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Greater Minden Chamber 82nd Annual Awards Gala

by Will Phillips

The Greater Minden Chamber hosted its 82nd Annual Awards Gala Tuesday evening at the Minden Civic Center. This event serves as an opportunity for the chamber to recognize both businesses and individuals who have seen great success or have made a positive impact in the local community. 

At the beginning of the event, Jennifer Spurlock, immediate past chair of the Greater Minden Chamber, took some time to highlight the accomplishments the Chamber had made over the course of 2023. 

“We were proud to hold an all-female executive board last year. There were several comments made, that we would spend more money than ever before, we would probably talk and not get anything done, but I’m proud to say in fact we were very financially responsible, and we found a way to pay off the chamber building,” said Spurlock.

“We were excited to hold eleven ribbon cuttings, that means eleven new businesses in town. We were sitting at 240 chamber members, and last year we welcomed 27 new members.

“We had 32 events.  We had over 1900 attendees at all of those events. We had over 130 sponsors, so thank you to each and every one of you at all of those events. We hosted our first new member orientation and will continue that.

“I just wanted to invite you if you are not a chamber of commerce member to join and become more involved, and I wish the board of 2024 and Mandi Hart continued growth and success over the next year,” said Spurlock. 

Later during the program, emcees Tracy Campbell and Jake Chapman took turns introducing the award winners for the gala’s various categories, those being Small Business of the Year, Business of the Year, Businessperson of the Year, Community Partner of the Year, Hometown Hero,  and the Lifetime Achievement Award. 

In the category for Small Business of the Year, Under Dawgs Sports Grill was selected as the recipient for 2024. “In August of 2021, Rick and Claudine Thomas opened the doors for the now beloved Under Dawgs Sports Grill. The list of friends and family who helped get this restaurant started is far too long but still to this day is very much appreciated. The owners along with the support staff helped turn an old bank on Main Street into a beautiful bar and grill which has developed over the years into an amazing restaurant that we all know and love,” said Chapman.

In the category for Business of the Year, La State Realty was selected as the recipient for 2024. “In 2023 La State Realty ended the year with more than $35 million in total volume sold. Out of 175 brokerages, was state ranked 14th in volume, 14th in total listings, and 13th in total transactions for the Northwest Louisiana Association of Realtors Board, placing them in the top 8% of northwest Louisiana brokerages. They are also ranked number one in Webster Parish. These numbers translate to 266 plus families and businesses served for 2023,” said Campbell. 

In the category for Businessperson of the Year, Mike Elshout was selected as the recipient for 2024. “Mike has invested and owned several businesses here in town throughout his career. Starting with a small motorcycle shop here at the corner of Lee and Dennis street in the late 70s into the early 80s called Mike’s Suzuki.”

“In the year 2016 an opportunity of a lifetime presented itself to step out of his mechanically inclined comfort zone, and start a new business venture in the small village of Dixie Inn, the birth of Mike’s Hometown Spirits,” said Chapman.

“Inviting Hugh Wood with his uncanny culinary skills to provide specialty meats and dishes made for the perfect combination locals couldn’t get enough of. In 2020 Mike had the chance to bring his business back to where his work career started exactly, the corner of Homer Road and Fort Street where our former Rite Aid building sat empty. I say that because in the early to mid 70s Mike worked his first job as a teenager on that same corner, at the Piggly Wiggly,” said Chapman. 

In the category for Community Partner of the Year, the Minden Foundation was selected as the recipient for 2024. “This nonprofit community partner is celebrating its 20th year providing financial support and other resources to residents and businesses in Minden and Webster Parish who’ve suffered catastrophic events. These events include house or business fires, tornadoes, sudden death, medical needs, and much more. What is unique about this organization is that they provide resources without fanfare on social media or any other news oriented outlets,” said Campbell. 

“While they have amazing community fundraising events including the Minden Charity Classic Golf Tournament and Annual Minden Foundation Skeet Shoot, various fun runs, and downtown mural installation community events, they also provide financial support for other community events Greater Minden Chamber’s Wine Walk, the Minden St. Jude Auction, and other parish-wide endeavors. Over the past 20 years the Minden Foundation has distributed more than $500,000s to Minden, Webster Parish, and surrounding families and businesses in need.”

In the category for Hometown Hero, Colin Campbell was selected as the recipient for 2024. “A hero is defined as a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities. A hero, a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character. When we think of the word hero, usually a first responder comes to mind. Someone who goes to work each day knowing that, if something bad happens, they are tasked to run toward it while everyone else runs to safety. Sometimes heroes are just ordinary people who do extraordinary things,” said Chapman.

“That’s what happened on Monday, November 13, 2023. It was supposed to be just another average Monday. Another day of classes. A day spent completing projects that were probably due that day. Instead, as this young man was driving back toward his dorm he heard loud screams from people needing help. He could’ve acted quickly and driven away, but he slowed down to assess the situation. Little did he know, a few moments before, a random attack occurred and four women were attacked with a knife. Two of those women were left with severe injuries who desperately needed help. This young man chose to lend aid to these young women and get them to the hospital.”

The time he saved that would’ve taken an ambulance to get there very well may have saved their lives. Unfortunately one of the victims, Amy Richardson, did pass away from her injuries, however that does not diminish the heroism displayed by this young man. It teaches us we never truly know what the day will bring. Our honoree was quoted saying, ‘It was just a good thing that God put me right there. I’m just very grateful to God that He put me in that situation to help those people.’ We are all grateful and proud that on that ordinary Monday in November, you chose to do any extraordinary thing. Congratulations to our Hometown Hero, Collin Campbell.”

