BY HANNAH GOLDFINGER
The Opelika Chamber of Commerce held its 82nd Annual Meeting last Friday and presented several local individuals and businesses with awards to represent the big things happening in Opelika.
The Spirit of Opelika Award is the last award handed out each year, as Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller said, it’s a “coveted” award.
“This award goes to an Opelika citizen who is an outstanding individual that has brought exceptional benefit and/or recognition to our city, county and state,” Fuller said. “More than that, they possess the ‘it’ factor, that unique quality that makes Opelika special, that puts a smile on your face, that makes you feel at home.”
This year, Becky Brown, director of public relations for Opelika City Schools, was the recipient of the Spirit of Opelika award.
“When I think about what makes the city and the schools of Opelika great, I think of Becky, said Farrell Seymore, Opelika City Schools superintendent. “Becky is a timeless ambassador and champion for students. She goes to great lengths to promote the wonderful happenings in our schools and bridges the gap for those outside.”
Of course, awards aren’t the only thing that happened at the annual meeting.
Ali Rauch, president and CEO of the chamber, shared about Forward Opelika and the impact it has on the community.
“When you were with us all last year, we gave you a very, very small glimpse into our efforts, something we call Forward Opelika and the future home of the Opelika Chamber,” Rauch said. “Over the past 12 months, we have been working tirelessly on this initiative.”
Forward Opelika is an initiative to help businesses grow, attract people to the area to work and create new jobs, Rauch said. This includes things like a business incubator — a space to help small businesses grow and land on their feet.
“The reason this is important for the Chamber [is], to keep pace with what the city is doing, for them to have the kind of facilities that they need to do the kind of the job that is their mission to do,” Fuller said in a video played during the meeting.
The chamber is important to the city’s growth, Fuller said.
“This is the right moment for this whole initiative and the Opelika Chamber is the right organization to lead this endeavor in collaboration with our private and public partners,” Rauch said.
Rauch said that investing in this initiative is an investment in the city as a whole.
“We can only be successful if all businesses and stakeholders hold an interest in [Opelika],” she said.
$2.7 million has already been raised for Forward Opelika, Rauch said.
Part of this initiative looks like the construction at the former Opelika Public Library, which will be the chamber’s new home.
Another aspect of the annual chamber meeting is the “passing of the gavel” of the chamber board chair, which changed hands from Dr. Linda North to Dr. Jason Bryant this year.
“As I mentioned before, I have truly enjoyed serving as the board chair this past year,” North said. “Between raising $2.7 million for our Forward Opelika initiative to the record-breaking bridge campaign, our chamber also won two different awards this year: Our magazine from ACCE for excellence in communication and our CEO was recognized by the state as an outstanding emerging chamber professional with the Chamber Champion Award.
“Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the unforgettable Snopelika this year. This year has been a truly amazing experience for me. Next year, we are blessed to be welcoming Dr. Jason Bryant.”
Bryant said it would be hard to step in after the work North did.
“What a year we’ve had,” he said. “And it’s all been well represented in today’s annual meeting. … It is an honor for me to stand here today to serve as your next chair of the Opelika Chamber of Commerce. … I’m humbled to lead in this position and to work with such an outstanding group as we move Opelika forward.”
Many other awards were presented at the Chamber event, including:
• Keep Opelika Beautiful Shirley Flora: Tipi Miller
• Opelika Main Street: Evan Crawford and Matt Willis
• Auburn Opelika Tourism: Stacy Brown and King Braswell — Botanic
• Ambassador of the Year: Morgan Vickers
• Community Partner: Lee County Humane Society
• Young Professional of the Year: Nakeda Woods
• Emerging Business of the Year: Grandma Val’s Lemonade
• Small Business of the Year: Heritage House
• Minority Business of the Year: Dani’s Cheesecake
• Large Business of the Year: Bonnie Plants
• Woman of the Year: Sherry Cook with the Lee County Youth Development Center
• Distinguished Service: Eric Canada
• The Legendary Award: Peterson and Williams Funeral Home
• Chairman’s Award: Raven Harvis
• Visionary Award: Opelika Police Chief Shane Healey
Scroll through more photos from the awards ceremony below. All photos were contributed to The Observer.
The Opelika Chamber of Commerce, during the 82nd annual meeting, recognized Opelika residents from all professions and walks of life with its annual awards. The awards range from the “Visionary Award” to the “Woman of the Year” to the “Minority Business of the Year” to more.