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Chamber banquet moved, still honored best

Greater Gibson County Area Chamber of Commerce leaders endured a feverish 48 hours last week, moving the planned outdoor banquet indoors to the cowboy church in Trenton, setting up tables and chairs for over 250 guests, and rallying to honor the Educator, Young Professional, Person, and Business of the Year.

With rain pouring down Monday morning and more expected Tuesday, Executive Director Libby Wickersham and the board of directors made the decision to move indoors mid-morning Monday. Tuesday, of course, brought sunny skies and warm temperatures, but Wickersham took it all in stride.

At the banquet Tuesday night, she profusely thanked Milton Poole for allowing the chamber to set up in his cowboy church. She also thanked attendees for wearing face masks while mingling and utilizing hand sanitizing stations.

The banquet was different from previous years, but local individuals and businesses making positive impacts in their communities were still recognized. Katie Bruketta, Peabody High School, won the Educator of the Year Award. Katie Burke, Trenton Health And Rehabilitation, won the Young Professional of the Year Award. Pat Riley, who recently retired from Gibson County Utility District, won the Person of the Year Award, and Words For Life Speech & Language Center won the Business of the Year Award.

Educator of the Year

Bruketta currently teaches English I and III, Ancient History, African-American Studies 101, AP Human Geography, and ACT Prep at Peabody. She has been in public education for 17 years and at Peabody for 16.

Bruketta grew up in northwest Tennessee and is the product of two veteran teachers. She was a paralegal for several years before making the switch to education. Bruketta was selected as the 2020-21 Northwest CORE Teacher of the Year and was one of nine finalists for Tennessee Teacher of the Year.

“My greatest accomplishment is knowing that I have changed lives for children and for my community,” she said. “That is a testament I want to leave behind.”

In addition to Bruketta, nominees were Laura Pankey, a kindergarten teacher at Spring Hill School in the Gibson County Special School District, and Virginia Russell, reading interventionist at Bradford High School and early literacy coach at Bradford Elementary School.

Young Professional of the Year

Burke has been employed by Trenton Health And Rehabilitation for five years. She is currently the clinical liaison and marketing director, but she wears many hats. Burke serves as the first contact for admissions, is the Trenton Special School District nursing manager, and is the certified nurse aide instructor for Dyersburg State Community College.

Burke said she was fortunate to watch many of her family members serve their communities as business leaders, civic leaders, and volunteers. That compelled her to become an active member of her community. She is dedicated to increasing her knowledge about the medical, emotional, and educational needs of her community in order to better serve Gibson County.

In addition to Burke, nominees were Cara-Beth Maddux, SportsPlus; Cassie Prestininzi, Words For Life Speech & Language Center; Santayan “Tay” Mayberry, Food Giant; Crystal Burns, Trenton Gazette & Tri-City Reporter; Chelsey Speer, Chelsey’s Boutique; and Laurin Stroud, Trenton Gazette & Tri-City Reporter.

Person of the Year

In August, Riley retired from his post as general manager of the Gibson County Utility District (GCUD), a role he held for 21 years. Riley retired with 33 years of service to GCUD. He has also held leadership positions with the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts and the Tennessee Gas Association.

One of Riley’s favorite career highlights was helping to organize and implement the Compressed Natural Gas Vehicle from Sea to Shining Sea National Road Rally, travelling from Long Beach, Calif. to Washington, D.C. He was awarded the prestigious J. Hardie Johnson Service Award, given to those who continually go above and beyond to give back to the natural gas industry.

“My goal every day is to make a difference in everything I get involved in, whether it’s teaching Sunday school class, managing a large utility, or serving on a board,” Riley said. “It is the essence of who I am – to be a servant with vision.”

In addition to Riley, nominees were Sheriff Paul Thomas; Allyson Horner, Gibson County Utility District; Charlotte Doaks, Trenton Housing Authority; Rachele Gibson, Public Defender for the 28th Judicial District; and Julie Griggs, Dyersburg State Community College.

Business of the Year

Cassie Prestininzi created Words For Life Speech & Language Center in 2015. She has worked in speech pathology since 2010 in schools, private practices, and skilled nursing facilities, but her passion is serving the pediatric population. She began Words For Life in a two-room suite and opened with three clients while providing evaluations for the State of Tennessee disability determination service.

As Words For Life began serving the pediatric population and local school systems, word spread quickly. By 2017, the center had a full schedule. By 2018, it had outgrown the space.

“We purchased a home in Trenton, which we remodeled and had rezoned for new clinic space,” Prestininzi said. “Currently Words For Life is serving 150 children in Gibson County alone. The business is unique in its service delivery and services offered for our filed. We are the only speech language center in northwest Tennessee that is currently providing evaluations and therapy in the natural environment.”

Words For Life currently has two fulltime and two part-time employees and is negotiating to add an occupational therapist to the team.

“We want our clients to feel like family,” Prestininzi said. “We are with them on this journey, usually for many years, and we want them to feel at home with us.”

In addition to Words For Life, nominees were Servpro of Weakley/Gibson/Carroll Counties and Chelsey’s Boutique.

Scholarship winners

The chamber also awarded Brandon Newman Memorial Scholarships to Jo Gilliland and Seth Rodgers, students at Dyersburg State Community College Gibson County Center. The silent auction held at the banquet funds the annual scholarships.

Caterers & entertainment

To aid local restaurants, the chamber enlisted Gibson’s Grill – Katie Style, Cotton’s Café, The Last Drop Coffee Shoppe, Sally’s Diner, and the Coffee Shop to provide elements of the meal.

“When COVID took over the world and shut it down, our small businesses suffered tremendously, especially our locally owned restaurants,” Wickersham said. “They had to quickly come up with new ways of doing things – offering curbside and to-go and in many cases delivery services. Our local owners worked together to support each other, and tonight we want to support them in return.”

Tyson Foods in Humboldt provided and cooked chicken breasts.

Haywood Elam and members of Mt. Orange Baptist Church provided the entertainment.

Banquet sponsors were Trenton Light & Water, Tyson Foods Humboldt, Gibson Electric Membership Corporation, Gibson County Utility District, and Trenton Health And Rehabilitation.

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