LINVILLE RIDGE – The High Country Council of Governments held its annual awards banquet to recognize achievements and contributions by elected officials, local government employees and advisory committee members on Sept. 6.

HCCOG is a planning and development agency serving local governments in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey counties.

Award winners were selected by elected and appointed officials from the seven-county region.

HCCOG Planning & Development Director Phil Trew presented the first award.

Avery County Commissioner Woodie Young was recognized as this year’s Outstanding Rural Transportation Advisory Committee Member by his fellow board members. This award recognizes an individual’s contribution to the region as a whole and their knowledge of the region’s transportation needs.

Young has served on the High Country Rural Planning Organization since January 2017 with excellent attendance. He is a very engaged member of the committee, tries to learn more about the region’s transportation needs and issues at every meeting and routinely inquires about transportation projects outside of regular meetings of the RTAC.

Young works effectively with other RTAC members, NCDOT staff, RPO staff and supports the efforts of the High Country RPO to plan for and improve the region’s transportation network.

Workforce Development Board Director Keith Deveraux presented the next award of the evening.

Jeff Dreyer, Director of Manufacturing at American Emergency Vehicles was selected by fellow board members as this year’s Outstanding Regional Workforce Development Board Member. This award recognizes service and effort given to the region and its citizens in workforce development.

Dreyer currently serves as vice chair and has served on the board’s Executive Committee which reviews grant applications and Request for Proposal submissions among other regional workforce issues. In addition, he helped shape the region’s Manufacturing Career Pathway certification, which documented the engagement and collaboration of employers and educators with the goal of creating a pipeline of trained workers with the necessary credentials to work in manufacturing.

Written by his fellow board members in their nominations of him, “Jeff has served the board, and the citizens that we serve, faithfully. Plus, he is just a great guy, adding levity and thoughtful considerations to every meeting.” Plus, “Jeff makes a tremendous contribution to the success of AEV.”

Area Agency on Aging Director Nicole Hiegl presented the next award.

Wilkes County resident Kenneth Foster was recognized as this year’s Outstanding Senior Tar Heel Legislature member. This award honors remarkable service and contributions to the older adults in the region.

This year’s recipient is a native of Wilkes County. He graduated from Wilkes Central High School, earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and later a master’s degree and an educational specialist degree at Appalachian State University. He has worked for Wilkes County Schools for 34 years, where his last assignment was a counselor at North Wilkes High School.

Being civic-minded, he served as president of Wilkes County Retired School Personnel for four years as well as being active in several community organizations. Four years ago, he took his first Tai Chi class at the Wilkes Senior Center seeking relief for chronic back pain. He loved Tai Chi so much he continued taking classes and earned his instructor’s certification. Currently he teaches Tai Chi four mornings each week.

He has represented Wilkes County in the Senior Tar Heel Legislature for three years and served on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging for two years. He enjoys being an advocate for senior citizens.

HCCOG Executive Director Julie Wiggins presented the next two awards.

Banner Elk Town Manager Rick Owen was recognized by the region’s managers, administrators and local elected officials as this year’s Outstanding Local Government Manager in the High Country.

The award acknowledges the contributions Owen has made to local government through his professionalism, leadership and accomplishments.

Owen’s leadership has translated into nine years of growth. Under his guidance, the town has made infrastructure improvements that to secure future development.

Owen worked with county commissioners to secure the purchase of the Historic Banner Elk School, a centerpiece of the town.

Owen was a local elected official for the Town of Beech Mountain for 22 years, serving as mayor for 16 years. In the past he has been named Banner Elk Chamber Person of the Year, Lees-McRae College Alumni of the Year, and was the Past President of N.C. Association of Resort Towns and Convention Cities.

Watauga County resident Kathy Combs was recognized as this year’s Outstanding Staff Member at High Country Council of Governments. This award recognizes an individual’s willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty, contributing to a positive work environment and promoting a healthy image of HCCOG.

Combs has contributed to the COG in different capacities for nearly 15 years.

Staff nominations stated that she is not only highly responsive, very helpful, a team player, and makes everyone feel appreciated, but she does so with a positive attitude and smile on her face.

Executive Board Chair and Yancey County Commissioner Johnny Riddle presented the final two awards.

Alleghany County Commissioner Mark Evans was selected as this year’s Outstanding Local Elected Official in the High Country Region. This award honors outstanding service and leadership to the community.

Evans became a county commissioner in 2014, and has served as Alleghany County’s representative on the HCCOG Executive Board since 2016. He has been county commissioner board chair for three years.

Evans has been involved in several important projects in his county including a new library, a new county maintenance garage, a new senior center in progress and a disc golf course in progress. He has also supported the Sparta Streetscape, Veteran’s Memorial Park and the Haven of Hope Child Advocacy Center, helped update two-way radio communication, initiated annual board retreats, attends the NCACC annual conference and has shown support for an Alleghany Memorial Hospital partnership with Hugh Chatham and Wake Forest Baptist Health to sustain the county’s rural hospital.

Evans is currently serving as interim county manager.

The High Country Council of Governments’ Executive Board chose Gary D. Blevins, a Wilkes county commissioner, as their Outstanding Executive Board Member. This award honors service and effort in promoting cooperation among local governments in the region and the state.

Blevins has served on the High Country Council of Government’s Executive Board since 2008, serving as Chairman twice. He is currently a county commissioner, a role in-which he has served in for the past 11 years, also serving as Board Chairman three of those years; as well as Vice Chairman for three years.

He has also served on many boards and committees with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, and in 2016 was awarded the Most Outstanding County Commissioner Award from a field of more than 600 commissioners from across the state.

Blevins has also served on the North Carolina Arboretum Board of Directors. He currently serves as Chairman of the North Carolina Association of Regional Councils of Governments and has been a part of the forum since 2014. He is a graduate and alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government Local Elected Leaders Academy.

Riddle also recognized Mayor of West Jefferson Dale Baldwin for his many years of service to his town and the region as a whole. Baldwin was elected and served as an Alderman from 1968 to 1977, then again from 1985 to 1989 and appointed for nine months of a term in 1997. Baldwin was elected mayor and served from 1997 to 2003 and again from 2011 to present.

In 2008 he received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and in 2015 he received the Outstanding Local Government Elected Official in the High Country region. He has served on the HCCOG Executive Board and Advisory Committee for seven years.

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