LAWRENCEVILLE - More than 1,000 guests were in attendance Friday evening to celebrate those who, through their contributions, have made Gwinnett County a better place to live.
The ceremony and dinner, presented by Gwinnett Medical Center, took place at the Thomas P. Hughes Grand Ballroom at Gwinnett Center.
"The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce's 61st Annual Dinner is a time of reflection, celebration, and most importantly, a time of recognition of those who keep Gwinnett's future shining bright," said Jim Maran, Chamber president and CEO.
The highest honor of the evening - the 2008 Citizen of the Year Award - went to Sharon Bartels, Gwinnett Technical College's president since 1996. Bartels has been named one of Georgia Trend's 100 most powerful and influential Georgians and is credited with leading the school to a Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' accreditation. She also created the Gwinnett Tech Foundation and serves on the Early Learning Commission.
In 2008, Bartels was named a Gwinnett United Way Women's Legacy Award winner.
Bartels' acceptance speech was short and to the point. She began by saying she didn't expect to be there.
"You all really pulled one on me," Bartels said. "Yeah, I'm shocked ... I have to say that none of this would be possible without everyone here at this table. We're not going anywhere ... we do so appreciate your support of the college. Thank you very much."
The Chamber also remembered a man who is no longer with us physically, but whose contributions are everlasting by awarding the Legacy Award to Bartow Jenkins. Jenkins was a Lawrenceville city councilman, Gwinnett County Commissioner and, for 14 years, Lawrenceville's mayor.
Maran said Jenkins served in the Navy, played football at Troy University and spent 34 years as a teacher, coach and administrator with Gwinnett County schools.
"Thanks to his leadership and vision, there were many accomplishments that continue to pay off for residents to this day," Maran said. "He led efforts to revitalize downtown Lawrenceville square and worked tirelessly to increase the benefits for city employees.
"He established a well-water system and completed the new City Hall. Best of all, he accomplished all of this is without incurring any debt."
Mary Anne Jenkins smiled as she accepted the award on behalf of her late husband.
The ceremony concluded as outgoing Chairman Bill McCargo remembered 2008, saying he often spoke of Gwinnett's Chamber "like a proud parent." McCargo presented incoming Chairman Kerry Armstrong, who is the senior vice president of Duke Realty Corporation's Atlanta office.
Armstrong drew laughter from the crowd as he, while wrapping up his speech, decided to go ahead and give a look back at 2009, including the day and time the recession ended and how the Chamber grew during his tenure.
"It takes enough time to write and give one speech, let alone two," Armstrong said, referencing the speech he will give next year as outgoing chairman. "So I decided to write this one and use it twice."