Area standouts recognized at Berea chamber banquet

Contributed photo

Front row: Carter Heller (President's Award), Jacqueline Bowling (Woman of the Year), Don Combs (Special Recognition Award), Wes Napier (Man of the Year), Matt Rowlette (Agriculture Award). Second row: Chad Hembree, owner of Spotlight Playhouse (Business of the Year); Susie Harris (Educator of the Year). Third row: Duerson representing Hyster Yale Group (Industry of the Year); Nicholas Carpenter (Special Recognition Youth Award); Virginia Bland (Volunteer of the Year); Kelly Belcher (Health Care Professional of the Year. Not pictured: Nola Newman (Hall of Fame).

Many community members were honored last month at the Berea Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet. The festivities took place at the Berea Church of God. David Rowlette, executive director of the Berea Chamber, said, “We have served as a nonprofit service organization to Berea businesses since 1950.”

Nicholas Carpenter received the Special Youth Recognition Award. During his high school career, he founded the Different Abilities Support Club and worked on organizing the Berea Community School’s first event for autism awareness. His work and advocacy for people with autism has been recognized on local, state, and national levels.

The Berea Chamber’s Agriculture Award went to Matt Rowlette, who manages his family’s 55-acre farm. On the farm, he is responsible for raising cattle and growing hay for sale. He is the fourth generation farmer to work that land. Currently, Matt studies Agribusiness at EKU and is also very active in the Berea Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he has put in many volunteer hours with the Spoonbread Festival.

Educator of the Year was awarded to Susie Harris. In her 20 years of teaching, she has shown her ability to teach as well as nurture her students in various endeavors. She provided assistance to a student seeking to raise awareness of disabilities and has encouraged students to be involved with Special Olympics at Berea Middle and High Schools.

Kelly Belcher was named the Chamber’s Health Care Professional of the Year. Belcher, who graduated from EKU, is now regional director of Bluegrass Health Partners. She is known for her compassionate, holistic care of patients. Her career began at the Terrace as a nurse.

The 2019 Hall of Fame Award Winner is Nola Newman. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce and has played an active role in the Chamber for many years. Work on the Spoonbread Festival has been one of her major tasks each year. As a survivor of cancer, she has also served as a leader on the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life on multiple occasions.

Industry of the Year was awarded to Hyster-Yale. A local business since 1973, they have employed many community members and supported the economic growth of Berea. Their Corporate Charitable Contributions program offers funding support to groups such as the Rescue Squad and the volunteer fire departments in Madison County and beyond.

Spotlight Playhouse took home the Business of the Year honor. The organization has been in operation for 15 years, performing over 200 shows per year. Owner Chad Hembree accepted on their behalf.

Virginia Bland won the Volunteer of the Year Award. She has volunteered with a large variety of events for schools, civic groups, and local and state organizations. Some examples of her volunteer work include city cleanups, the Murals of Berea project, and the ARC of Kentucky and the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities. She has also been appointed to the Berea Human Rights Commission.

Jackie Bowling, retired educator, won Woman of the Year. She volunteers many hours with local precincts for elections as well as numerous Chamber events.

Wes Napier took home the honor of Man of the Year. He takes on many roles within the Spoonbread Festival, Christmas Parade and GeoTour. He has also served as Facilities Manager of First Baptist Church in Richmond. He was president of the Richmond Kiwanis Club last year and was instrumental in making their charity pancake breakfast a top fundraising event.

The Special Recognition Award was presented to Don Combs, local businessman who employs many area people in various types of work. He previously served in the Navy. Some have described him as a “walking history of Berea’s small businesses”.

Upcoming events sponsored by the Chamber include the Christmas Bazaar at College Square and the Twilight Christmas Parade, both on Saturday, Dec. 7. For information on the Berea Chamber of Commerce and all of its community work, visit

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