Community leaders honored by Darlington Chamber

Standing ovations and applause filled the ballroom at the Darlington Country Club as nine community members were honored by their peers at the 2015 Greater Darlington Chamber of Commerce Award Banquet last Thursday, February 5.

Jonathan Bumgarner, Vice Chair of the Chamber Board of Directors provided the invocation, in which special recognition went to their “beloved board member, and friend to all” Sobie Soles Dixon of Agape’ Hospice who recently passed away in a car accident.

The board members were recognized by Chamber Director Hannah Stanley, who thanked them for their help and support: Executive Committee Members: Jannie Lathan, Chairperson, Lathan Consulting Corporation; Jonathan Bumgarner, Vice Chair, XDOS; Brian Bell, Treasurer, Nucor; John

Kimbrough, Past Chair, Retired; and Board of Directors Dianne Dennis, Wilson Senior Care; Desby Smith, Carolina Bank, Lamar; Harriet Hobbs, Genesis Healthcare; Dr. Greg Harrison, Darlington High School; Chip Wile, Darlington Raceway; Scott Gardner, Jeffords Insurance; Pat Cavanaugh, City of Darlington Fire Chief; and Matt Haynie, Pee Dee Electric.

Director Hannah Stanley unveiled the video that was created by her friend Seth Johnson, Interactive Media Developer at Coker College. Johnson is a graduate of Coker and of Mayo High School for Math, Science & Technology

Treasurer of the Chamber Brian Bell reported that the organization is holding it’s own, with currently $25,000 in the bank. “For those of you that were here three years ago, to get up here and say we have $8 grand in the bank, we’ve come a long way.

It’s a great thing- and that’s due to all the people who are in this room, which worked to get this Chamber back on solid footing.”

He went on to highlight the success of the July 4th Freedom Fest, with plans to make it even bigger and better; he also said the annual dues being grouped into a consistent schedule will aid in the Chamber’s annual planning instead of receiving dues sporadically- “to plan bigger and better events”.

The Chamber went through many struggles in the past few years and had a long list of short-term directors, and is attempting to make a concerted effort to provide more services for their members.

Legacy Award for 2015: The late Dr. Josiah S. Matthews
Jonathan Bumgarner presented the Legacy Award for 2015 to Mrs. Ruthie Matthews on behalf of her late husband, Dr. Josiah S. Matthews.


Mrs. Ruthie Matthews and Jonathan Bumgarner

“I’m honored to give this award,” said Bumgarner, who read from the nomination form describing Dr. Josiah “Joe” Matthews as caring moved with his wife and family to Darlington SC in 1961. “For the next 50 years he shared his talents with the Darlington community… caring for his patients…he was vitally interested in the community and its citizens. He was a strong proponent of education and encouraged not only his children and his grandchildren to engage in the lifeline pursuit of learning, he also encouraged the same for his patients and their children, who he felt were his extended family. For many years, he would go if needed into the homes of his patients to meet their needs or allow them to come to his home, the door was always open and his telephone was never off the hook. Dr. Joe Matthews’ love for the community and providing quality, affordable health care will be continued after his death as a result of his participation in establishing Genesis Health Care Inc. as a federally qualified healthcare clinic. His legacy of learning and service continues to be carried on by his beloved wife Ruthie and their children.”

Accepting the award on behalf of her late husband, Ruthie Matthews addressed the audience that lingered in their standing ovation.

“I want to thank the Chamber for giving my husband this award,” she said. “You know, he didn’t want to be praised and honored. But I thank you for this award, because he came to serve this community. He loved his patients. When I thought of the legacy award, we don’t say that word very much. Legacy is something that you leave, or you leave to some one. And his grandfather left him a legacy of wanting to help others.”

Matthews continued; “In WWII, he went to live with his grandfather, a doctor. He had one hour a day for office hours, just one hour; the rest were house calls. And he’d say, ‘Come on, let’s go’ and Joe would go. Joe wanted to be like his grandfather- he didn’t care about the name ‘Doctor’ he just wanted to and love his patients. I hope this legacy will continue on with the Josiah S. Matthews Foundatio, to help Darlington, starting with the Macedonia program with Patsy and T.C. (Sawyer); it will give back to the community- and that is so fitting. The community of Darlington has given us so much. He loved Darlington and I do too. It’s the best place ever.”

Lifetime Achievement Award for 2015: Lina Pearson
The Lifetime Achievement Award for 2015 was presented to notable educator for Darlington County, Lina Pearson, by the recipient for 2014, Wilhelmina P. Johnson.


Lina Pearson and Wilhelmina P. Johnson.

