Former Hilton Head Island Mayor Tom Peeples received South Carolina's highest civilian honor during the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's annual ball Saturday.
S.C. Sen. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican and former chief of staff to Gov. Mark Sanford, recommended Peeples and presented him with the Order of the Palmetto.
Davis said honoring Peeples was one of Sanford's final acts as governor before his term ended earlier this year.
Peeples, who did not run for re-election last year after 15 years as mayor, thanked the town's residents for their support.
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"Nothing ever happens on Hilton Head Island without the whole community behind you," Peeples said.
Davis said Peeples' wife, Mary Ann, deserves a share of the award.
"In subscript, it ought to say 'Mary Ann' as well," Davis said of the plaque.
About 450 people attended the black-tie gala at the Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa, during which business and civic leaders declared the recession in the Lowcountry's rearview mirror.
"Many of you feel we've weathered the worst of our economic storm," chamber president and CEO Bill Miles said.
Chamber chairman David Tigges urged Hilton Head to remake itself as it emerges from the economic downturn and noted redevelopment was a major theme of the race to succeed Peeples.
"The time for renewal is now," Tigges said.
The chamber passed out several awards and released the following details about the recipients:
Alice Glenn Doughtie Good Citizenship Award: Gen. Arthur E. Brown Jr.
Brown, a retired four-star Army general, has been involved for 20 years with local organizations, including the Greater Island Council, the Technical College of the Lowcountry Foundation, the Boys & Girls Club, Hilton Head Rotary Club, Leadership Hilton Head and United Way of the Lowcountry.
"He has made our community a better place," said Kaye Black, co-chairwoman of United Way of the Lowcountry and a former winner of the award.
Outstanding Organization of the Year Award: The Children's Center
The center, established in 1967 in a modest, cinder-block building on Mathews Drive, now annually provides child care and education to 300 children from low-income families on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton.
"Working families on Hilton Head are the core to what makes this island go, and if they don't have a place for the children, they can't go to work," said center board member Jerry Reeves Sr.
Sue West Educator of the Year: LouAnne Barrett
Barrett has taught art at Hilton Head Christian Academy since 2005 and also taught Spanish for six years.
"She is an excellent art teacher who has single-handedly built a strong art program for us," said Larry Green, upper school principal.
Bluffton Regional Business Council Member of the Year: Leah McCarthy
McCarthy owns Monster Pizza, the Downtown Deli and Downtown Catering Co.
"With little to no notice, she can put something together for us and exceed our expectations," said Karen Sprague, chief operating officer of Atlantic Community Bank.
Small Business of the Year: Pino Gelato
President and owner Ramona Fantini and her husband, John Jacobs, bought the business in 2005 after vacationing on Hilton Head and have since opened four stores in other states and partnered with charities such as the Hilton Head Humane Association.
"They have used a wide variety of tools, such as customer-loyalty programs, social and interactive networking, and community involvement to produce awareness for the product and be successful," said Ted Allenbach, former president of small-business counseling group SCORE.
Zonta Woman of the Year: Kimberly Duke-Clarke
She is owner and director of Lowcountry Day Preschool in Bluffton, incoming vice president of the Child Abuse and Prevention Association and a volunteer social worker.
"By her acts of kindness she has spread roots in this community and has made a difference," said Barbara Pawlishyn, president of the Zonta Club of Hilton Head.