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The Chamber Convenes 300 Community Leaders for 78th Annual Meeting

The Chamber Convenes 300 Community Leaders for 78th Annual Meeting

Member News Event

The Chamber honors 11 local leaders for outstanding contributions to the community in the time of crisis; reflects on the partnerships, perseverance, and progress in the past year; and outlines four priorities for the year ahead

Chapel Hill, NC – On January 29, 2021, The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro (The Chamber) convened 300 Chamber members for the 78th Annual Meeting. During the meeting, Chamber Directors and distinguished guests honored eleven local leaders for outstanding community contributions in the time of crisis; reflected on the perseverance, partnerships, and progress forged in the past year during the pandemic; and shared the Chamber’s vision for recovery and resiliency in the year ahead.


Eleven outstanding individuals were recognized with awards during the 2020 Annual Meeting and the full citations are listed in the postscript:

  • Duke Energy Citizenship & Service Award: Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart
  • The Chair's Award for Service to The Chamber: Coastal Credit Union’s Chief Culture & Impact Officer Creighton Blackwell
  • The Chair's Award for Public Private Partnership: Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver, and former Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners Penny Rich
  • Citizen of the Year: Former Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP President Anna Richards
  • Jim Gibson Volunteer of the Year: Carrboro Business Alliance Immediate Past Chair David Jessee
  • Town & Gown Award: UNC-Chapel Hill Executive Director of Off-Campus Student Life and Community Partnerships Dr. Aaron Bachenheimer
  • Irene Briggaman Lifetime Achievement Award: Retired WCHL 97.9 The Hill and Morning Show Host Ron Stutts
  • Twenty Years of Exceptional Service and Extraordinary Contributions in 2020: The Chamber President and CEO Aaron Nelson

The Chamber acknowledged the eleven exceptional first responders who were recognized with awards in December through the online 2020 Salute to Community Heroes and the ten outstanding individuals and businesses that were recognized with awards in July through the online 2020 Business Excellence Awards.

2020 Year in Review 

The Chamber’s 2020 Board Chair Ellen Shannon of Shannon Media, Inc – publisher of Chapel Hill, Chatham, and Durham Magazines – delivered the 2020 Year in Review. Shannon reflected on the three original goals for the year, acknowledged the Covid complications and closures, and expressed gratitude for the progress made during such a challenging year. 

“I distinctly remember standing before you this time last year – at this very same meeting – and sharing our Chamber’s top three priorities for 2020. While none of us imagined the incredibly demanding and consequential year that would unfold, I am heartened that those three priorities proved spot-on,” said Ellen Shannon, 2020 Chair of The Chamber Board of Directors.

The Chamber’s three priorities for 2020 were to: 1) increase Chamber membership diversity and inclusivity, 2) expand small business services, and 3) deliver on a new member promise to “drive progress and build community.” Shannon outlined 2020 progress and results against all three priorities, including that The Chamber welcomed 89 new members with 50% of those being minority and/or women-owned businesses. This is the most diverse class of new members in The Chamber’s history. 

President’s Report 

The Chamber President and CEO, Aaron Nelson, delivered the President’s Report, which included strong financial, operational, and program performance in 2020 despite Covid-related complications and changes. Some highlights from the President’s 2020 Report included:

  • Strong membership retention levels: Secured 90% membership renewal rate, which is among the best reinvestment rates in the nation.
  • Innovative member service: Launched, which engaged 30 other Chambers in offering discounted masks, sanitizers, and other Covid-related supplies to hundreds of small businesses.
  • Novel programming: Coordinated 500 Covid-response zoom calls, which connected members with critical, real-time information, and millions of dollars in emergency relief capital.  

Nelson closed with a reminder about The Chamber’s member promise: “We know The Chamber has never been more important to your success, and your Chamber staff and volunteers have never been more committed to delivering on our customer promise to Connect you, Advocate for you, and to Drive Progress and Build Our Community. We are committed to helping you navigate through this crisis and emerge successful on the other side, and we are grateful for your membership and support,” Aaron Nelson, President and CEO, The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

2021 Vision for the Future 

The Chamber’s new Board Chair, Tom Wiltberger of Terra Nova Global Properties introduced the Chamber’s 2021 priorities, described as the four “R’s: Respond, Recover, Reach, and Resilience.”

