Staff Photo: Erin Evans. Jerry and Lee Aldridge were the recipients of the R.O. Arnold Award, given at the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce's Annual Meeting, held Thursday night at Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.
COVINGTON -- Jerry and Lee Aldridge have spent most of their lives helping others without expecting any recognition. But on Thursday night, the couple found themselves receiving a standing ovation in a room full of their peers as they accepted the R.O. Arnold Award.
Considered to be the most prestigious honor a Newton County resident can receive, the award recognizes a lifetime of community involvement and achievement and is handed out each year during the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce's Annual Meeting.
"I think it's the first time in my life I've ever been unable to speak," Lee Aldridge said Friday. "I could not think of a single thing to say, and I'm usually not that way. It is a tremendous honor. All the people who have won before were so deserving, and I'm so happy to be in such good company."
The Aldridges were nominated by Wendell Crowe and past R.O. Arnold recipients Nonie and Ed Needham and Betty Bellairs.
"Together, they have touched more lives in a very positive way than we can even imagine," Nonie Needham said.
The couple has been married for 48 years. They met at Young Harris College. After marrying, they spent their first two years teaching in Jerry Aldridge's hometown, Blackshear, Ga. In 1964, they moved to Newton County, where they raised three children, Cindy, Keith and Austin.
Lee Aldridge taught science at Newton County High School, coached cheerleading for more than 20 years, was a sponsor of the Y Club and the science club and an advisor for the yearbook.
Jerry Aldridge drove the bus to out-of-town games for the cheerleaders and for years announced football games and was known as the "Voice of the Rams."
Lee Aldridge retired after 37 years in education, while her husband retired after
"Lee and Jerry were not just teachers. They cared for every student and helped them before and after school, and even in their homes," Needham said. "Mrs. A, as she is affectionately known, had the gift to motivate her students. Her belief in them led them to believe in themselves. Probably their most cherished achievement is the fact that both Lee and Jerry have made such a difference in the lives of so many hundreds of students in Newton County."
The couple also served the 4-H State of Georgia Volunteer Leader Organization for 30 years, spending part of that time as co-presidents.
Lee Aldridge joined the Service Guild of Covington in 2000 and has participated in many projects, but is possibly best known for donning a Cat in the Hat costume and reading to school children each year to mark Dr. Seuss's birthday.
Newton Medical Auxiliary recently honored her for giving 5,000 hours of volunteer service. She is also chairman of the city of Covington Planning and Zoning Commission and has served on the boards for the Learning Center, Mental Health Center and the American Cancer Society.
Jerry Aldridge has been a Boy Scout leader for 45 years and has assisted 28 young men in becoming Eagle Scouts. He has won many awards for his service, including the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award, the highest award granted to volunteers. He is a longtime member of Covington Kiwanis Club and has served as lieutenant governor of the 21st Division of Georgia Kiwanis. He has been named Kiwanian of the Year and lifetime member.
The Aldridges have been members of the Julia A. Porter United Methodist Church for 45 years, where they have served on many boards, taught adult Sunday School and participated in the church's mission work in Mexico.
"Lee and Jerry Aldridge have lived devoting their lives to their family, education, church service and over and above, extraordinary community service," Needham said.
Lee Aldridge said she and her husband give so much for one simple reason: They believe it's the right thing.