MOULTRIE -- After more than 31 years putting his back into helping children realize their potentials, the Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce named Coach Samuel Stewart the Man of the Year 2002 at its annual banquet Thursday.
Stewart said he wish he would have known that he was being honored so he could have prepared a speech, but he said he should have been tipped off by the number of close friends attending the banquet.
Since his arrival in Moultrie in 1965, Stewart has scored big with community youth and their families, being described as a compassionate disciplinarian available to the kids every day.
After completing his tour of duty in the Army, he spent 31 years as an educator and in service to Moultrie's Recreation Department.
He was the head basketball coach at William Bryant High School before integration, as Roy Saturday's assistant for eight years with the Moultrie High basketball team and as an assistant football coach under Bud Willis.
But perhaps his greatest contributions to the community have come in the untold hours he has spent in the gym and on the playing fields with the youth recreation programs.
For more than 20 years, he has organized a summer program called "Kiddieland," which reaches out to over 100 children each year. He extends his personal outreach program to adults and children needing food, clothing and toys throughout the year.
He also is the organizer and director of the A.F. Shaw Gladiators, which is a group of 35 senior citizens who actively reach out to the community. The Gladiators, which nominated Stewart, began as an exercise class, but under his leadership, they evolved into a group that throws birthday parties for nursing home residents, adopts preschool classes, sends supplies to the Veteran Administration Hospital and feeds breakfast to other senior citizens.
Of the Gladiators, Stewart said they kept him straight all these years.
His gift as an educator goes beyond the classroom and into spiritual service through his involvement as an usher, deacon and Sunday school teacher at Mother Easter Baptist Church.
He is the husband of Barbara Stewart, principal of Stringfellow Elementary School.
Woman of the Year
The chamber's Woman of the Year distinction goes to Tracy Tucker, nominated by The Moultrie Junior Woman's Club.
Tucker moved to Colquitt County in 1982 and since has dedicated herself to developing three thriving businesses, Health Star, Inc., Medical Diagnostics, Inc. and Health Star Transportation Company, and to serving the community in varied ways.
Tucker said a tearful thanks to the crowd.
"We can only thank Moultrie for starting three businesses in one day from being unemployed. ... As far as volunteering in the community, it's an easy place to work in and a wonderful place to raise a family," she said.
She is a graduate of the chamber's Leadership Colquitt County Class of 1991, and she currently is serving on the Moultrie Technical College board of directors and was instrumental in helping acquire the $17 million state grant to build the new facility.
In addition to serving on the chamber board of directors, she was awarded chamber Ambassador of the Year in 1995 and again in 1996.
A member of the Moultrie Junior Woman's Club and the Moultrie Federated Guild, she and her family have been honored as the Family of the Year for both organizations. In 1998, she was awarded the Sam Walton Wal-Mart Business Leader Award, and in 2000 the FBLA Moultrie Technical College Business Person of the Year.
She has been a go-getter in every facet of the Colquitt County Arts Center as a member of the Arts Council, the Board of Directors and the Arts Alliance. She served as chairman of the Festival on the Square in 2000 and 2001.
She has been married to husband Butch for 36 years and has three children.
Agribusiness Person of the Year
Scott Hart is the chamber's Agribusiness Person of the Year.
Hart was born on a farm in Southwest Georgia, and throughout his life he has practiced his belief of the importance of agriculture in
In addition to teaching young people and adults as a vocational agriculture teacher, he has committed his time, energy and financial resources to his own farming enterprise each year. Through the years this has included peanuts, soybeans, cotton and swine. He set an example through careful management and application of tillage and conservation practices.
Hart has encouraged young people and adults in both the American Farmer Degree program and the Young Farmers Chapters. Five of his former students have become agriculture teachers and others returned to Colquitt County to establish their own farming operations.
After his retirement in 1999, he expanded his farming operation and established a diversified produce operation on Ochlocknee Ridge Farms, which has met the criteria by the Georgia Farm Bureau as a certified farm market.
Every fall and spring, preschool and elementary students from six area school systems tromp through his pumpkin and strawberry patches during literal field trips. For many of them, it's their first exposure to the world of agriculture.
He is married to Colquitt County Schools Nutrition Director Virginia Hart and was nominated by the Moultrie Junior Woman's Club.
Accepting his award, Hart said, "A lot of you remember in 1980 I was paralyzed, and God blessed me and healed me. I came back. ... Colquitt County is a great place. We moved here in 1972 to Doerun. ... Both of my kids came back home, I'd never thought they'd do it. ... We want to make a place for all of our young people to come back to Colquitt County to have a good paying job."
Chamber Ambassador of the Year
The honor of Chamber Ambassador of the Year goes to Rebecca Whitaker, a lifelong Colquitt Countian described by chamber officials as a "positive person with contagious energy."
In 2002, she accumulated unsurpassed "Ambassador points" and was awarded chamber "Ambassador of the Month" nine out of 12 months.
In her acceptance speech, Whitaker, a wife, mother of two and a grandmother, thanked God for being born in Colquitt County.
She is a CPR and first aid instructor for the American Red Cross and has served as the librarian at First Baptist Church of Norman Park for four years. She also has been a Girl Scout Troop leader and service manager for the past five years.
An employee of Quality Employment Services in Moultrie, she has earned a certificate in Employment Law from the American Staffing Association. She also was instrumental in opening a Quality Employment office in Tifton in 1999. Her work as an Ambassador for the Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce earned her Ambassador of the Year in 2000.
Community Spirit Award
In a new presentation, the chamber honored Lewis Hill posthumously with the Community Spirit Award.
Gail Hill, wife of the late downtown advocate and chamber retail chair, accepted the award.
New chamber Chair Sharon Herndon said, "From time to time, God places very special people among us. The person who is receiving this award is a very special person, and Moultrie and Colquitt County has been blessed to have him in our midst for several years."