“Our 2021 vision is simple: As our Chamber responds to the immediate needs of our local business community, engages in the long-term community recovery effort, and reaches out in partnership and cooperation, we can and will achieve a more resilient community and become a more resilient chamber of commerce. So, respond, recover, reach, and resilience – these are our four guideposts for the path ahead,” Tom Wiltberger, Chair of The Chamber’s 2021 Board of Directors

2021 Officers 

Wiltberger recognized the 35 board members and introduced the 2021 Officers and Executive Committee members, who will join him and will help bring the 2021 vision into reality:

  • Vakesia Graves of Duke Energy is Vice Chair of the Board of Directors and Chair of the Board Development Committee;
  • John Kiley, a retired executive and long-time SCORE volunteer is Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee;
  • Ellen Shannon of Shannon Media is the Immediate Past Chair;
  • Robert (Bob) Saunders of Brooks Pierce will continue to serve as General Counsel;
  • Aaron Nelson of The Chamber is the Secretary to the Board and CEO of the Chamber;
  • Creighton Blackwell of Coastal Credit Union is the Chair of The Chamber’s nonprofit affiliate, The Partnership for a Sustainable Community;
  • Lori Doherty of Doherty Home Inspections is the Chair of the Membership Committee;
  • Betsy Harris of Armacell is the Chair of the Government Affairs Committee Chair; and
  • Tola Oguntoyinbo of ShineBig Feedback is the Chair of the Technology Committee.  

About the Annual Meeting

The 78th Annual Meeting was safely aired from The Carolina Club in Chapel Hill, the 300 participants engaged via Zoom video conference, and the public followed the conversation at #CarolinaChamber. Video production was coordinated by John Bollenbacher of Critical Focus Creative. The 2020 Annual Meeting was made possible with support from the following sponsors:

About The Chamber: The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro is a membership organization that serves and advances the business interests of Greater Chapel Hill, including the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro as well as southern Orange, northern Chatham, and southwest Durham counties. The Chamber's network of more than 700 member enterprises employs 95,000 workers throughout the region. Together with its network, The Chamber is committed to building a sustainable community where business thrives.

The Chamber Vision & Mission: The Chamber vision is for Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro to be a globally recognized community with the talent, infrastructure, and investment needed to drive the success of local employers and support world-class education, public amenities, and thriving downtowns. The Chamber mission is to serve and support the business interests of Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro and build a resilient community where business thrives.

Contact: For questions, contact Chamber Vice President for External Affairs, Katie Loovis, at or (919) 696-0781 (cell).

Award Citations

Quintana Stewart, 2020 Recipient of the Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award. Citation read by Indira Everett: 

“Good Morning! At Duke Energy we understand that the true work of our communities is accomplished by people like those gathered here today – people who make a positive difference in the lives of others through service.  On behalf of myself and my colleagues, it is an honor and a privilege to serve you. 

The Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award is a tribute to individuals who use their time, talents, and compassion to make a positive difference. The honoree must exhibit the following business values: integrity, stewardship, inclusion, initiative, teamwork, and accountability.  Created to celebrate Duke’s centennial, this year marks 16 years of presenting this award to the best of our community.   

The 2021 Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award winner is Quintana Stewart. Prior to the pandemic, Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart managed an already full plate directing the county’s health department, which operates clinics, oversees environmental health services, and provides nutrition, family planning, maternal health, refugee health, and communicable disease services to residents.   

For the last 10 months, Ms. Stewart has overseen Orange County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has coordinated and partnered with state, county, and municipal officials and governments to keep residents healthy, including enacting new health guidelines and organizing free testing throughout the county.

Because of her leadership, and that of the partners with whom she collaborates, Orange County remains one of the safest places in North Carolina. For her tireless work promoting public health and keeping the residents of Orange County safe, we are proud to recognize Quintana Stewart with the 2021 Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award.”   

Creighton Blackwell, 2020 Recipient of the Chair’s Award for Service to the Chamber and its members. Citation read by Ellen Shannon: 

“Each year, the Chair selects one individual for a special recognition – a public appreciation for hard work, leadership, dedication, and partnership while volunteering their time for the Chamber.  We call it the Chair’s Award for Service to the Chamber.   

