The 48th Annual Lonoke Chamber of Commerce Appreciation Banquet was held this past Saturday, April 29, at the Gina Cox Center with Rex Nelson as the keynote speaker.

Rex Nelson, who is viewed as an expert on Southern history, culture and politic, spoke to guest about his past and what future holds for a prosperous community of Lonoke. A few words of wisdom Nelson offered, was to focus on things that affect people, primarily the younger generation, rather than solely on enticing industry.

“To many communities in our state, focus on the wrong things,” Nelson said. “They focus on industry that may never come, when that would take care of itself, if you put the focus on things that directly affect people. Things like the school district, like health care.”

Nelson said attracting people to the area, rather than industry, is the key to a thriving community.

“If you keep your eyes on that prize, then I assure you the talented young people that grew up in this area will look back down the line… even if they left and say, “I like what’s going on back home in Lonoke”, “I’m going to come back there and raise my family there”, “I’m going to have my business there.” And this community as it has done for so many years, will continue to thrive. Congratulations on what you have built, and good luck going forward.”

During the awards presentation of the banquet, the FBLA scholarship was presented to Charles A. Creggett II. He is a senior at Lonoke High School and the son of Charles and Angela Creggett. He is the FBLA president, a member of the national honor society, Spanish club, East Club, Jazz Band, a percussionist, the 2017 Drum Major and an office aide. This fall, Charles plans to attend Henderson University in Arkadelphia where he plans to major in business management and minor in music.

The 2017 Educator of the Year award was presented to Lonoke High School Science Teacher Rebekah DiGiacomo. She is in charge of the Science Club , science fair and has been employed at the Lonoke School District for five years. She is said to be a wonderful teacher that cares deeply for her students, encouraging them to never give up and dream big.

Special recognition award went to the Wade Knox CAC and Director Karen James for organizing the inaugural Lonoke Christmas parade on Dec. 4.

The Lonoke Acorn award was established to recognize a person or persons that gives the extra that is always needed for a project to be successful, and this years award was presented to Ryan Biles, who has been spearheading the Kickstart Lonoke Program and doing a great job keeping citizens informed of the progress of the program and also writes a twice a month column for this paper, Look at Lonoke. He is a vital member of the Lonoke Lions club and has brought several new ideas to the club concerning service projects and fundraiser opportunities. Biles has also served on the Carver Alumni board for several years. He is said to be smart and service driven to improve the community by donating a great deal of time and energy to various programs that will help the community continue to grow and aspire to be a place where everyone wants to live and raise their children and industries want to prosper.

The Order of the Oak Tree is an award established to recognize individuals or groups deeply rooted in community involvement and this years award was presented to Jesse and Rayetta Lake of BDL Enterprises. The Lakes are said to be a couple very committed and dedicated to the Lonoke Chamber and the community. They are long-time chamber board members who have made a major impact to the chamber and committees they have worked on. They are very instrumental in volunteering and have helped with events such as the Shoot 4 Fun, Merry Thanks, the Chili Supper and the John Garner Retirement Luncheon. The couple has been in business in Lonoke for the past 10 years.

Beginning in 1970, one year after the Lonoke Chamber was established, they chose to recognize a man or woman for their diligence, devotion and untiring efforts to the community. In 1992, the award was changed to the “Citizen of the Year” award to include organizations, such as civic or service clubs and groups serving in the Lonoke Community. The 2017 Lonoke Citizen of the Year award was presented to new Chamber director Hannah Harris, who is known as a faithful friend who contributes her God-given talents for the betterment of her community and a woman who goes the extra mile for Lonoke. She worked as former director John Garner’s assistant and served as first vice president on the Chamber of Commerce Executive Board. In September 2016, she was asked to manage the Chamber of Commerce until a new director was hired, a position she later took.