The dinner, held at Triangle South Center in Dunn, was host to the bestowing of the M.H. “Jack” Brock Memorial Award, the Emsley Kennedy Award and the Best Public/Private Partnership Award. All three awards were brought back to Sampson.
The M.H. “Jack” Brock Memorial Award, annually awarded to a county government figure, was given to Sampson County Board of Commissioners chairman Jefferson Strickland. Strickland had a prior obligation and was unable to attend the banquet, but his brother Salemburg Mayor Bobby Strickland accepted the award on his behalf.
The award was officially presented to the board chairman at the Board of Commissioners meeting earlier this week. Commissioner John Blanton said the award was a prestigious one, and congratulated Strickland for the work he has done, before presenting him with the plaque.
The Brock Award has been bestowed in past years to several Sampson County commissioners, including current board members Malachi Faison and Blanton himself.
“I’m kind of speechless about the whole thing,” said a modest Strickland, who thanked county staff and his fellow board members. “An award like this recognizes my peers as much as me. I will display this with honor.”
Strickland served as the Sampson County Board of Commissioners vice chairman since being elected to the District 3 commissioner’s seat in 2006. He was appointed chairman of the board in December, a position in which he will serve at least all of 2010.
Interim county manager Susan Holder said Strickland has served on a number of boards, and done so willingly and with no other motive but to help.
“I think it’s wonderful that the Mid-Carolina Council of Governments has an award that recognizes local government,” said Holder. “No one, including Jefferson Strickland, does what they do to achieve awards like this. It certainly was appropriate they chose to recognize Mr. Strickland’s dedication to Sampson County.”
That dedication has included his time with the Sampson County Board of Commissioners, as well as on the Social Services Board, the Sampson Community College Board of Trustees and as co-chairman of the Transportation Advocacy Group. He has also been active with Eastpointe Mental Health and within this community, Holder said.
His many involvements were the very reason he missed the banquet where he was honored. He was to introduce the guest speaker at the Sampson Community College Foundation’s annual dinner and did not want to skip out on the previous engagement.
“He works diligently and many hours, with no anticipation of receiving acknowledgment,” said Holder. “It takes a special person to serve on these boards because it takes a lot of time, and he gives it generously. He’s somebody that gives generously and willingly without any expectation of being lauded for it.”
The Mid-Carolina Council of Governments, headquartered in Fayetteville, serves Cumberland, Harnett and Sampson counties. It is one of 17 Council of Governments cogs established to offer programs and services to local governments and citizens, including land use planning, zoning administration, water and sewer studies, annexation reviews and community development workshops.
Newton Grove Mayor Gerald Darden was the recipient of the Emsley Kennedy Jr. Award, which is given to a municipal government figure. Darden, who currently serves as vice chairman of the MCCOG and is a past president, said the recognition from his peers was humbling.
Past winners have included past and present Roseboro mayors Roland Hall and William “Toot” McLemore, and former Newton Grove mayor William Wilson. Darden said he has gone to the annual dinner for years and seen many others receive the Kennedy award, named in honor of former Clinton mayor Emsley Kennedy.
Darden said he wondered what it would be like to receive the award — he has to wonder no more.
“It meant a lot,” said the mayor. “I have sat there and listened to people get it in years past, and I always wondered what it would be like to get it. It was kind of surprising. I told them when I got up there that I felt like I wasn’t deserving of it.”
His record of public service says otherwise.
Darden served on the Newton Grove Board of Commissioners in the 1970s and 80s before taking the helm as the town’s mayor in 2001. Darden has been re-elected three times since, running unopposed in each election. Along with his involvement in town government and with the MCCOG, Darden served for 20 years on the fire department and rescue squad. He was the town’s fire captain for many years.
“It’s well deserved,” Newton Grove town clerk Sheila Barefoot said of Darden’s recognition. “Gerald has served his community well. He definitely gives of his time and definitely cares for the town of Newton Grove and the surrounding area.”
At the dinner, Darden thanked his wife, Gail, who has been his support over the years. She was there watching their son, Jeremy, all those nights when her husband was at any variety of board meetings. The couple now also have two grandchildren.
At 64, Darden said it has been a fulfilling life in public service. It is also one that may be winding down.
“I’ve served the public all my life,” said Darden. “It’s just what I enjoy doing. When that time comes, and I think it’s coming quickly, I might hand over the reins and let someone younger take over. I’m not going to say when, but I think it’s getting close, and we need to get some younger blood in there. And we’ve got a lot of good talent in Newton Grove.”
Darden will be honored at the Sampson County Board of Commissioners meeting in March.
The third award, for best public/private partnership, was given to Al McLamb. The Roseboro native donated some of the land for Western District Park, then sold the county the rest of the property at a reduced rate.
Holder said the land donation aided in breathing life into the project, and the county was grateful for it.
“I don’t think that park would even have come to pass without Mr. McLamb’s initiative,” said Holder. She said McLamb actually sought out Roseboro town officials, county and recreation staff to give the land. The saved money was able to be used for other necessary funding.
“His generosity actually sprouted that park and allowed it to happen; it was the impetus that has allowed citizens to enjoy recreation,” Holder remarked. “We could easy lay at his feet the fact that the park is even there.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 121, or by email at email@example.com.