VILONIA — Guest speaker Preston Scroggin, director of the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission, encouraged the audience at the annual Vilonia Area Chamber of Commerce banquet, to "really look" when they travel the highways and bi-ways of Arkansas.
"Keep your eyes open as you travel the state. It is beautiful," he said. "I am amazed as I travel — just looking out the window."
The state, he said, is rich in beauty and abundant in agricultural products. The agricultural industry, he said, is the state’s largest industry, contributing more than $17 billion to the economy. One out of six jobs in the state, he said, is related to agriculture.
"Arkansas does its part to feed the world," Scroggin said.
The top commodities for the state, he said, include broilers, soybeans, rice, cotton, cattle and calves and turkeys. Arkansas, he said, ranks number one in the nation for rice production, number two in the nation for broilers and exports throughout the state and country. Arkansas ranks first in the nation, he said, for baitfish production and third for catfish and number five for cotton nationally. In 2012, there were 1.67 million head of beef cattle and calves in the state, Scroggin said, generating about $686 million in cash receipts. Benton County, he said, is the county with the most cattle in the state. Cotton lint and cottonseed generated $658 million in cash receipts in 2012. Arkansas is ranked number four nationally for turkey production producing about eight percent of total turkey cash receipts in the U.S. One thing, he said that might be surprising to some is that Arkansas ranks number five in the nation for sweet potato production. He credited the Delta as being the largest producer in the state. He also talked briefly about sesame seed production growing in the Delta.
"The Delta is going to be the bread basket of the world someday," he offered.
Explaining the duties of his charge, he said, the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission was created by Act 87 of 1963 and has full authority for the control, suppression and eradication of livestock and poultry diseases. The commission, he said, is also responsible for the supervision of livestock and poultry sanitary work within the state.
Decorated with a country theme, about 200 were in attendance for the event held at 6:30 p.m., Friday, in the high school cafeteria.
Also at the event, Chamber members recognized nominees and presented awards for several categories including Citizen of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Business of the Year, School Employee of the Year, City Employee of the Year, Non-Profit of the Year and Chamber Ambassador.
Pastor Jim King was named as the Citizen of the Year. Presenting the award, Joe Maxwell, chamber member said, King gives "unselfishly of his talents." King, he said, has lived in Vilonia about 12 years and has a true commitment to the residents of the city.
Accepting the award, King said "a pastor should not get this. This is just what we should do." However, he said, he was humbled to receive it and touted the praises of the community.
Lynda Wallace was recognized as Volunteer of the Year. Presenting the award, chamber member Sheila Pruitt talked about the work that Wallace has done with the annual Rook/Skip-Bo tournament held at the Senior Citizens Center.
Business of the Year went to Kieth’s Service Station which has been in business for more than 37 years. Johnny Reed of the chamber presented the award. Owner Kieth McCord "understands about people’s needs," Reed said. McCord is known as one to allow residents to "pay as you can," he added. Reed talked about a recent ice storm where, he said, Kieth’s wreckers came to the rescue of many.
John Allison was named as School Employee of the Year. Presenting the award chamber member Dave Bowling said Allison "gives so much of himself to help students." Accepting the award, Allison said he is the one "blessed."
"It’s your children I am blessed to work with. I should be giving the community an award," Allison said.
Two Vilonia High School students, Levi Otts and Kayla Luck, were recipients of Youth of the Year awards. Both were recognized for community volunteerism with a variety of organizations. Otts is president of the FCA at Vilonia High School and Luck is also a member of FCA.
Bill Reed, manager of the Vilonia Sewer Department, was named as City Employee of the Year.
Dr. Frank Mitchell, superintendent of the Vilonia School District, received the Chamber Ambassador Award as well as a standing ovation from the audience. Presenting the award, Fred Fowlkes of the chamber, said he was on the school board when Mitchell was hired in 1986. "Since, I have never once had the occasion to think it was a bad decision." Fowlkes also talked about Mitchell’s involvement in many other organizations in addition to managing the largest employer in the city.
Fowlkes made mention of Mitchell’s impending retirement at the end of the school year and joked with him regarding his plans for the future. Now that he is retiring, Fowlkes joked, he will have a lot more time to help with other activities.
The Museum of Veterans and Military History was named as the Non-Profit of the Year. Jackie Fowlkes with the chamber, presented the award. The museum, Fowlkes said, is much more than a museum. It is also an outreach program for veterans. Since it opened in 2012, she said, the museum has had more than 4,000 visitors. Touring the museum is free, she added.
The last award of the evening was presented by Kevin Taylor, board member of the Museum of Veterans and Military History. He presented the 2014 Faulkner County Veteran of the Year honor to Air National Guard Master Sgt. Brian Anible, who was also given a standing ovation. His list of attributes included serving as an aircraft armament systems specialist on B-52’s and a B-52 nuclear weapons loader, trainer and evaluator. Currently, he serves with the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith as the First Sgt. For the Mission Support Group. He was deployed to Iraq in 2005. He has numerous awards and commendation medals. Recognitions include the 2013 First Sgt. of the Year for the 188th Fighter Wing, 2013, First Sgt. of the Year for the Arkansas Air National Guard and nominated for 2013 national First Sgt. of the Year.
He is also a member of the Arkansas Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Volunteer organization as well as on the board for the Museum of Veterans and Military History.
Concluding, Ashley Hettmannsperger, gave a brief overview of the United Way.