Thursday, February 9, 2006

Chambers, IDA hand out awards

Staff Writer

Photos by Sue Watson
School of the Year
Arvern Moore accepts the plaque for School of the Year award on behalf of ICS Head Start.

Hunter Fan, Fitch Enterprises, ICS Head Start and Cravin Turnage were tapped for recognition at the fifth annual Marshall County Awards Luncheon last week.

The event, begun in 2001 to recognize industry, business and school of the year, was developed by the Chambers of Commerce in Holly Springs and Byhalia. Marshall County Industrial Development Authority joined as a sponsor this year. The Teacher of the Year Award was added in 2003.

Author and storyteller Walt Grayson, guest speaker at this year’s awards luncheon, spun tales and drew lots of laughs from a crowd of about 140 guests.

Afterward, Grayson signed copies of his latest book, “Looking Around Mississippi with Walt Grayson.”

Grayson is also known for his travels around Mississippi chronicled in the “Mississippi Roads” television series he hosts for Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Business of the Year
W.O. “Bill” Fitch accepts the plaque for Business of the Year award on behalf of Fitch Enterprises.

A husband, father and granddad, Grayson shared intimate and humorous tales of how he worked his way into television as a part-time weatherman while working in radio broadcasting. He shared anecdotes regarding twists and turns in a career that brought him to traveling about the state picking up features of interest and numerous personal tales about his granddaughters, Kayleigh, Emily and Taylor - all to illustrate some important lessons of life.

He remarked how tastes, in music for example, change with each generation and how music connects or divides the older and younger generations.

“You call that music?” he asks a granddaughter.

But he holds back from complaining too much because 6-year-old granddaughter, Kayleigh, is the one who knows how to program his cell phone.

Kayleigh was tense about not knowing how to read before she started kindergarten unlike her sisters who already knew how to read at that age. But teaching an eager granddaughter to read can backfire sometimes.

When Kayleigh picked out a word on a page of a boring read Grayson labored with in the evenings, Kayleigh spotted and correctly pronounced a word he didn’t want to have to explain.

That was one of many comical moments he shared with the audience.

Grayson, whose interest in broadcasting began in high school as an announcer for Greenville’s WJPR radio, transitioned to television gradually, while he worked at Jackson’s WSLI radio station.

Teacher of the Year
Cravin Turnage accepts the Teacher of the Year award.

He was hired as a part-time weatherman and occasionally was called on for a travel feature at Jackson’s WLBT with the intent he would replace weatherman Woody when he retired. Woody had been around since the station launched in 1953. The director thought Woody would be retiring soon and wanted someone trained and ready to go when Woody left, Grayson said.

Five years passed and Woody had not retired. Then another five years passed and Woody was still working.

In 1984, Grayson got his shot at weather anchor, a job he had looked forward to for 10 years when Woody finally quit work.

After only two years as full-time weatherman, Grayson found out he didn’t like full-time weather reporting as much as he thought he would.

He also covered some hard news stories at WLBT which, he said, was “kind of like a job, not all that exciting,” not his cup of tea.

“It was like Saddam Hussein being interviewed by Willard Scott,” he quipped. “He (Willard) can do it, but not so good.”

After working on features for The Spirit of Mississippi Awards, Grayson said he learned another lesson.

“Time is going to pass anyway, so you might as well spend it doing something you want to do,” he said.

Industry of the Year
Mike Bradford accepts the Industry of the Year award on behalf of Hunter Fan.

Travel features is what Grayson became known for.

“Look Around Mississippi” features air on Friday at 5 and 10 p.m. at WBLT Channel 3. The series first aired in 1990.

He also has done over 200 travel features for Mississippi Educational Television’s “Mississippi Roads” which he hosts.

Grayson spoke of how life tends to “crowd in on us” and how hard it is to “set our sights on something and start it.”

“The things you want to do will never get done if you don’t start them,” Grayson said. “There are things that, if we wait until we have time to get to it, won’t get done. We at least have an obligation to start. Don’t not start something just because you may not be here to finish it.”

His coffee table book “Looking Around Mississippi with Walt Grayson” is a collection of over 200 photographs with musings written in Grayson’s easy-going storytelling style.

Grayson also contributes a column, Mississippi Seen, in “Today in Mississippi,” a publication of Mississippi’s Electric Power Associations.

“Looking Around Mississippi with Walt Grayson” can be ordered for $39.95 plus shipping and handling. To place an order, make check or money order payable to Today in Mississippi. Mail the check to: Looking Around Mississippi, P.O. Box 3300, Ridgeland, MS 39158.


Mike Bradford, manager of Hunter Fan in Byhalia, accepted the 2005 Industry-of-the-Year Award on behalf of the company, himself and the employees. Hunter Fan moved its distribution center from Memphis to Byhalia in 1996. The Byhalia facility employs over 135 full-time workers, running two shifts. The distribution center recently nearly doubled its warehouse space and will open the new addition in June 2006.

Hunter Fan has donated products for community buildings, recreational areas and for door prizes and fundraisers as well as made direct donations to many causes locally.

A pro-education and pro-community company, Hunter Fan partners with Marshall County’s vocational technical programs and its employees serve on advisory committees and the Byhalia Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

ICS Head Start received the School-of-the-Year Award. ICS employs 188 workers from Marshall County and partners with three primary and elementary schools and a day care, locally. It serves 462 children ages 3-5, 16 infants and toddlers and 4 pregnant women.

Special grants ICS receives has impacted the area by providing technology training, self-sufficiency training for parents, family information, outreach for disabilities, reading fundamentals for youngsters, male involvement/fatherhood programs, and early literacy projects.

The Business-of-the-Year Award went to Fitch Enterprises, providing financial services to Marshall County since 1974.

Fidelity National Loans and Fitch Farms-Galena Plantation not only services the financial needs of residents, but through activities at Fitch Farms, serves recreational needs and promotes activities that benefit the citizens of Marshall County.

Fidelity National Loans is headquartered in Holly Springs and has 13 branches in north Mississippi. The corporation employs 62.

Under the leadership of Bill Fitch and his wife Joan, Fitch Farms-Galena Plantation attracts positive attention to Marshall County and draws visitors from England, Canada and Mexico. It is the home of two field trials that ignite interest in the area. The 7,000 acre plantation is instrumental in promoting Marshall County via the Internet, national print media, television specials and mass mail-outs.

Fitch Enterprises received the Congressional Award for American Financial Services and is a member in the Mississippi Consumer Finance Association and the legislative committee for Mississippi Finance.

Locally, Fitch Enterprises is actively involved in community and civic affairs through its active membership in Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, Holly Springs City Beautiful Commission and the Preserve Marshall County and Holly Springs Commission. The corporation sponsors many fund-raising events in the community.

Cravin Turnage, biology teacher at Holly Springs High School for eight years, received the Teacher-of-the-Year Award. He is one of a select group of teachers invited to teach distance learning classes via closed circuit television.

Turnage serves as chairman of the science department and takes personal credit for the high percentage of students passing Biology 1 state curriculum tests.

He is also valued for the contribution he makes daily to help fellow teachers and his selfless dedication and willingness to help others.

Turnage is an active church member, volunteer for the Ida B. Wells Art Gallery, and has helped with beautification projects at the campus.

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