Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
The Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its “Annual Awards & Installation Banquet,” Friday, May 21, at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts at which time it honored Claire Suminski as Citizen of the Year. Nominated by Jim Breedlove, branch manager at United Community Bank in Franklin and a Chamber board member, Suminski is a local business owner, author, and tireless community volunteer.
Explained Diane Baldwin, administrative assistant at The Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, “We have been recognizing outstanding citizens in the community for at least 30 years.”
Suminski, who moved to Franklin from Lincoln, Neb., 30 years ago, works in her family business, Dometrics, Inc., which specializes in the supply of machine replacement parts for European made machinery. She is also a prolific author of children’s books, including the “Cowee Sam” and “Animal Stories” series, which fall under the Suminski Family Book publishing entity.
“I was very humbled and honored to receive the chamber award,” said Suminski, who asked one of her daughters, Jamy Beth, to receive the award on her behalf, because she and her husband, Joe, were out of town. “Trusting in God and committing to work with a team for each project that I’m involved in in the community … with like-minded individuals who are willing to roll their sleeves up and get to work … I feel that is at the core of any success that I have experienced. I look at the people that chose me to receive this year’s award as my peers. We work shoulder to shoulder to keep building strength in this community for the future.
“The well-run, non-profits and dedicated volunteers in this community are a multiplier factor. They take the funds given to them and put them to good use to help our community shine,” she added.
Suminski has been involved in countless community endeavors, including Women’s History Trail, which is part of The Folk Heritage Association of Macon County, the Community Connections mentoring program for Macon County schools, and much more. She has also organized the annual Balsam Bee fund raiser, which takes place at Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center during the Christmas holidays, as well as Cowee Christmas, an arts and crafts event.
She pointed out that her family, which includes four now-grown children, has often served with her. Her family has hosted the bible-based Franklin Family Fellowship for 30 years.
“And a special thank you to Jim, who has believed in all of the ‘ways of helping’ ideas that I have brought to him,” she said.
Suminski shared that living in Macon County and serving in whatever capacity is needed has been a privilege.
“I am amazed every day to live here, in the midst of God’s nature and beauty, and yet, it is the people that live and work and give and serve here that really make this such an incredibly special place.”
Additional Award Winners
Michele Alderson was given the Duke Energy Citizenship Service Award. Alderson is one of the founders of Hospice House Foundation of WNC, a Franklin not-for-profit. Alderson has served as president of the foundation since its inception in 2005, leading HHFWNC in pursuit of its mission… to raise funds for the construction of a Hospice House that will serve the rural mountain region. This mission is approaching fulfillment due to more than 1,500 supporters and Alderson’s leadership. Alderson is the driving force that led HHFWNC to the achievement of its mission.
Dakota Collins was awarded the Youth Citizenship Award. Dakota is a member of the Cowee Volunteer Fire Department serving as a junior firefighter. Collins is also an officer in the Future Farmers of America student organization at FHS and has earned the 1st and 2nd level awards in FFA. He has participated in the “Rise for Hunger” program, where he helped package nearly 20,000 meals. Collins also serves on the community service committee for the FFA. Collins volunteers at Grandview Manor in the “adopt a grandparent” program. Collins has overcome many challenges and struggles this year and continues to do so while inspiring others.
Adult & Teen Challenge of the Smokies was named the Club/Organization of the Year. Accepting the award was director Mike Barres. Teen Challenge is a faith-based 12-month residential addiction recovery program opening in the old Cullasaja Campground location just off the Highlands Road in 2016.
The Above & Beyond Award went to the Macon County Health Department for its efforts in Covid-19 testing and vaccination and to Macon County EMS. Kathy McGaha – both presented by Chamber president Bryan Robinson presented the award to Health Director Kathy McGaha with County Manager Derek Roland accepting for the EMS department.
Brittney Lofthouse contributed to this article.