ALBANY, Ga. -- When Jack Miller started what would become a long and storied career as a farmer in Lee County, the one-time school teacher admitted he didn't know a lot about the profession.
"I just watched my neighbor (Mills Kayler) and did what he did," Miller said. "If he plowed a field, I plowed a field. If he planted his crop, I planted my crop.
"I just picked up what I could from him."
Miller obviously was a quick study. While settling into his illustrious career as a gentleman farmer, he became the first in the region to generate a 3,000-pound-per-acre peanut yield. He was the first to use irrigation on his crops and was a pioneer in chemical weed control, crop varieties and equipment usage.
On Thursday night, the longtime Lee County farmer added another prestigious first to his resume. Miller was named the winner of the Lee County Chamber of Commerce's Lifetime Achievement Award at the chamber's annual awards banquet, which was held at the Hasan Temple in Albany.
Also honored at the chamber's 22nd awards banquet was Man of the Year Fred Finney, Woman of the Year Ann Nix, Partner in Agriculture Sonny and Jackie Thaggard with T&T Farms, Partner in Education Jeannie Johnson, Business of the Year Chem Nut Inc. and Nonprofit of the Year Megan's House.
"My goodness, what a very appropriate list of winners," Lee Chamber Director Winston Oxford said Thursday. "There are so many in our community who do so much, who contribute to making life work well in Lee County. So it becomes appropriate each year that we recognize a handful for their contributions."
The honorees were nominated by chamber members and selected by a subcommittee of the chamber's executive board. Leesburg City Councilwoman Judy Powell is chair of that board.
"Our winners are always an impressive group," Lee Chamber Board Chairman Vince Falcione said. "Unfortunately, there are so many deserving nominees in our community, all of them can't get their just due. But their time will come."
Called by friend and neighbor Wesley Kayler an "individual who has
touched so many lives," Miller served on the federal, state and local Farm Bureau boards, was a member of the Lee County School Board and the Lee County Planning Commission, and was an original member of the Lee chamber.
Finney, an attorney, and Nix, who worked 31 years in the Lee County Clerk of Superior Court's office -- most as clerk -- are both known as much for their volunteer work as they are for their professional service.
Finney served on the Lee County Development Authority that was responsible for the county's first industrial complex, and he's volunteered with such agencies and organizations as Albany Outreach Center, Albany Rotary and various youth athletic programs. In 2004 he was named the Georgia Economic Development Association's Volunteer of the Year.
Nix is the co-chair of the Lee County Cancer Society, a member of the community chorus that performed at Thursday's banquet, a charter member and past president of the Lee County Women's Club, the "Red Hatters," the county historic society and the downtown Train Depot Restoration Committee.
Sonnie and Jackie Thaggard, their son Zack and Zack's wife Erin manage more than 10,000 acres of farmland, on which they grow peanuts, corn and wheat and have more than 1,000 head of cattle.
Their holdings include a partnership in the Doerun Gin Co., and T&T
Farms received the Georgia Conservation Award in 2007.
Johnson, who taught in California and Japan during her 30-plus-year career in education, has served as a regular classroom teacher, as an instructor of gifted students and as both an assistant principal and principal at Lee County Primary, which in 2007 was named a Georgia School of Excellence. She volunteers with the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association and in 2008 was named the Georgia District 2 Principal of the Year.
Chem Nut Inc., which employs more than 200 workers, led the wave of expansion to the Oakland Meadows Business Park in 2003 and now accounts for more than a half-million dollars each year in property taxes. The nonexempt cooperative is headed by President/CEO Howard Corbett, who since rising to that position in 2000 has increased the business' income from $147 million to $260 million and overseen growth that stretches into 16 states.
Carol Hollomon never realized her dream of making Megan's House, a respite home for special needs children, a place where the needs of her daughter Megan could be met because Megan passed away before the facility was completed. But because of Hollomon's passion, Megan's House has become a haven for special needs children in the area and a celebration of Megan's life and legacy.
"The last couple of years have been a challenge economically, but things are still good in Lee County," Falcione said at the banquet. "Tonight is a fitting tribute to some outstanding members of our community, and it's Veterans Day. We have a lot to be thankful for."
Also at Thursday's banquet, the family of Tic Forrester, a former Leesburg mayor, solicitor general and seven-term U.S. Congressman, donated Forrester's gold watch, presented to him by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in 1955, his gavel and his 1929 marriage license (to Thursba Marie Whittaker) for display in the Lee Chamber offices.
"We certainly appreciate this generous gift and will display in proudly," Oxford said.
Albany Area Chamber President/CEO Catherine Glover was one of the hundreds at Thursday's banquet.
"The Albany Area Chamber and the Lee County Chamber believe wholeheartedly in a regionalism approach to promoting our area," Glover said. "Winston and I often make road trips together to visit members we share to show the unity that we have.
"Vince Falcione is the chairman of their board of directors, and he's sat on our board, too. He epitomizes the type of volunteers we have in our two communities, a group of strong, forward thinkers."