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Chamber honors Orangeburg hotelier; Patel called ‘shining example’ for business

For Orangeburg resident Hema Patel, being named the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce Small Business/Person of the Year was hard to grasp.

"My goodness!" Patel said shortly after receiving the award at the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce banquet Thursday evening.

"It is such an honor. It is unbelievable because there are so many good business people in Orangeburg that I look up to. I never thought I would get this recognition,” she said.

Patel was presented the award to a round of applause and a standing ovation in the packed Orangeburg Mall Cinema.

She the chief executive officer of Orangeburg-based Courtesy Management, a hospitality company that manages and develops hotels in South Carolina. In Orangeburg, the company owns the Hampton Inn and Suites and is developing the Tru Hotel by Hilton on Citadel Road.

Patel was honored for her success in business and her emphasis on being environmentally sound.

Patel has grown her business over the last two decades, “all the while leading the charge for sustainable and responsible hotel development,” the award's nomination states.

"She is a shining example of a responsible and conscientious local business owner," the nomination states.

One example is the 122-room, 84,000-square-foot Holiday Inn and Suites at the Columbia Airport. The hotel opened on Earth Day in 2010.

It was the state's first green hotel and has received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

The hotel uses solar panels, tankless water heaters and reflective roofing.

Patel cites the reduced operation costs in running a “green” hotel.

Patel says all of her hotels are “green” with energy-efficient windows and upgraded heating and ventilation systems.

Patel has managed and developed about 25 hotels over the past 30 years.

Prior to entering into the hotel business, Patel was involved in biochemical research and later had a 14-year teaching career.

Following teaching, Patel pursued her a lifelong passion for entrepreneurship with her husband, Sudhir.

Patel was named the 2013 South Carolina Hotelier of the Year by the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.

She has also served as regional director of the Asian American Hotel Owner’s Association for North and South Carolina and was awarded the title of Women Hotelier of the Year for 2007 by the National Asian American Hotel Owners Association.

She has established herself as one of the first leading female South Asian hoteliers in the United States.

Patel is also involved in a number of organizations including Keep the Midlands Beautiful and the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The award is sponsored by First Citizens Bank.

Chairman's Award

The Garden Gate Florist CEO Daryl Cate was presented the Chamber's Chairman's Award.

Cate received the award for outstanding support and service to the Chamber.

Cate, a former Dollywood performer, serves on many boards and supports Orangeburg in a number of ways by serving with Relay for Life, Healing Species, Orangeburg Part-Time Players, Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association, Regional Medical Center Hospice and several other local civic groups including the Chamber.

He currently is the Chamber's vice president of membership.

Spirit Award

Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities Business Development and Public Relations Director Randy Etters received the Chamber's Spirit Award.

The award is presented for outstanding leadership to make the county a better place to live.

Etters has served DPU for more than 10 years.

He has participated with the Chamber on several committees and has been a vocal proponent of its importance.

Etters has supported the BlueBird Theater and Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association among other organizations and is a member of the Odyssey Show Band.

Other honors

The 2018 graduates of Leadership Orangeburg County were introduced at the event and received their certificates.

The class raised money for Orangeburg's Connie Maxwell Children's Home. The home is for children who have been abandoned, abused or neglected.

In addition, five Orangeburg County high school seniors were awarded a $1,000 scholarship each.

Three scholarships were given by the 2018 Leadership Orangeburg County class and two were given by the chamber.

The three given by Leadership Orangeburg County are the Greg Carson/Jesse Eargle Memorial Scholarships. Receiving the scholarships were Edisto High School's Daniel Fogle, Lake Marion High School's Alicia Avellaneda-Cruz and Orangeburg Preparatory School's Guy Watkins Best.

Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce R.H. Jennings Scholarship Awards were given to Bethune-Bowman Middle/High School student Briennah Murray and Branchville High School student Anna Carol Smith.

The scholarship has been renamed after Jennings in honor of the four generations of the Jennings family that served the chamber as members of its board of directors.

The chamber also paid tribute to members who have served the organization with dedication and enthusiasm.

Among those being recognized were 2019 Board of Directors officers as well as new board members. Retiring board members Walt Tobin and Lisa Main were also recognized.

Dupre Catering and Events, a new member of the Chamber, provided the buffet dinner. Beverages were sponsored by Covenant Media.

The presenting sponsor for the banquet was Zeus Industrial Products. Bimbo Bakeries USA was the reception sponsor. The video sponsor was Okonite.

Live entertainment featuring Orangeburg’s own Odyssey Show Band was sponsored by Ben Davis and Philip Dunning of Farm Bureau Insurance of St. Matthews.

Floral arrangements and décor were provided by The Garden Gate Florist.

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Williams honored for character; photojournalist has a ‘commitment to serve’

Leader. Builder. Artist. Historian.

All the words used to describe the 2018 winner of The Austin Cunningham Character Award seemed to fall short in capturing the full essence of Cecil J. Williams and his contributions to the Orangeburg community.

"His work and exceptional character have drawn national attention to our community and racial change," Orangeburg County Community of Character Executive Director Evelyn Disher said.

"His desire and commitment to serve should not go unrecognized,” she said.

