On Friday night, Hillsborough did what it does best: celebrate small town community and success. 

The 2019 Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber Annual Meeting Gala and Awards Ceremony, held on Feb. 1, featured celebrity chef and author Vivian Howard as the keynote speaker, followed by the results of this year’s Chamber awards. 

The event featured a range of announcements, including Chamber President Chad Collins’ presentation of the 2019 Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the winner of 2018 Gingerbread House Competition. 

Among the announcements and celebration, Chef Howard spoke, urging gala guests to lean into the gift of a small town. 

Howard, a native small-town North Carolinian known for her award winning restaurants, cookbooks, and PBS television series, “A Chef’s Life,” spoke to the sold out crowd about her journey and how to appreciate being part of a town like Hillsborough. 

Howard and her husband, Ben Knight, decided to open their first restaurant Chef & The Farmer over a decade ago in Kinston, North Carolina. Howard explained that they had considered opening in New York, Raleigh, or Asheville, but the lure of family and the goal to bring light to a small town convinced them otherwise. 

“If we, as folks who live in small towns,” Howard said, “look at our history, look at what remains of our history, and if we choose to exalt it rather than apologize for it, then our communities will be stronger.”

Howard spoke about shops and restaurants that make her hometown special, and how important it is to recognize and uplift those in a town like Hillsborough. 

“Small towns have a voice that has not been celebrated,” Howard said, “because we have not chosen to celebrate it as people who live in small towns.” 

Speakers throughout the night, including Howard and Collins encouraged this idea. Both emphasized the importance of frequenting small businesses, explaining the necessity of community support for these  as a part of the community and why it is important a way to support what makes small towns so special.

Chamber award winners were announced following Howard’s speech. These awards recognized businesses, organizations, and individuals that were voted for by members of the community. Award categories included titles such as the Helping Hand award, nonprofit of the year, and merchant of the year. 

The event ended with a word from Michael Malone, an Emmy Award winning author based in Hillsborough, who played a large part in the 2018 Candlelight Tour hosted by the chamber. Malone spoke about the success of this year’s tour with the addition of readings at each stop and touched on why he thinks Hillsborough is unique. 

“Together, businesses and the arts can enrich a town,” he said. “In Hillsborough, that shows. We’ve got a mayor who’s an artist, we’ve got jewelers, we’ve got people doing Last Fridays and doing parlor concerts and bringing the world of the arts together with the town.”

Malone ended by announcing the winner of the 2018 Gingerbread House Competition, Hillsborough resident Jen Sheppard. 

Kim Tesoro, CEO of Hillsborough’s Chamber, emphasized the importance of the people that made up the gala crowd. 

“[This event] really underscored for us the importance of being who we uniquely are and marketing that as a strong commodity,” she said. “The goal of keeping our small town charm in a period of growth is important, because it is valuable and it is what sets us apart from all the sameness of big city life. Our collective takeaway is a revitalized sense of pride in our community and a deeper understanding of the importance of being ourselves.”

Recipients of the 2019 Chamber of Commerce Awards:

Helping Hand Award: Rhonda Tucker, Burwell School

Commitment to Service: Libbie Hough

Making a Difference: Gayane Chambless, Orange County Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth

Nonprofit of the Year: The Hillsborough Running Club

Trustee Member of the Year: 97.9 The Hill

Foundation Member of the Year: Durham Technical Community College, Orange County campus

Business of the Year: Capital Ford of Hillsborough

Small Business Person of the Year: Tiffany Graham Barber, Hillsborough Pharmacy and Nutrition

Restaurant/Bar of the Year: Village Diner

AgriBusiness of the Year: Bailey’s Bee Supply

Merchant of the Year: Matthew’s Chocolates

2018 Ambassador of the Year: Kelli Suggs-Potter