DOBSON — Once a year, the members of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce gather to honor those who contribute to the organization and community during their annual meeting.
With the event rotating between Elkin and Dobson, on Thursday the group gathered at the Shelton-Badgett North Carolina Center for Viticulture and Enology at Surry Community College in Dobson.
As incoming chairman of the board, Gary York introduced Bernie Mann, owner and publisher of Our State magazine, as “a man of tremendous compassion, vision, and who holds a unique way of understanding people.”
Mann said that after owning 12 radio stations, “I had a chance to do something else.”
He jumped at the opportunity 20 years ago to purchase the magazine, which he said was a 48-page, black-and-white product. “It was awful, and it looked like one of the radio stations I had bought,” Mann said during his speech to those gathered.
Quoting Henry David Thoreau, “Never do anything ordinary,” Mann said, “What could I do special and unique and different?”
He said magazines are easy to start, “All you need is a printer and you’re in business.” But he wanted to do something that stood out. He gained inspiration from Walt Disney and decided he wanted to create a product that radiated positive vibes.
“It was necessary, the drive to have something positive,” Mann said, explaining if the magazine reviews a book and they don’t like it, they don’t run the review; they write about restaurants, but never review them. “This is a wonderful place we live, and I want the magazine to show how wonderful it is.”
Then he decided to expand on the magazine and create a weekend once a year where his readers could gather with North Carolina writers, North Carolina singers, North Carolina people. The North Carolina Weekend is now in its 18th year.
“I can control the editorial part of my magazine, but it’s harder to control the advertising part,” Mann explained, adding they do not allow any lottery advertising or political advertising. “It is painful, because political people come with a shopping bag of money and they pay in cash. I won’t tell you I don’t need it.”
And he said if his readers won’t like an ad, he won’t run it. He told the story of a popular beer brand who took the Hatteras Lighthouse and transformed it into a beer tap for its ad, and he said his readers wouldn’t appreciate it so he wouldn’t run it. The company hasn’t advertised with the magazine since.
“If you have some values and think things are important, you’ve got to stand by them. That distinguishes you, sets you apart,” Mann said. “I feel good that I’m doing right for the people who get my magazine and for the people who come to work with me.
“I had 23,000 paid subscribers 20 years ago, and as of this morning, I have 179,000 paid subscribers,” he said. “We are second only to Texas Monthly as the number one regional magazine in the country.
“’How’d you do it?’ I’m asked. Every month we try to show you the beauty, you read about people doing wonderful things. We try to hold up a mirror every month so you see where you live,” he said. “Rejoice in where you live.”
The evening turned to the business of the changing of the chair as outgoing chair Jeff Eidson turned over the podium to York, and then York installed the 2016-17 officers and board of directors. Eidson called York “an inspiration” as he opened the podium to York.
Then the evening turned to celebrations as nine awards were presented.
Nathan Lewis, vice chair of the Chamber Ambassadors and human resources director at PVH, was presented with the Johnsie Hudspeth Volunteer of the Year award by Ann Ashman.
The Web Smalling Corporate Citizen award was presented to Brittany Eller of Cavu Printing by Barry Revis.
The Rebel Good award, which recognizes contributions of promoting the Yadkin Valley as a tourism destination, was given to Jeff Yockel for his work leading the committee for the inaugural Big Elkin Brewfest scheduled for September. It was presented by Zim Zimmerman.
Jimmy Flythe presented the Duke Energy Citizenship award to David Steelman, executive director of the Yadkin Valley United Fund. Under Steelman’s guidance, the fund exceeded its goal for the first time in many years this year.
Heather Gilliam Wall, an exceptional children’s teacher who leads the life skills class in Elkin City Schools, was honored with the Education Excellence award, which was presented by Jeff Yockel.
The Community Beautification award was given to Surrey Bank and Trust for its new location at the intersection of North Bridge Street and CC Camp Road, with Tammy Butcher accepting the award from Josh Smith.
First-time Chamber Ambassador Tom Bauguess was honored as the Ambassador of the Year, which was presented by Lewis.
This year’s Member of the Year, which is chosen from the Members of the Month by the Ambassadors, was presented to Jeff Eidson of G&B Energy. Chad Tidd made the presentation.
The final award of the evening was the Innovation Award by the Better Business Bureau, which “recognizes a member who understands innovation as the catalyst for growth and has introduced a new idea, methodology, service or product making a positive impact on the community and economy.” The award was presented to Diana Jones of Jones von Drehle Vineyard by Brian Wright.
As he closed the meeting, York said, “I want to think this opportunity may be God-sent to me.”
He purchased WIFM in 2004, and described it as a family-friendly radio station, and he said he wants to focus on things that “matter significantly in this community.”
“The opportunity to serve the chamber is such an honor for me,” said York, adding being part of the chamber “is a chance to reach out to one another and pat each other on the back.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.