“It’s truly an honor for me to present this lifetime achievement award to this former teacher, to the Total Package”, and went on to describe her career: Pearson hailed from Greenville, a graduate of South Carolina State University who worked at Brockington Elementary for nearly 45 years; she then worked at West Hartsville, and later Lamar Elementary School. Other accomplishments include: Darlington County Education Association; SC Teachers’ Association; delegate to the National Education Association which took her around the country; administrative council at her United Methodist Church; Florence Alliance member of Delta Sigma Theta as Sergeant at Arms; an Order of the Eastern Star Chapter 88 as the Worthy Matron; a lifetime member of the Francis Marion Alumni Association; National Alumni Association Member of South Carolina State University as secretary and a life member; President of the South Carolina Retired Teachers Association.

“I am totally surprised,” said Pearson, accepting her award. “This is truly an honor. When I was a little girl growing up in the rural mountain area of Greenville, South Carolina, I had no idea that I would end up in Darlington S.C. for over 50 years. It has truly been an honor for me to be in Darlington and work with the girls and boys in the three different areas. And no matter how difficult a student decided to be, I had this motto that I made them repeat: ‘I am intelligent, I can think, learn and understand.’ And to this day, I have been retired from the school district since 2009, but students will walk up to me and say, Miss Pearson, I am still being intelligent. Thanks for this honor and I will certainly cherish it all the days of my life. Thank you.”

Citizen of the Year Award for 2015: Howard Garland
The Citizen of the Year Award for 2015 was presented to Howard Garland, City Manager for Darlington, by Chamber Director Hannah Stanley.


Howard Garland and Hannah Stanley.

“The person chosen for this award is so incredibly capable and so I feel so honored to present this award to him,” said Stanley. “He has done so much for Darlington, not just this year, but all of the time. He secured grant funding for the McLellanville Building Project to provides a public walkway to the Public Square; he secured funding for sewer expansion through Georgia Pacific, Nucor, Poly Quest; secured fund for four community Development Block Grants for improvements on water and sewer in Darlington, coordinated clean up of Darlington after the April 10th tornado worked, with Mayor Watkins and City Council to bring the new major retailer to the Darlington, secured funding for restoration of Carnegie Library, secured funding for sewer grant, worked with former city police chief to get cameras for police officer, worked with street and sanitation department, and new construction on West Broad Street; he served as President of South Carolina Municipal Association, served on Darlington County Habitat for Humanity Board for 5 years, and is a graduate of the Leadership of South Carolina, he served as Chairman of the South Carolina Cotton Trail, and SC Tobacco Trail…as you can see, the list truly goes on and on- he is truly deserving of this award.”

“Wow,” said Garland, accepting the award. “This is my home. I came back here at the behest of my brother, Robert, and Mayor Tony Watkins- and I am glad I did. But I can’t accept this without saying that this belongs to the employees of the City of Darlington. They are the ones that keep your streets safe, your streets clean, pick up your trash every morning at 7 a.m., make sure your water is good and clean, and make sure your toilets flush These are the folks that do the job every day; I just pick up the phone and answer it, and if there is a problem, I send it on to somebody else. We have 81 city employees who do an outstanding job for the City of Darlington, and without them I am nothing. Without my mayor and council, I am nothing. Thank you so much.”

The Educator of the Year Award for 2015: Dona Jo Brown
The recipient from 2014, Coach Ken Howle, shared with the audience an excerpt of her nomination form, a quote from Principal of Darlington High School, Dr. Greg Harrison: “As an administrator and I’m having a bad day and need something positive to assure me that we are truly making a difference in the lives of our students, I go observe this teacher’s class.”

Coach Ken Howle and Dona Jo Brown

Brown, a Darlington native, graduated from St. John’s High School in 1989 as a valedictorian, and in 1993 from FMU. She has taught in Darlington since 1993, first at St. John’s, and after the consolidation of the schools at DHS. Her honors include: Teacher of the Year in 1996; Honor Roll teacher and finalist for District Teacher of the Year; Science Department Chair since 1997; lead secondary science teacher for the Darlington County School District; earned Masters of Education from FMU 1999; earned National Board Certification in 2002; currently teaches in the DHS Early College serving as adjunct professor for FDTC on the DHS campus; and served as JV and Varsity Cheerleading coach.

Upon accepting, Brown said, “When I left high school, many of those that knew me thought I was going to immediately go to medical school – and I thought that myself. But, I always wanted to teach. I’ve been teaching for 22 years, and have been in my current classroom since the consolidation, and wouldn’t leave it for anything in this world. Those children are my heart- although all of them are bigger than me. I thank my school and those that support and work with me, and my family who supports me. This is a true honor.”

