By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Long-time resident Ernest P. Aune was presented the Braswell Hatcher Service Award at the Water Valley Area Chamber of Commerce Banquet last Thursday.
Outgoing Chamber President Bennett Hill welcomed the crowd and introduced Water Valley’s new Miss Hospitality Jillian Harris, who was the first speaker of the evening.
Harris, daughter of David and Gladne Harris, is a senior at Water Valley High School. She will compete in the statewide Miss Hospitality Pageant July 29-30 in Hattiesburg. “I’m so honored to be representing this wonderful town where I have grown up,” Harris said.
Mayor Larry Hart was next to speak and began by paraphrasing the words of Charles Dickens. “We live in the best of times and we live in the worst of times,” Hart said. “We certainly are living in some bad economic times.”
Hart explained that the bad economy was filtering its way down to local government because so much of what is done relates to petroleum or fuel. “It takes a lot more money to run your city now than it once did.”
To compound the problem, the main source of revenue – sales tax – is slipping after holding strong for several years. He said about a four percent decrease is expected which equates to about $16,000.
The Mayor then moved to the good times by outlining recent grants including $90,000 to renovate the City owned water tank at the BorgWarner plant and a $140,000 grant for the just completed SCADA installation for the water system.
He added that last year the City received a $250,000 grant from the ARC that will be used to match a state grant of around $300,000 for rehabilitation of the sewer system.
Hart continued his list of good things by talking about the jobs created by the recent addition at BorgWarner and future plans for added jobs at the Water Valley Poultry Plant. He said there was also a northern firm that wanted to move south that had the potential to create another 25 to 30 jobs here.
Following Mayor Hart’s address, Barron Caulfield, President of the Water Valley Ambassadors, presented some special awards to members of the North Mississippi Herald staff and columnists. “The Ambassadors believe there are some individuals in town who need to be thanked for what they do to promote Water Valley and the surrounding area,” he said.
Caulfield bestowed the title of Honorary Ambassador to Herald staff members Betty Shearer and Jack Gurner and to columnists Charles Cooper, W. P. Sissell, and Mick Howley.
Next was presentation of the Braswell Hatcher Service Award to Ernie Aune by Chamber President Hill.
Hill said that Aune is a 1947 graduate of Water Valley High School and a 1951 graduate of Mississippi State University. He served in the Air Force and his oldest son was born while he served in the US territory of Alaska.
Aune brought his family back to Water Valley where he and wife, Ernestine raised four sons. He had a 34 year career with Mechanics Bank and served as President and Chief Executive Officer for 15 years.
Aune is an ordained deacon at First Baptist Church. He is a charter member of the Lions Club and was instrumental in the restoration efforts for the old I. C. Depot that is now the Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum.
He was a member of the Jaycees and a long-time member of the Chamber of Commerce. He has been an Ambassador since the group’s inception.
After the presentation, Hill introduced the speaker for the evening Derrick Surrette, Executive Director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors. Surrette is a Water Valley native, the son of Ann and Butch Surrette, and a former President of the Chamber. He and his wife, Sherry, reside in Madison.
Surrette said that he was glad to be back home and added that he appreciated the support he had received from Water Valley throughout his life.
He talked about working for Farm Bureau right after Hurricane Katrina and the difficulties faced by a new, inexperienced agent in those difficult times.
Surrette told several funny stories about his experiences including one about getting lost while traveling to Lucedale. He stopped at a country store and asked an old man sitting on a bench if he had ever been to Lucedale. The old fellow said that he had. Surrette asked, “How do you get there from here?”
“Most of the time my son-in-law takes me,” the old man answered.
After the laughter subsided, Surrette began to tell about the work of his organization. He said that one of their main functions is to serve as a liaison between county government and the state and federal government.
He added that one of the things the MAS does of which he is very proud is the community college scholarship program. Each year the group gives three $300 scholarships to high school students in each of the 82 counties.
Surrette spoke of party politics and his belief that people are not fed up with government, as some believe. “I think it is more about politics, that’s what you really hear.”
He wrapped up his remarks with some comments about the budget woes faced by the state and federal governments and how these money problems would affect county government.
After Surrette, incoming Vice-President Daniel Martin outlined some of the programs for the Chamber’s upcoming year as well as other Water Valley events. He was filling in for incoming President Tonya Eubanks who was unable to attend.
Among the events scheduled for downtown in the near future is Music in the Park, which debuts on May 6 with the Sharecroppers. The World’s Largest Crappie Festival, sponsored by the Main Street Association, follows the next day, Saturday, May 7.
Martin said that Watermelon Carnival would be the first weekend in August again this year. “As always it will be a fun filled weekend,” he added.
Martin then introduced the other new Chamber officers and board for the upcoming year: Secretary Barron Caulfield, Treasurer Janet Dickey, Directors Clay Ashford, Jeff Bynum, Bennett Crow, Natt Dean, Ron Hart, Toni Hill, Linda Trent, and Chris Wilkinson.
He also introduced the Ambassador officers President Barron Caulfield, Vice President Mary Sue Stevens, Secretary Mim Carpenter, and Treasurer Melvin Ford.
As the program ended, Martin asked if anyone had any ideas or suggestions for the Chamber, to please share them with any of the Chamber officers or board members.