In the category for Lifetime Achievement Award, Jack E. Byrd Jr. was selected as the recipient for 2024. “This individual has been a pillar of the Minden community for most of his life. He invested in the community, raised a family here, and has been involved in multiple businesses over the years. As a young professional this person worked himself through the ranks of his company and was so successful that he was asked to step out of his comfort zone and be the leader of a local financial institution. But he didn’t stop there. Two years later another financial institution saw what he was capable of and enticed him to take the reins of their organization,” said Campbell. 

“What happened next? Well, this financial institution experienced significant growth, became even more successful, catching the eye of a buyer who wanted to expand their footprint into Webster Parish, and he became an integral part of facilitating that project. After the merger was complete, he stayed on and became a regional president for eight years. In 2007, he had a chance to do it all again so to speak. Another local financial institution said ‘we need you,’ and he joined the team as president and chairman of the board, and what happened? Well, the same thing. This institution grew even more successful and caught the eye of a buyer, actually several buyers, but one that stood out among all others because of their organizational culture, desire to retain employees, and strong financial ground. And in 2018, he helped facilitate the sale of this financial institution to a regional bank that has since gone public on the NASDAQ stock exchange and, for several consecutive years, has been dubbed one of the best places to work.”

After the chamber presented its recipients with their awards, it was time for the Young Women’s Service Club to present the 2024 Woman of the Year. This year the recipient was Charlotte Jones and her biography was read to the audience by Marilyn Miller. 

“The woman of the year has served on the board of directors and often as an officer for the Dorcheat Historical Society, the Friends of the Germantown Museum, the Webster Parish Police Jury Office of Community Services, United Christian Homes, the Minden Historic Residential District Association, and the Downtown Minden Historical Association,” said Miller. 

“She has been an internet worker for the Minden St. Jude Auction for 25 years, she is a 2001 graduate of Leadership Webster, she has been a member of the Piney Hills Master Gardeners since 2012, and she is a member of the Town and Country Garden Club. For the past 40 years she has served as a trustee, an elder, clerk of session, treasurer, and Sunday school teacher for her local church. 

“Our woman of the year was a stay-at-home mom until all of her children entered school, and then she enrolled in Louisiana Tech University, and she earned a masters degree in business administration in ‘81 and her doctorate in business administration in ‘85. In ‘84 she joined the faculty of Louisiana State University in Shreveport where she taught business statistics, computer applications, marketing research, college algebra, and university work services. She served as professor and assistant dean of the College of Business Administration from ‘94 to ‘97 and as professor and dean of the College of Business Administration from ‘98 to 2009. She retired as dean in 2009 as the longest serving and only female business administration dean in the state of Louisiana at the time. 

“The ruby in our 2023 Woman of the Year’s crown has been her work with the United Christian Assistance Program, or UCAP, which she has directed for over a decade. Making sure that the needy are provided with food, clothing, rent, electrical and gas services, and housing assistance is a 24 hour, eight day a week non-paid job. There is always money to be raised and always someone to help at any hour of the day or night, and she does both so very well.”

After Jones was presented with her award, it was time for the Lions Club to present the 2024 Man of the Year award, with the recipient this year being Larry Milford and his biography being read by Brother Bill Crider. 

“The Webster Dictionary defines this man like this. A man who has a wide interest in many artistic and intellectual activities, and he is considered an expert in many of these. He has moved in and out of our presence on a routine basis in an unassuming manner, and we hardly ever notice folks like this until they sit down at the piano and play a classical piece of music, and then we realize that he wrote it. Or we see an award winning graphic design hanging on a wall somewhere. Maybe from a national or international show that he has that he has kept with him, and we realize that his name is written on it,” said Crider. 

“He won the best of show for a painting which was purchased by the Collin Foundation his senior year at Louisiana Tech. After graduation, he returned for one more year of study so he could earn an education degree so he could teach art in school. From then until recently he has been involved with these multi-artistic talents that God has granted him. 

“He was the graphic designer for AMF Beaird Company in Shreveport for eight years. He designed all of their brochures, the letterheads, the calling cards, and also he designed for and set up trade show exhibits in places like Miami, Houston, Chicago, New York, and the West Coast.

“After Beairds, he moved on and became an independent. He worked on assignments, freelancing, commissions, and contracts. He worked as a graphic artist, sculptor, events coordinator and color consultant, and many of his assignments were one of a kind. 

“He’s received so many honors and awards throughout the years, leaving his unique mark on the City of Minden and surrounding areas: the artist of the decade and also distinguished artist award from the Cultural Crossroads here in Minden. He was commissioned by Mr. Morris Sims to create the angel of hope sculpture that you see in the garden at First Methodist Church here in town as a memorial to his wife.

“Most of all, this man is a Christian gentleman. He’s been in our community now, as I said, 70 years. He’s been a deacon in his church that he serves in. He’s been a church pianist for almost 70 years since he was 13 years old. Tonight we honor the man of the year, Mr. Larry Milford.”

Each year the Chamber Awards Gala gives the community a chance to spotlight people who, to the wider community, may have gone unnoticed. Without it, the important work that individuals, organizations, and businesses put forth in order to make Minden a great place to live may otherwise go unsung. The work to make Minden a place where people feel welcome, happy, and proud to call their home.

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