Small Business Person of the Year Award for 2015: John Isgett
The Small Business Person of the Year Award for 2015 went to John Isgett of Raceway Automotive Group, presented to him by 2014 recipient, Warren Jeffords.

“He has been in business for over 15 years and through hard work and dedication has seen his business prosper and survive even during the 2008- 2010 recession when many businesses of his type were going under,” said Jeffords. “He understood how to make necessary changes in order to weather the tough economic climate.” He serves on several boards, including: Darlington County Jetport Commission, Pee Dee Regional Council, Darlington County Chamber, Hartsville Chamber, and the S.C. Auto Dealers Association. He is a recent graduate of the SC Liberty Program, which covers the state with a network of diverse leaders that share a passion for South Carolina. He is big on shopping local and also investing back into the community. He believes if you take something from the community you need to put something back into it.

“Thank you very much, I appreciate it,” said Isgett, receiving his award. “Nineteen years ago Donna and I moved here, and I would be remiss If I didn’t acknowledge my great team at the dealership, and I contribute all success to themand Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay for believing in us 15 years ago when we started Raceway Automotive Group with the Ford store in Darlington. Thank you very much, I appreciate it, and I do love Darlington.” Future Business Leader Award for 2015: Keith Parnell (on right)

“It is a pleasure and an honor to present this award.” Said Jimmy Cooper, 2014 recipient. “This is a person that is a hard worker, and worked for more than 10 years to establish a business. He had the drive and dedication to grow his business step by step, and did a lot of the work personally, himself. Because of his dedication and perseverance, this person took a small welding shop, and helped it to grow into a diverse business- from a traditional welding shop with a powder coating and custom iron artwork. Future Business Person of the Year Award, Keith Parnell.”

“I’m speechless, and I don’t know what to say. To be getting an award for trying to provide for your family is kind of icing on the cake,” said Keith Parnell, winner of the Future Business Leader 2015 Award. “I want to thank the good Lord above, my wife…and I guess, Desby Smith from Carolina Bank for helping me out. This is an honor, and it’s going to look good on my wall.” [see his feature story 1A]

Community Pride Award for 2015: Janie Howell
The Community Pride Award for 2015 was presented to Janie Howell of Lamar by T.C. Sawyer, Board of Genesis Healthcare, recipient for 2014.

“Jannie has lived in Lamar for approximately for five years and in the Oates community for most of her life,” said Sawyer. “After moving to the town, she has worked to improve the Main Street area of Lamar. She has formulated what she calls the Downtown Pride Committee, and also initiative the Downtown Great American Clean Up, and found ways to improve all the areas in Lamar, and always had a solution for whatever problems come to her and in front of her. She is also an active member of Lamar United Methodist Church; served on the board of the Council on Aging; and she truly represents the essence of the Community Pride Award.”

Howell was genuinely shocked. “I do love for people take pride in what they do, and where they live,” said Howell. “I tell them in Lamar all the time, ‘It doesn’t matter what you have, it’s how you keep what you have.’ If you have a million dollar home, it’s okay but let’s keep what you got clean. And let’s make it neat. And that’s what we try to do in Lamar. I actually don’t think I need to accept this award without Fran Knotts- she and I take our golf carts out on Thursdays, with our pickeruppers, and we get out and clean,” she smiled. “We encourage people to clean their lots and their places. We’ve gotten so brave as to say, ‘May we help you get this place cleaned up?’ and you know, we haven’t had anybody tell us to go away. They are usually ..well, they are accepting. I’m still in shock. Thank you for this honor!”

Darlington’s Employee of the Year Award 2015: Lt. Steve Buffkin
The City of Darlington awarded their Employee of the Year Award to Lt. Steve Buffkin presented by City of Darlington’s City Manager Howard Garland and Police Chief Danny Watson.

Buffkin did not receive a plaque- but was given three days off, and $300 for his honor. He is a 36-year veteran of the Darlington City Police Department, and served under four chiefs. He is known for being a historian and currently serves as the SRO at Pate Elementary School. He began a weight loss program in July, and has lost 72 pounds to date, eliminating his diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol medication. “Steve is serving as an example to other people, and tells them, if I can do it, you can do it.” said Watson.

“I’m proud to be a member of this police force and to call Darlington my home,” said Buffkin. “And with this new lease on my health, I can be around a lot longer with my family and friends.”

The Board Member of the Year Award for 2015: Fran Knotts
Chamber Director Hannah Stanley presented the award to the outgoing board member. “What will I do without her!

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