrator Judy Belcher and others.
• Leader in Education — Cedar Ridge Elementary’s Leader in Me Program: Accepting the award on behalf of the school were third-grader Slayton Ashley and fourth-grader AZ Ashley, children of Superintendent Andy Ashley; fifth-grader Addison Owens, daughter of Tracey Owens, curriculum director at Cedar Ridge; and fifth-grader Ian Craig, son of elementary assistant principal Shawn Craig, who also joined the students onstage.
The program focuses on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and as Wiley Osborn put it, “These are habits we as employers look for, and this is our future workforce.”
“Leader in Me is not just a program; it is a process,” Slayton Ashley told the audience. “We believe in the whole-child concept. We believe that every student … has the potential to become a leader.”
Addison Owens said some of the habits include “being a responsible person, planning ahead and setting goals.”
“We also learn to listen to other people’s ideas and feelings, work as a team, take care of our bodies, spend time with family and friends, and find meaningful ways to help other people,” AZ Ashley said.
Ian Craig said the recognition from the chamber strengthens the school’s belief that students have the potential to become successful leaders.
“Man, is it a great day to be a Timberwolf,” Shawn Craig said. “We started two years ago. [Cedar Ridge was] a low-D school, and now we’re two-tenths of a point from being a B, but we’re not gonna stop there — we are going straight to that A-plus.”
• Excellence in Customer Focus — Tooth Be Told Pediatric Dentistry: Lorrie McClure, Parents as Teachers coordinator for the Batesville School District, praised the district’s relationship with Tooth Be Told.
“We know a child isn’t going to learn if they’re sitting in a classroom with a toothache,” McClure said. “It’s hard to go out and find the perfect partner because they don’t need us to make their business work, and when I saw that she was coming to town and I heard how awesome she and her staff were, I knew that it would be a perfect fit. … You can tell she has a heart for children.”
Owner/pediatric dentist Dr. Lesley Milton said Tooth Be Told has only been in town for a year and a half, but the community has been so supportive. She also praised her staff for their efforts.
“It’s been such a blessing to be here, and I can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store,” Milton said.
• Community Collaboration — White River Health System’s Community Engagement Division: Southside School District Superintendent Roger Rich said the WRHS team is always willing to partner on projects, provide speakers and do so much more.
“It’s refreshing to have the [county’s] largest employer leading the way for all businesses and industries,” Rich said.
Accepting the award onstage were Gary Paxson, WRHS CEO; Jody Smotherman, vice president of community engagement; Amy Finster, community engagement coordinator; Michelle Wood, director of marketing; Toi McMullin, director of volunteer services; and Mary Cox, director of the internal medicine residency program.
Paxson said that in 2019, WRHS “began a journey into a new era,” focusing on employment engagement, patient engagement/experience and being better stewards of the community it serves, thus “making a difference.”
• Excellence in Business — Citizens Bank: Phil Baldwin, Citizens Bank CEO, said, “It’s nice to be recognized, but I would say it’s really nice to be a member of the Batesville community — what a fantastic community.”
In 2019, Citizens Bank not only opened its new headquarters on St. Louis Street, but the bank also celebrated 66 years in business.
“I will tell you that in 2020 we will hit a billion dollars. Something you may not know is that with First Community and Citizens, both having a billion dollars, Batesville will be the only city in Arkansas that has two billion-dollar banks headquartered in their town — not even Little Rock” can boast that, he said, to a round of thunderous applause and cheers.
Following dinner, banquet guests were invited to enjoy the outdoor seating beside fire pits with live music by Dillan Cate, and attendees could also take part in ax-throwing, as well as enjoy s’mores and hot chocolate or cider. Indoors, entertainment included music by Big John Miller and his band, a photo booth and custom drawings by Hannah Qualls, as well as a comfy area with a chalet vibe the set off the event’s White River Lodge theme.