Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

For more than 40 years, Macon County native Bruce Conley has been suiting up as Kris Kringle to bring joy and a little holiday cheer to families in his community. What started as part of his job while working for Bowers Department Store on Main Street 43 years ago when Conley was just 18 years old, has turned into a passion and the chance to give back to his community.

The Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce recognized Conley Tuesday night with the “Citizen of the Year” award.

For at least the last 16 years, Conley has brought up the rear of the Chamber of Commerce’s annual Christmas Parade, riding on the final float with all nine of his reindeer and his sleigh.

“My father has been an active community member for years and is a Franklin native,” said Justin Conley. “He recently retired after 30 years with the NC Department of Transportation. He’s served on the board for Habitat for Humanity and in the Summer he can be seen assisting World Changers projects. He’s a regular at the Heritage Festival and can be found hanging out at the McDonald’s near town bridge most mornings. I think one of the most impactful things he’s done is be the Santa for thousands of Franklin’s kids every holiday season over the years. He doesn’t do it for money – but for the joy it brings to folks. When I was younger – I got to tag along as he read to kids or surprised a church full of kids. I’m obviously biased, but I don’t think you could do much better than my Dad.”

From Bowers Department Store, Conley began playing Santa for Tyler’s Superette when his cousin asked him to suit up for the holiday season. Shortly after that, the Bluebell Factory enlisted his services for their annual Christmas celebration hosted by the Jaycees, then a community service organization.

One of Conley’s favorite parts of playing Santa is the ability to help nonprofit organizations in the community around the holidays. Conley has played Santa for about a dozen nonprofits from the Serving Spoon to KIDS Place to the Methodist Children’s Home. This Christmas, as Conley was in full swing playing the jolliest man around town, he may have been bringing smiles to others, but inside, he was struggling. Over this past holiday, Conley lost his brother, Harry. Despite the death of his brother, Conley still remained committed to being Santa and kept as many commitments as he could.

Chamber Member of the Year was presented to Habitat for Humanity. This award is nominated and chosen by the Chamber Board of Directors. There is not a written nomination but they were chosen because of the volunteer hours they spent getting the new chamber building finished and ready to move in by late May 2017. They voluntarily moved the Chamber sign and the awnings from the old building to the new location. They voluntarily installed all the cabinets and counter tops in the new building. They furnished the box truck and helped move from the old location to the new location.  They helped with some last minute wiring for phones and some electrical. The services they provided free of charge saved the Chamber significantly.

Hospice House Foundation of WNC, Inc. was recognized as the 2017 Club/Organization of the Year. Hospice House Foundation is a not-for-profit, incorporated in 2005. Its mission is to provide funding to construct a hospice inpatient facility for the far western counties of the state. To date, $3,150,000 has been raised toward the facility’s need of $4,900,000 capital campaign goal, which includes $1.3 million in pledged challenge grant funds.

Tentative plans are to “break ground” on the facility in August, contingent on raising an additional $850,000. This regional Hospice House could be serving hospice patients and their families as early as fall 2019. The facility will have six beds and will serve and estimated 200 hospice patients per year and an additional 400 family members.

Shelby Ann Frazier was awarded the Youth Citizenship & Service Award. Frazier was nominated for her outstanding academic achievements, maintaining a 3.5 or higher in all of her classes throughout high school. Frazier is active in the community, participating in Holiday Angels, Shop with a Cop, highway cleanups, Operation Christmas Child, and the F.A.S.T. [Franklin Amateur Swim Team] Program. She is a student athlete and captain of the Varsity Swim team leading them to break records at the state meets.

Lisa Leatherman with Duke Energy attends the Chamber Banquet each year and on Tuesday night presented the 2017 Duke Energy Citizen and Service Award to Patti McClure. McClure has touched many lives, working as an elementary school teacher for more than 20 years before continuing her love of entertaining and volunteering in the community. For years, McClure has created and produced “Ms. Patti’s Entertainment Tonight,” a variety show of local talent that raises funds for youth groups, mission trips, and various charities.