Aarondia Lowe and Mike House accept the award for Interfor

By Shannon Sneed
The Eatonton Messenger
May 16, 2019

Interfor was named Business of the Year on May 6 at the annual Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce awards ceremony. Recognized for its contributions to the Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity and Putnam County Dairy Festival, Interfor also supports the community through the local education system by donating wood chips to Putnam County’s elementary and primary schools for playground maintenance each year.

The Dennis Station Road facility grew from 70 full-time employees in March 2014 to 96 fulltime jobs in October 2016 with an investment of $2 million in plant and equipment improvements. By September 2018, the company was operating with 125 full-time jobs.

The mill is planning an $87 million equipment replacement/upgrade project in the third quarter of this year.

The Chamber honored its founding members, including, from left, Sammy Blackwell, Joe Hudson, Betty McElhenney and Jim Marshall. Not pictured, other members included Dr. Robert Betzel, Brenda Coker, James Hudson, Lillian McElhenney, Dr. Andy Ray, Bob Weeks, Harvey Wilson and Clarence Wright.

Throughout the program, coordinators recognized each of the four Business of the Year nominees with video presentations. Other nominees included Cuscowilla on Lake Oconee, a private residential lake and golf community offering Georgia’s only Coore-Crenshaw designed golf course; Rossee Oil, a staple in the Eatonton community that celebrates 75 years in business next year; and Vizitech USA, specializing in 3D technology, augmented reality and virtual reality learning programs.


Celebrating 40 years serving the community, the Chamber organized an elegant ruby red banquet at Rock Eagle Lake. Walking a red carpet into the pavilion, guests dined at tables set with unique displays created by Chamber members.

Opening the ceremony, Chamber President Roddie Anne Blackwell noted that the Ambassador Program was being reintroduced and welcomed alumni to join.

Stewart Rodeheaver, president of Vizitech USA, tells about the 3D learning programs his company provides to schools, businesses and government agencies.

Representing Leadership 2019, McKenzie Davenport of Fowler Flemister Concrete announced that the class’s project would include acquiring technology from Vizitech USA for Putnam County High School.

Retired Brigadier General and Vizitech President Stewart Rodeheaver explained the company’s interactive capabilities, noting that, using state of the art technology, Vizitech is able to provide classrooms the ability to take complex concepts and recreate them virtually for a safe learning experience. Rodeheaver said the company has been in business nine years and made $1 million in sales its first year. As the technology proved successful, the sales increased to $8 million last year, he noted.

The program continued with the introduction of the 2019-20 Board of Directors, including Board Chairperson Marie Rainey, Vice Chairperson Tim McClelland, Maddie Atkinson, McKenzie Davenport, Jason Green, Keith Hill, Tommy Jeffords, Jesse McMillen, Linda Moore, Sarah Peacock, Cynthia Wallace and Matt Wilson.

Outgoing board members were recognized with ruby-styled paperweights.

The Chamber honored its founding members, Dr. Robert Betzel, Sammy Blackwell, Brenda Coker, James Hudson, Joe Hudson, Jimmy Marshall, Betty McElhenney, Lillian McElhenney, Dr. Andy Ray, Bob Weeks, Harvey Wilson and Clarence Wright.

Founding businesses celebrating 40 years of membership were recognized, including Blackwell Furniture Company, Eatonton Kiwanis Club, Eatonton Medical & Surgical Center, Eatonton Service League, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Fowler Flemister Concrete, Gary McElhenney, Holloway’s Ace Hardware, Pilot Club of Eatonton Inc., Putnam General Hospital, The Peoples Agency, The Peoples Bank and Tri-County EMC.

Kelsi Schell is awarded the Youth in Excellence award by Eatonton Putnam Chamber of Commerce President Roddie Anne Blackwell.

The 2019-20 Chamber Ambassadors were announced, including Sidney Alexander of The Glen Lake Oconee, Burton Ayres of High Priority Pest Control, Jeff Davis of Window Wizardz, Terry Emlet of The Mosquito Authority, Amy McElhenney and Carla Rice of Farmers & Merchants Bank, Mika Mills of Harbor Club on Lake Oconee and Michael Payne of Smith Communications.

The Youth in Excellence Award went to Kelsi Schell, who said she is planning on attending Georgia Southern University, where she will major in psychology. Kelsi noted that she has a desire to counsel children.

Gus Pursley IV and McKenzie Davenport presented the Citizen of the Year award to Gary McElhenney, who has served the community for more than 40 years.

Putnam County Coroner Robert McElhenney (center) accepts the Citizen of the Year award from Fowler Flemister’s Gus Pursley IV and McKenzie Davenport.

“He’s not often praised or championed but is essential to the community,” Blackwell said. “And he does it around the clock.”

McElhenney started with fire rescue in the 1970s, is a charter member of the Lions Club and a member of the Red Cross and National Guard. He has served 35 years as Putnam County Coroner.

“Nothing gives me more satisfaction than to help people,” McElhenney said.

Recognizing new businesses in the community, Sarah Peacock presented the award for Breakout Business of the Year to Manley Metalworks.

Van Manley of Manley Metalworks accepts the award for Breakout Business of the Year from Chamber President Roddie Anne Blackwell and Sarah Peacock of BankSouth.

Blackwell said that, after starting in 2017 with three people, Manley Metalworks has grown to operate two successful companies. “They also helped to create the new designs for the Chamber’s Christmas ornaments,” Blackwell said.