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FRANKLIN’S FINEST: Annual Partnership Awards honor county’s dedicated citizens

When the Franklin County Chamber/Franklin County Development Authority’s Partnership Awards Ceremony was forced to cancel last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the community lost an opportunity to praise the people making a difference across the county.

This year, that opportunity returned – albeit in a more limited fashion than in years past.

The decision was made to limit the attendance to this year’s Franklin County Partnership Awards Ceremony because of COVID,” explained chamber executive director Cassie Medley. “Our main concern was the health and safety of the recipients, their families and the staff of the A. W. Todd Center.”

Attendance was limited to award recipients and their plus-ones. In addition to this restriction, the ceremony, held the morning of March 25, also faced the challenge of expected inclement weather.

“The Franklin County Partnership Awards Ceremony went well with the limited attendance and severe weather,” Medley said. “I did miss the larger gathering but am thankful that we were able to have the event.”

FCDA executive director Sherye Price agreed. “I think the event went well for what it was. It is unfortunate that the limited attendance did not allow us the opportunity to acknowledge the other nominees.”

Winners were named in many categories of impact – example, the Beautification Award, which went to Russellville Florist & Gifts in Russellville, Oliver Place Apartments in Phil Campbell, Hotel Red Bay in Red Bay and Willow Oak Lodge for Franklin County At Large.

Oliver Place Apartments provides high-quality housing that is also affordable for the people in the Phil Campbell area,” noted the ceremony presentation, praising the apartment complex’s outside gazebo, grill, picnic area, playground and community building with wireless Internet, community cable TV, laundry facility, exercise room and computer room.

Russellville Florist and Gifts, owned by Chase Sparks, was commended for its major role in the revitalization of the downtown area. “Russellville Florist and Gifts offers a unique downtown southern experience that will not only beautify but enhance the economy and tourism for Russellville,” explained the award presentation.

For its part, Willow Oak Lodge was described as the place where owners Tim and Kim Horton “found their most enjoyable moments” – a joy they have now opened to others.

The Business of the Year Award went to Russellville’s Gault Signs, owned by Andy Gault. The third-generation business is “an iconic fixture of Franklin County, being in business for over 100 years.” 

Russellville’s King Drive-In received this year’s Best Kept Secret Award, as it is “the oldest remaining drive-in theater in Alabama. It is a family-oriented business welcoming adults, teenagers and kids alike to enjoy the atmosphere and fun times watching the latest movies. Kings Drive-In is a big part of Franklin County’s history, drawing patrons from Franklin, Marion, Winston counties and the Shoals.”

Distinguished Service Awards, designed to honor individuals “who contribute and demonstrate an unselfish service in Franklin County” as well as “enrich the lives of others with integrity, impartiality and generosity” went to Jennifer Warhurst of Phil Campbell, Scotty Kennedy of Red Bay and Melanie Malone of Russellville.

In honoring Warhurst, principal at Phil Campbell Elementary School, the awards committee particularly highlighted her excellence in service and leadership during the challenges of 2020. “When schools closed, she led her teachers to keep students engaged and learning. She overcame the technology barrier and encouraged teachers to think outside the box.”

Kennedy, for his part, was described as someone who “completely embodies what this award describes,” praised for the way he “selflessly devotes his time, energy and resources to Franklin County, more specifically Red Bay. With his role in the Red Bay Civitans, the Red Bay Museum and many more clubs and organizations, Red Bay and Franklin County are a much better place.”

As owner and nurse practitioner of Mission Medical, Malone was praised for her “kindness, humility and diligence as she serves Franklin County.”

“She has set herself apart by faithfully serving in many areas of our community by meeting medical needs and improving quality of life. She takes time with her patients so they feel valued and heard. The past year has been difficult on healthcare workers, but she has not hesitated to step in and attentively and passionately serve Russellville and Franklin County.

Three special awards each year are the Volunteer of the Year Award, the Roger Bedford Unsung Hero Award and the Hall of Fame Award – which this year were presented to Milford “Mousy” Brown, Jocelynn James and Judy Pounders, respectively.

Brown “has dedicated his life to the fight against cancer. He works all year, raising money in various ways, to support life-saving research. Because of his dedication and determination, countless lives have been saved.”

James, in winning the Unsung Hero Award, was recognized for going the extra mile to get involved in programs and events that benefit Franklin County. The Unsung Hero is one who displays leadership, initiative, creativity and dedication, who inspires others to get involved and make a difference in the lives of others.

This year’s Hall of Fame Award was presented posthumously to Pounders, who passed away in December 2020. Her sons, Darren and Dustin Pounders, accepted the award on her behalf.

“Many knew Mrs. Judy Pounders because she was a wonderful lady, teacher, guidance counselor, friend and role model,” said Medley. “She truly embodied the phrase ‘Forever Golden’ and was a pillar that upheld the Russellville City Schools’ ‘Tradition of Excellence.’ What better memorial for her 48 years of service to the Russellville City Schools system than to be posthumously awarded the Hall of Fame award.”

The award honors Pounders as someone who “instilled a love for learning in her students and made sure they left her classroom with the necessary academic knowledge they needed, along with life lessons they would never forget.”

Following her tenure as a teacher, Pounders served as guidance counselor, a role through which “she helped countless students prepare for their futures outside the walls of RHS. She helped students apply for scholarships, helped them choose the right classes and gave advice on what careers might best serve them. There is no telling how many alumni she helped get started on the right path while in this position until her retirement in 2007.”

Following her retirement, Pounders continued to serve the school system on the board of education. “She understood the importance of working with her fellow board members and each superintendent in a way that would help the work being done at RCS. She was honored by the Alabama Association of School Boards as an All-State Board member, the highest honor a school board member could receive.

“The loss of Mrs. Pounders will certainly be felt by so many in our community. She was a force for change, improvement and excellence in the RCS system. There is no doubt RCS is a better place for having her influence as part of the system for 48 years.”

In other education-based awards, the chamber and the FCDA jointly select Educator of the Year recipients – awards that this year went to Red Bay’s Jarrod Massey and Russellville’ Angela Crittenden.

For this year’s industry based awards, recipients were The Girard Group, Excellence in Industrial Growth; Pilgrims, Industry of the Year; Russellville Electric, Industrial Support Award; and the Gist Family, the Robert I. Rogers Award.

Of the latter, Price commended the family as “one of the longest-run companies in Franklin County. They are closely involved with the FCDA as well as the community, economic development and workforce partners.”

Price praised The Girard Group for increasing employment each year, noting the company has “already had much success in their short time” since opening in Red Bay in 2019.

Pilgrims, Price said, “has shown dedication to the City of Russellville, Franklin County and their employees,” and Russellville Electric “went above and beyond for some of the industries that have been dealing with the internet issue in Russellville Industrial Park. To assist one of the companies, RE called a crew in on their off day to take care of the company.”

“It is important to acknowledge Franklin County’s businesses, industry and leaders,” Price said. “The industries employ our citizens and provide a tax base for Franklin County. Educators are the first line for Franklin County’s future workforce.”

Medley agreed, touting the importance of shining a spotlight on superior Franklin County people, businesses and industries “because they do not always receive the due recognition for going above and beyond.”

Brett Bendall, Franklin County Chamber president, presented the Chamber’s awards. Price presented the FCDA awards.

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