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Mount Ida Area Chamber Banquet returns with a bang

DEWAYNE HOLLOWAY|dewayne@mcnews.online

Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year Award winners include (from left to right) Tony Hill – Many of the Year; Laura Wagner (pictured Tara Philpot) – Woman of the Year; Wayseekers (Pictured Chrissy Phillips) – Non-Profit of the Year; and Big T’s General Store (pictured Tommy Beshears). – Photo by Dewayne Holloway

The Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce held their first Volunteer of the Year Awards Banquet since 2019 and it was a huge success. A capacity crowd gathered at Lake Ouachita Baptist Church for a banquet which featured a delicious Italian themed meal, guest speakers that included local business owner Gary McWilliams, and of course the presentation of awards.
Chamber President Justin Neel welcomed everyone to the banquet by discussing some of the positive things he learned over the last two years. He talked about the fact that Montgomery County had held onto its sense of community through the COVID-19 pandemic. He also mentioned that broadband expansion projects continue as ARCO in Action works with area providers to bring broadband service to all of Montgomery County.
He briefly talked about how the Chamber is working to develop strategies to help all of Montgomery County grow.
Sherry Ellison introduced the first speaker of the evening.
Gary McWilliams, who along with his wife Lynna, own the Gap Mercantile in Caddo Gap. He is also a successful Youtuber with his channel farmhands companion. He has over 52,000 subscribers to his channel that focuses on the old fashioned farming way to do things. He is also the Pastor at Oak Grove Baptist Church.
He talked about the 10 lessons he has learned on the farm.
Lessons ranged from pride and humility, overcoming failure, laughter and working to honesty, marriage, laws of the harvest, persistence and a carpenter named Jesus.
Kim Williams from the Arkansas Department of Tourism shared information regarding the upcoming solar eclipse that will cross over Montgomery County.
The eclipse will happen April 8, 2024 and will be a total eclipse. The totality is expected to last just under four minutes over Montgomery County. Industry experts are urging Arkansas businesses to prepare for a massive influx of visitors for the eclipse.
Williams talked about umbraphiles (people who follow eclipses) and that they are known as the kind of visitor you want in your community. They are asking businesses to promote the idea of “come early, staly late, and stay put.”
Chris Ray emceed the live auction with several people contributing well through the sale.
Mary Shinbeckler presented the Volunteer of the Year Awards in four categories.
The first award presented was the Business of the Year award. Big T’s General Store, Southern Bancorp and Mount Ida Tire were nominated with Bit T’s General Store winning the award.
The 2022 business of the year is a newer and much needed business in Oden. With a population ov just over 200 residents and many tourists there is a local need for groceries, gasoline, basics, and meals.
Tommy Beshears, pastor of Brushy Baptist Church, decided to do something about those limitations and remodeled an old building into Big T’s General Store.
Growing by leaps and bounds, Tommy is now converting the abandoned bank building next door. Every resident plus guests at nearby River View Cabins are ever grateful to have Big T’s General Store in their community.
Also grateful is anyone in need of a meal without money to pay. Big T (that would be Tommy) encourages them to come on in. By the way, don’t go to Big T’s on Sunday. Everyone will be at church.
Non-Profit of the Year award nominees included Wayseekers Ministry, Heritage House Museum and Caddo Hills Food Pantry with Wayseekers winning the award. ChrissyPhillips receiving the award for the ministry.
WaySeekers helps women in crisis rebuild their lives through worship, prayer, mentoring, housing and financial support, and practical skills education.
Referrals come from area churches and partnering organizations.
WaySeekers has acquired and outfitted four rental properties for housing and purchased the building on the square next to Shack Attack. As an income source, a coffee shop is being built in the front of the building. Women will learn to serve and operate the coffee shop.
Thus far WaySeekers has worked with 14 women. They have 21 Champions (team members and mentors) actively involved in helping to rebuild those lives.
Woman of the Year nominees included Laura Wagner, Amy Monk and Sherry Ellison with Laura Wagner receiving the award.
Laura is an active member of the Pencil Bluff Baptist Church. She also owns and operates the Mount Ida Pharmacy. The pharmacy’s reputation reflects it’s owner’s willingness to help anyone in need.
Laura has been a foster parent and is still involved with some fosters who have aged out of the program. She is on the WaySeekers leadership team and the point person in the WaySeekers’ effort to find housing and facilities.
Laura was unable to be at the banquet so Tara Philpot received the award for her.
The final award presented was Man of the Year. Nominees included Al Gathright, Tim Efird and Tony Hill with Tony Hill receiving the award.
Tony is a much admired and appreciated pastor of the Community Bible Baptist Church but there is more to his story than church.

Tony’s extended claim to fame revolves around his role as fire chief at the Caddo Gap Volunteer fire department. Most volunteer jobs aren’t particularly dangerous but firemen are in a special category. Not only does Tony lead but he responds to call out as a first responder as well as a fireman. Further he often contributes his personal labor to repair mechanical problems on the fire trucks.

Woman of the Year – Laura Wagner (Tara Philpot pictured)
Non-Profit of the Year – Wayseekers (Chrissy Phillips pictured)
Man of the Year – Tony Hill
Busniess of the Year – Big T’s General Store (Tommy Beashears pictured)

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