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GSDP Celebrates Award Recipients at Annual Banquet

The Greater Starkville Development Partnership held its 2017 Annual Banquet at The Mill Conference Center on Thursday evening. Each year, the Banquet highlights successes and milestones of the Partnership’s program of work from the previous year. During the event, an impressive slate of annual awards is announced, and the GSDP was proud to celebrate the 2016 award recipients at last night’s affair.

The Greater Starkville Development Partnership sponsors eight annual awards presented by the organization and its partners. Each is awarded based on nominations and a selection process conducted by the various Partnership boards and partner organizations. The coveted awards recognize excellence in several areas related to the growth and progress of Starkville along with the Partnership’s core strategies, including economic impact, downtown revitalization, community service, business growth, and education.



Formerly known as the Education Hall of Fame, Teachers of Distinction awards are selected and presented by SOAR (Starkville-Oktibbeha Achieving Results), an affiliate of the CREATE Foundation. The purpose of the awards is to recognize & reward educators of distinction who are making difference with K-12 students in the Starkville/Oktibbeha County area. Each winner receives $1000. SOAR awarded three 2016 Teachers of Distinction awards during the Annual Banquet. Awards were presented to Ty Adair, an Advanced Placement history teacher and BEST Robotics coach at Starkville High School, April Dill, a National Board Certified engineering teacher at Millsaps Center for Technology and BEST Robotics coach, and finally, Henri Sue Kennard, who works with students who have special learning needs at Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary School.


The Steve Langston Downtown Revitalization Award is presented annually to an individual that represents the spirit and commitment to Downtown Starkville that has led to the revitalization we currently enjoy. The 2016 award was presented to Mrs. Carolyn Sullivan of Sullivan’s Office Supply. Ms. Sullivan and her husband, Donald, opened Sullivan’s Office Supply in 1959 in Eupora, Mississippi, and relocated to Downtown Starkville in 1960. Mrs. Sullivan has remained a driving force in the business since its opening, managing various aspects of the operation. Through her commitment to keeping the business located downtown, and her attention to issues impacting the vibrance of Main Street like parking, window displays and beautification, she has been a leader in revitalization for nearly 60 years.


The GSDP Military Service Award was instituted by the Partnership Military Affairs committee in 2008 to recognize community members showing exemplary support & honor for US military servicemen, servicewomen, and veterans. The 2016 Military Service Award was presented to Oktibbeha County native, Mr. Jack Wallace. Mr. Wallace serves as state chair of the MS Employer Support of the National Guard & Reserve Soldiers (ESGR), working to facilitate employee support and increase job opportunities for military servicemen and veterans. Mr. Wallace’s work with ESGR includes recognizing outstanding employer support, increasing awareness and education of Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), resolving conflicts through mediation, and developing initiatives to increase employment opportunities for military service members and veterans. He leads the MSESGR as it reaches out to employers and service members in areas such as employer outreach, military outreach, public affairs, mediation, training, and employment initiative programs.


The Industry of the Year Award is presented annually by the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority (OCEDA). The award goes to an industry that has shown excellence in the previous year in innovation, growth, community involvement or leadership.  The winner is selected by the OCEDA board of directors and the criteria are based on many factors outside of specific growth numbers and hard data.  The 2016 award was presented to CSpire. Founded in 1988 as Cellular South, the MS based company now boasts a world-class 4G LTE network, over 7000 miles of fiber infrastructure, and a workforce of nearly 1500 employees. In 2013, CSpire opened its $23 million, 23,800 square-foot Data Center in Starkville. With land donated by the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority and tax incentives supported by the City and County, the facility became the largest private sector development in the region’s history. The Data Center’s investment in Oktibbeha County created jobs and generates some $220,000 each year in tax support for the Starkville Oktibbeha School District. Aspire is a loyal supporter of the GSDP program of work through generous sponsorships, including the Starkville Community Market, the Blue Ribbon Business Resource Series, and the Committee of 100.


The GSDP Ambassadors program is an important member-led volunteer group responsible for offering much logistical support for GSDP activities. Ambassadors also serve as a welcoming body for various functions and activities of the Partnership. Also, these ambassadors ensure member participation, attend ribbon cutting ceremonies, recruit and retain Partnership members, stay abreast of current events related to the Partnership, promote a strong business community, and attend monthly meetings. An outstanding individual is chosen by the Ambassadors each year to be recognized as Ambassador of the Year. The 2016 award was presented to Cory Lucius. Mr. Lucius is a local business owner with Shelter Insurance, an active Rotarian, and involved in a number of community organizations.


The Crystal Pineapple Tourism Award recognizes and celebrates the success of an individual, business, or organization that has contributed significantly to the success of tourism in the Starkville community. Award recipients are selected by the Partnership’s Convention and Visitors Bureau division. The 2016 Pineapple was awarded to the Mississippi State University Women’s Basketball team. With multiple years in post season play, Coach Vic Schaefer and his team have built a winning tradition of women’s hoops in Starkville, and bring an additional fan base of visitors to the community throughout each season.


The T. E. Veitch Community Service Award recognizes members of the community who have performed outstanding community service and civic contributions, and is one of the most prestigious offered by the Partnership. The 2016 award was presented to Barbara Runnels Coats. Barbara is a financial advisor with Modern Woodmen of America and a tireless volunteer and supporter of numerous community organizations. She has served and continues to serve as a committee member and volunteer for the Golden Triangle Walk to End Alzheimer’s, St. Joseph’s Food Pantry, the Healthy Starkville Committee, the National Association of Insurance and Fraternal Advisors, and the National Association of Fraternal Insurance Counselors. Barbara fundraises for and works with groups like the local 4-H club to purchase and donate supplies to the Oktibbeha County Humane Society, and with Volunteer Starkville and Maroon Volunteer Center for clean up of Oddfellows Cemetery. She has also personally collected pet food and supplies to donate to a local animal sanctuary, and has funded and participated in two local community garden projects. Barbara has conducted donation fund matching for Christian World Mission, Catch A Dream Foundation, Volunteer Starkville, Starkville Police Department Honor Guard, Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department, Oktibbeha County Emergency Management, and Veteran’s Memorial Monument. She has also fund-matched for five individuals who had health emergencies, altogether contributing more than $105,000 to the causes she supports. In addition, the many programs  Barbara impacts include the Oktibbeha County Humane Society, Starkville Oktibbeha School District, the Hannah Pote Run for Education, Volunteer Starkville, Starkville Community Theater and more.


Established in 1995 through the R. Clay Simmons Foundation and The Greater Starkville Development Partnership, the R. Clay Simmons Exemplary Enterprise Award recognizes a business that has made outstanding contributions to the community through civic involvement, educational advancement, and economic development, and has demonstrated superior business practices. The 2016 award was presented to Eat Local Starkville, the culinary group behind local restaurant favorites, Bin 612, Restaurant Tyler, The Guest Room and City Bagel Cafe. The brain child of Brian Kelley and Ty Thames, the company’s commitment to creating local-centered foods, working with local growers and businesses, and promoting the economic impact of a vibrant local culinary culture has significantly contributed to Starkville’s growth as a culinary destination. The Eat Local Starkville restaurant concepts have been featured in numerous publications, and their chefs have become fixtures at local and regional culinary competitions. With a keen understanding of the economic impact of developing the local food culture, Eat Local Starkville has committed to contribute to the long term health of Starkville, knowing that their investment in the local community not only contributes to the success of their restaurants but it supports their neighbors, whose patronage they depend on. Taking as much pride in the community as they do in their own concepts, Eat Local Starkville truly exhibits a spirit of leadership among local restaurants and businesses.