In this year of tremendous difficulty, many rose to the challenge. Many answered the call for assistance in serving our members and our community. This year, I am pleased to select Creighton Blackwell for the 2020 Chair’s Award for Service to the Chamber. 

Creighton is the Senior Vice President and Chief Culture and Impact Officer at Coastal Credit Union. At the Chamber Creighton serves as the Chair of the Big Bold Ideas Steering Committee and Chair of the Chamber’s Foundation for a Sustainable Community.    

Creighton has served a total of 12 years on the Chamber Board over the last two decades, holding many volunteer positions including Chair of the Community Development Committee, Vice Chair of the Board, and Chair of the Chamber Board of Directors.   

Creighton has helped lead, grow, shape, and change our Chamber for the better.  Personally, I want to thank Creighton for his mentorship and for the example he sets, making big commitments and honoring them. Creighton, I’m honored that you are my friend. Congratulations Creighton Blackwell, the 2020 Chair’s Award for Service to the Chamber and its members!”  

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver, and former Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners Penny Rich, 2020 Recipients of the Chair’s Award for Public Private Partnership. Citation read by Ellen Shannon: 

“I am so excited to present The Chair’s Award for Public-Private Partnership. Since 2010, The Chamber has presented an annual Chair’s Award for Public Private Partnership to an individual or individuals whose work and community service builds bridges between the community’s public and private sectors.   

I am pleased to present this year’s award to the four amazing women who have led our local governments and our local communities during this time of crisis – The 2020 Chair of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners Penny Rich, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle, and Hillsborough Mayor Jennifer Weaver. 

Their exceptional leadership, partnership, and service to our community during the Covid-pandemic--specifically their collaborative decision-making that strove to successfully balance public health with the needs of local employers and our local economy—has helped make Orange County one of the safest places to live and do business in North Carolina.  

In recognition of the difficult decisions they made, with input from The Chamber and the business community, we are proud to announce this quadrumvirate’s selection for the 2020 Chair’s Award for Public-Private Partnership. 

Former Chair Rich, Mayor Hemminger, Mayor Lavelle, Mayor Weaver – thank you. Thank you for conducting your business, during these very difficult times, in partnership with the business community and the Chamber.  We are grateful for you, your leadership, and for your care and sacrifice to serve our community so well.” 

Anna Richards, 2020 Recipient of the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year Award. Citation read by Poonam Nandani:

“The Chamber’s Citizen of the Year Award is presented to an individual who believe that leadership and citizenship are two essential ingredients in the community’s well-being. 

This year’s award winner served as president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chapter of the NAACP from 2017 through 2020 and as a member of the Big Bold Ideas Steering Committee since 2019; has led several successful initiatives, including supporting UNC Chapel Hill’s NAACP and the Silent Sam Coalition, winning the long fight to remove the statue from campus; was named the 2019 North Carolina NAACP Branch President of the Year; has fueled NAACP’s fundraising for scholarships for local high school seniors; and is leading efforts to address racial disparities within Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools and established the Learning Bridge program this year to address the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. 

For her service to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP and the broader community, and for her dedication to achieving racial justice, we are proud to name Anna Richards the Chamber’s 2020 Citizen of the Year.” 

David Jessee, Recipient of the 2020 Jim Gibson Volunteer of the Year. Citation read by Poonam Nandani: 

“It is my pleasure to represent Hendrick Southpoint Auto Mall today and to recognize these tremendous individuals. First, the Volunteer of the Year. The Jim Gibson Volunteer of the Year award is presented annually to an individual who has volunteered their time, talents, and energy to enhance the quality of life in our community. 

This year’s winner is the Chair of the Carrboro Business Alliance and active member of the CBA Policy and Marketing Committees, and an active volunteer with the local government, who serves on the Town of Carrboro’s Comprehensive Planning Task Force and Economic Sustainability Commission and continually lends his expertise and advice to shape our local economy for the better. 

For always saying “yes!” when asked to share his time and talent in support of the people and businesses of Carrboro, we are honored to recognize David Jessee as The Chamber’s 2020 Jim Gibson Volunteer of the Year.”  

