COVINGTON - Three pillars of the community were recently recognized for their service and for carrying out the dream of unification and equality espoused by Martin Luther King Jr.
Willie J. Smith, president of the Newton County Ministers Union, and Doug Bolton, director of Hands on Newton, are the joint recipients of the I Have A Dream Award, which recognizes individuals who epitomize the philosophy of King through community service.
The awards were handed out during the annual community Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration held Jan. 18 at Newton High School.
Winners are selected by the event's organizing committee from a pool of nominees submitted by the community.
Local legend B.C. Crowell received the first Trailblazer Award, which goes to "a citizen that has made an in-depth impact on Newton County in a variety of areas," according to Josephine Brown, secretary for the MLK Celebration Committee.
"I think all three of them are giants in this community and in their own respective places," Brown said.
Willie J. Smith
Smith was selected as one of the winners of the I Have A Dream Award for his more than 20 years at the helm of the Newton County Ministers Union.
"I was grateful for them to consider some of the things that we've done over the years because most people don't realize that when the King program began, it came through the Ministers Union," Smith said.
During his tenure as president, in addition to the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, the Ministers Union has headed up volunteer efforts including Habitat for Humanity; the Community Food Pantry; and the annual Thanksgiving community dinner, which has fed more than 10,000 people since its inception.
Smith also serves as the pastor at Word of Praise Baptist Church in McDonough.
A lifelong Newton County resident, Smith has two children with his wife Gwendolyn.
Smith said he was honored to be recognized along with Bolton and Crowell.
"I think it's one of the most outstanding awards in the community. For the other two gentlemen, I was glad to see them receive it. They've done outstanding work," he said.
Bolton's life is about giving, and as friend Dennis Cheek shared while presenting his award, there are apparently no limits to his generosity: Bolton once gave a kidney to a friend in need of a transplant.
Bolton and his wife, Sherri, moved to Newton County in 2001. He retired as commanding officer of the South Precinct of the DeKalb County Police Department in 2004, following a career marked with promotions and awards. After a few years working for the DeKalb County District Attorney's Office and as a traveling consultant overseeing disposal of contaminated and prescription drugs, Bolton took on the role as director of Hands on Newton, an organization that coordinates volunteer activities throughout the county.
Bolton has also served as president of the Covington Rotary Club, is on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity, the executive committee at FaithWorks and is an active member of First Presbyterian Church of Covington. Bolton and his wife have two children, one grandchild and another on the way.
"Doug Bolton is a person that never sits. He's always busy. He works real hard in pulling volunteers together to do community service projects. He's a diligent worker," Brown said.
Bolton said winning the award was "very humbling and very surprising."
"There are a lot of deserving people in the community, and I feel very honored to have received it," he said.
Known to many as "Mr. Newton County," Crowell's contributions to recreation garnered him the first Trailblazer Award, which honors "someone who originated something new and carried it out until it was completed," said the Rev. Harold Cobb, a member of the MLK Celebration Committee.
"He was one of the originals to bring recreation into Newton County, which touched the lives of everybody and he was one of those that pushed for recreation to become integrated," Cobb said.
Crowell was born and reared in Porterdale and is perhaps best known as Bibb Manufacturing Company's Athletic Director, a job that entailed coaching teams at Porterdale High and Junior High schools, managing the local swimming pool and golf course and coordinating the adult baseball and softball teams.
His coaching career spanned 22 years. He was a founding member of the Newton County Recreation Commission and helped organize the athletic program for Newton County's junior high schools. The Recreation Commission honored him in 1996 by naming the site in Porterdale where he had spent much of his life playing and coaching B.C. Crowell Park.
"B.C. is just an icon of this total community," Brown said. "He has touched the lives of so many young folks that could have very well been in trouble. ... He has always been a hands-on person when it came to helping the youth of this community and he's actually responsible for recreation being as strong as it is in Newton County."
The father of four children, Crowell still attends many community events and can be seen at Turner Lake Park, Recreation Commission headquarters, on most days.
"Even with him now being not able to move around physically, just him being at Turner Lake encourages those young people and even myself that regardless, you can keep on going," Cobb said.
Crowell said hearing his name called as the award's first honoree was "definitely a surprise."
"It's a distinct honor, and I really appreciate it," he said.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.