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.
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.
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.
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.