Aaron Bachenheimer, 2020 Recipient of the Town & Gown Award. Citation read by Poonam Nandani: 

“It is my pleasure to represent Hendrick Southpoint Auto Mall today and to recognize these tremendous individuals. The Chamber’s Town & Gown Award is presented an individual who fosters a mutually beneficial relationship between the greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro community and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

This year’s award winner is Executive Director of Off Campus Student Life and Community Partnerships at UNC; who bridges the gap between students and the communities in which they live through the Good Neighbor Initiative; who is a hardworking, reliable partner for community organizations and institutions; and who meets weekly with representatives from UNC and Chapel Hill Police, Chapel Hill Fire, and the Orange County Health Department to help coordinate outreach and enforcement.  

For working to foster a strong, successful, respectful relationship between the University and the Town, we are proud to present Dr. Aaron Bachenheimer with The Chamber’s 2020 Town & Gown Award.” 

Ron Stutts, 2020 Recipient of the Irene Briggaman Lifetime Achievement Award. Citation read by Poonam Nandani:

“The Irene Briggaman Lifetime Achievement Award is named in honor of its first recipient and is only presented on occasion to individuals who have demonstrated a lifetime of exceptional public service and volunteerism in the greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro community, in multiple capacities with different organizations.  

Since 1977, Ron Stutts has been the voice that wakes up Chapel Hill. As a proud Chapel Hillian, five-time winner of Radio Personality of the Year awards from the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters, his presence extended beyond the studio and the airwaves as he emceed hundreds of fundraisers and community events.

As he retires after 43 years at WCHL, and 97.9 The Hill, we are proud to honor Ron Stutts as our first ever, two-time winner of the Irene Briggaman Lifetime Achievement Award.” 

Aaron Nelson, Recipient of “Twenty Years of Exceptional Service and Extraordinary Contributions in 2020.” Citation read by Ellen Shannon and Tom Wiltberger: 

Shannon: “2020 marked many milestones, and a significant one that we want to celebrate is the twentieth year of superb service by our Chamber President and CEO, Aaron Nelson. Aaron, we know you do not like us making a fuss over you, but I’m asking you to bear with us because this is important. 

The Chamber’s Board of Directors, our three Mayors, and our Community Champions including the University, the Hospital, and Blue Cross & Blue Shield, all unanimously and enthusiastically agreed that we want to make our profound appreciation for Aaron M. Nelson known. 

Today, we recognize Aaron’s twenty years of exceptional service to our chamber and our community – and – we express our gratitude for his extraordinary contributions in 2020. Aaron, it’s not often that a chamber can hold on to an intelligent, compassionate, authentic, and tireless leader like yourself for more than five years. We have been blessed for twenty years, and hopefully many, many more.”

Tom: “Aaron, it does not escape us for a moment that the trust and goodwill that you have built over the last two decades was a critical component to your success in helping lead our community through the storms of 2020. 

You hustled all year, staying up often until two in the morning to make sense of the constantly changing information, and then sharing that information in your trademark clear and common-sense fashion through hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of zoom video conferences, phone calls, text messages, and emails. 

The gravity of 2020 for our business community was unparalleled. You anticipated problems and provided strategic counsel, you made space for tears and provided encouragement, and, through it all, somehow kept your positivity and good humor. You lightened the load for many and helped us prepare, adapt, and innovate. 

Aaron, you started at the chamber twenty ago as a bright young lad with a mantle of leadership, and now, bearded, witty, and wise, you have proven yourself a true and inspirational statesman who is deeply appreciated.” 

Ellen: “There is a quote that ‘Crisis does not create character, it reveals it.’” The crises of 2020 revealed what we already knew to be true about you: that you are an exceptional leader who loves his community, inspires cooperation, and has made a profound and positive difference. 

Aaron, on behalf of a grateful chamber and community, we have two things for you: 

  1. First, please accept this award in recognition of your twenty years of exceptional service and your extraordinary contributions in 2020. 
  2. Second, we have established a new award, called the Aaron M. Nelson Exceptional Service and Extraordinary Contribution Award, which will be bestowed in the future on very rare occasions. The recipient (individual or organization) must have gone far above and beyond the call of duty and made such meaningful and lasting contributions to the community that everyone is left saying what was said in the Hebrew bible: that this leader was here “For such a time as this.” 



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