A night of honors
Hay wins R.O. Arnold Award

COVINGTON - Sam B. Hay Jr. was honored with the R.O. Arnold Award at the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting on Thursday night.

"Thank you for this great honor," Hay said as he accepted the award from his daughter, Buncie Hay Lanners, a past chair of the Chamber's Board of Directors.

Considered to be the most prestigious honor a Newton County resident can receive, the award recognizes a lifetime of community involvement and achievement.

The honoree is chosen by past recipients and past Chamber chairs. The winner must be a resident of Newton County for at least five years and have shown significant service to the community.

After the meeting, Hay said the award was especially meaningful since it was named after Bob Arnold, who was his wife Louly's uncle.

"I'm overwhelmed," he said. "It's quite an honor because Mr. Bob Arnold was a wonderful citizen. To receive an award named after him, I'm just delighted. I love Newton County and believe in it wholeheartedly, and I want to continue to do for it because it's given so much to me."

Hay has lived in Newton County for more than 50 years and is the founder of Sunbelt Builders Inc., a locally based construction company.

Past R.O. Arnold recipients T.K. and Louise Adams nominated Hay for the honor.

Hay was a Board of Education member for more than a decade and was instrumental in facilitating integration of the school system in 1970, Louise Adams said.

"His humility, service, fairness and love for mankind have been the basis of many of our positive racial relations in this community of which we continue to be benefactors," she said.

Hay is a supporter of the Washington Street Community Center, the Arts Association in Newton County and the Covington Family YMCA, and is a member of First Presbyterian Church.

Hay and his wife have four children: Buncie, Sam III, Florence and Louly, and seven grandchildren, who are continuing Hay's legacy of community service, according to Adams.

Hay's granddaughter, Sarah, 16, has proposed starting a ballet class at Washington Street Community Center, which provides after school tutoring and activities to students.

"Children do what they see their role models do. That's such a beautiful legacy to leave to your family," Adams said.

Also during the meeting, the Dick James Small Business of the Year Award went to Covington LongHorn Steakhouse and its owning partner, Michael St. Bernard.

The business chair for Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful, St. Bernard supports Porterdale Elementary School and is a sponsor of the Fuzz Run, Cheerios Challenge and the Athlete of the Week in the Newton and Rockdale Citizen.

He increased his restaurant's sales by 10 percent in 2006 and 2007 and operates one of the Top 10 restaurants in sales and profits for the LongHorn Restaurants organization.

Assistant Store Manager Brandon Taylor accepted the award on behalf of St. Bernard.

The final award of the evening, the Spirit of Excellence Award, which recognizes a Chamber volunteer for outstanding contributions, was presented to Kathy Silvio, retiring chair of the Chamber's Special Event's Committee.

Silvio "has always created a sense of teamwork," not to mention saving money with her motto, "Ask, don't pay. We can usually get it for free," Boothby said.

Silvio gave credit to her committee, asking the members to stand and be recognized.

"Over the years, I have had absolutely the best committee," she said. "You are the ones over the years who have made it possible to do these things."

Also during the event, 2007 Chamber Chairman Marshall Ginn passed the gavel to 2008 Chairman Troy Brooks.

Held at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, the meeting saw near perfect attendance of 365 tickets sold, according to Boothby.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.