Williams is an Orangeburg photographer, inventor, videographer, author and architect. Disher presented him with “The Austin” award Thursday night at the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce banquet.

When it was revealed he was the recipient of the award, Williams was noticeably surprised.

"My wife has pulled this once or twice in my life and I am totally surprised," he said. "I am really overwhelmed. It will inspire me to work for greater causes and to continue what I have done in the past in working for people. That is what it is all about to make this community a better place for all of us to live."

“The Austin” is given to an individual who exemplifies character traits that help make the county a better place to live, work and thrive.

The award is named after the late Austin Cunningham, who was a community advocate, businessman and civic servant. Williams knew him.

"He was uncommonly kind to people of color way back when it was not universal in Orangeburg," he said. "I am hoping in Orangeburg that we come together and that we overcome some of the obstacles that are still facing us."

"We should aspire to grow more and to bring better benefits to citizens because we have all the ingredients to make a greater city," Williams said. "I am hoping that will happen and happen soon."

A native of Orangeburg, Williams was inspired to pursue photography when his brother gave him a hand-me‐down Kodak Brownie.

By age 15, Williams was working as a professional photographer for publications such as JET magazine, the Afro‐American newspaper and the Pittsburgh Courier. He was also a stringer for the Associated Press.

Following His graduation from Claflin University, Williams used his camera to capture significant milestones in the civil rights movement.

When Orangeburg's black citizens began protesting segregated education, he photographed them challenging the system.

Later JET Magazine sent him to Clemson University where he photographed Harvey Gantt becoming the first African American admitted to the university.

His photographs have been featured in over 130 books, 17 newspapers and 11 television documentaries. His work has been exhibited in many museums and galleries across the United States.

Williams has earned the Governor’s Award for the Humanities and the Order of the Palmetto. He is The Times and Democrat’s 2018 Person of the Year.

Williams is a member of Delta Chi and the Boule of Sigma Pi Phi, the oldest African-American fraternity. He is a member of St. Luke Presbyterian Church.

He is married to Barbara Williams.

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S.C. Rural Summit coming to Orangeburg County

For the first time in its 29-year history, the South Carolina Rural Summit will be held in Orangeburg County.

Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright said he is “happy and thrilled” the summit will be hosted by the county.

"That means a lot of people are looking at Orangeburg County," Wright said. "I think we have a chance by hosting this to really show what we have, what we are doing to make a difference."

Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College’s Roquemore Auditorium will be the site for the summit. The summit will begin at 9 a.m. on Monday, March 4 and run through Tuesday, March 5 at 12:30 p.m.

"It is a big deal," Orangeburg County Development Commission Executive Director Gregg Robinson said.

He said Orangeburg’s selection is a testament to the growth the county has seen over the past few years and how it is being proactive in “tackling the issues facing our community.”

"No one is perfect," he said. "We are trying to establish a game plan to address issues that make us better in smaller, bite-size pieces so we can improve and ultimately win more manufacturing projects and win more commercial, housing and retail.”

Robinson said the county's new hotels and facilities like Roquemore Auditorium show the county has made it.

"Now we can host conferences and conventions," he said.

The summit, which formerly was known as the Governor's Rural Summit, is sponsored by the South Carolina Department of Commerce. The governor is usually in attendance at the annual summit.

All of the state's 46 counties were given the opportunity to host the summit and Orangeburg County stepped up and offered its services, S.C. Department of Commerce Director of Marketing and Communications Adrienne Fairwell said.

The summit seeks to provide community leaders, economic developers and state officials the opportunity to come together and learn about innovative methods to improve rural South Carolina.

Additionally, the summit serves as a venue to honor individuals for work they've done to advance their communities.

Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler said it, “means a lot to our city to host such a great summit for the entire state.

"It could mean some economic advantages for our county."

Highlighting this year's summit will be keynote speaker, entrepreneur and author John Hope Bryant.

Bryant is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Operation HOPE, Inc. the largest not-for-profit provider of financial literacy, financial inclusion and economic empowerment tools and services in the United States.

He has been named by American Banker magazine as 2016’s “Innovator of the Year”; Inc.’s “The World’s 10 Top CEOs” (honorable mention) and one of Time magazine’s “50 Leaders for the Future."

Bryant is also chairman and chief executive officer of Bryant Group Ventures and The Promise Homes Company, the largest for-profit minority-controlled owner of single-family residential rental homes in the U.S., and co-founder of Global Dignity.

The last five U.S. presidents have recognized his work, and he has served as an advisor to the last three sitting U.S. presidents from both political parties.

He has received hundreds of awards and citations for his work, including Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award and the John Sherman Award for Excellence in Financial Education from the U.S. Treasury.

Other speakers include Spartanburg-based Move Consulting leadership development specialist Elizabeth Jende Chevalier; S.C. Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt and S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, to name a few.

Early bird registration of $225 is available until 5 p.m. on Feb. 1. After 5 p.m., registration increases to $250 with cut-off registration on Feb. 10.

The event will be limited to 160 people.

When registering, individuals should RSVP for March 4’s Sunset on the Edisto event. This event will feature an oyster roast, gumbo, barbecue and more.

Registration for the summit will be held from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on March 4.

Registration and tickets can be purchased by visiting