Five people and two businesses were honored for their contributions to the local community at the Concordia Parish Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards dinner celebration.
The gala was held at the Bryant O. Hammett Jr. Vidalia Conference & Convention Center on Sept. 15 in front of a large crowd.
“We are here tonight to celebrate Concordia Parish and the people who strive to build our community and keep our values that we’ve always had,” said 2022 Chamber President Jeannie Archer.
Specific honors for a young professional under 40, volunteer, farmer, first responder and Concordian of the year were handed to individuals. Business of the Year was awarded to Syrah Technologies LLC and a Fifty-Year Service Award was given to Weeks Furniture Warehouse.
Syrah Technologies, LLC: Business of the Year
Syrah Technologies, LLC in Vidalia was the Concordia Parish Business of The Year for 2021.
The Vidalia company is the first of its kind in America that produces graphite-based active anode material (AAM), a critical material used in lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies.
“Its vision is to be the leading supplier of superior quality graphite products, working closely with customers and supply chains to bring enhanced value to emerging technology markets,” said Jonathan Willard, presenter of the award.
This year, Syrah Technologies, LLC was approved for a U.S. Department of Energy $102.1 million loan to expand its Vidalia plant. The expansion will produce an estimated 150 construction jobs and 98 additional jobs.
Syrah, headquartered in Australia, opened shop in Vidalia in 2018. The company is operating in a 50,000-square-foot industrial building formerly occupied by a company that processed rubber.
Recently, Syrah signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Ford Motor Company and SK On, according to a July 22 article from The Market Herald.
MoU will evaluate a strategic arrangement, including natural graphite active anode material (AAM) supply to the BlueOval SK joint venture.
Syrah also has a contract with Tesla.
Sheriff David Hedrick: Concordian of the Year
Concordia Parish Sheriff David Hedrick was honored by being named Concordian of the Year.
“He has devoted his adult life to serving others,” said Fred Middleton, who presented the award. “As a Marine, he served his country. As a public official, he served his community. As a Christian, he serves his Lord. At an early age, he learned from his father, his mentor, the passion of serving others. He is someone who has a genuine love for all people. His humble and generous nature and desire to do the right thing are the reasons he is loved and respected by so many.”
Hedrick consistently spends his days as sheriff overseeing his department and assisting the many community organizations in Concordia Parish.
“There is no organization in the parish that he is not directly or indirectly affiliated with,” Middleton said.
Weeks Furniture Warehouse: Fifty-Year Service Award
For 59 years, Weeks Furniture Warehouse has served the Miss-Lou community. Concordia Parish Chamber of Commerce honored the business at its dinner by awarding the Fifty-Year Service Award to them.
“Weeks Furniture has always been a family affair with the children playing in the store and as they got older, working in the store,” said Cheryl Probst, award presenter.
The building has stayed on Carter Street in Vidalia and has been renovated at least five times.
“Steve said he has seen phone service go from rotary dial telephone to high speed fiber-optic we have today,” Probst added. “Many improvements have been made.”
Steven and Angie Weeks purchased the store from other family members in 1997. Under their leadership, they added personnel and warehouse space.
Today, the couple is helped by their daughter Stephanie and son-in-law Adam Probst in management and daily operations.
Austin Lipsey: Young Professional Under 40
Austin Lipsey was named Young Professional Under 40. This was the first award of its kind given by Concordia Parish Chamber of Commerce.
Lipsey works for the 7th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, and he took over Scott McLemore’s law firm, now Lipsey Law Firm.
“The Lipsey Law Firm has been the proud sponsor of many things in our community,” said Scott McLemore, award presenter. “He has done a great job in our community.”
He and his wife, Morgan, have two boys, Rhett and Ridge. He is also active in coaching his boys.
“You always hope somebody will raise the bar from where you left something,” McLemore said. “I don’t think there is any question, Austin has done that.”
Mark Welch: Guy Murray / Volunteer of the Year
Mark Welch was named Guy Murray / Volunteer of the Year for 2021.
The award is given to the person who has worked to improve the betterment of Concordia Parish through volunteerism. It is named after Guy Murray, who was a lifelong Vidalia resident and candidate for Louisiana State Representative District 21 when he passed away at 40 in 2019.
“I personally consider this the best award of the evening,” said Dorothy Oliver, who presented the award. “Not just because I am presenting it, but because of what the title embodies.”
Welch and his wife have helped raise funds for childhood cancer and child hospitals.
“Mark Welch has been active in many organizations and projects with the purpose of helping others,” Oliver said. “He is a hard worker and a true giver as shown by his work and community service. His selfless donation of a kidney to his father proves his dedication to others.”
Will Miller: Farmer of the Year
Will Miller was named Farmer of the Year by the Concordia Chamber of Commerce.
Miller is a third-generation farmer from Ferriday. He farms 3,700 acres of corn and soybeans, and he is a three-time state corn yield contest winner and three-time runner-up.
He and his wife, Kylie, have one daughter, Allie.
Tim Vanier: First Responder of the Year
Tim Vanier was chosen as 2021 First Responder of the Year.
Vanier has worked in emergency services for more than 23 years in the Vidalia Fire Department and as Director of Homeland Security. He also serves as an instructor for many emergency services.
The lifetime resident of Vidalia served in the United States Navy. He and his wife, Sandra, will celebrate their 22nd anniversary soon. They have three children: Hailey, Faith and Derrick and three grandchildren.
“He will be quick to tell you he would not be where he is today without the help of his family and co-workers,” said Tanya Richardson, award presenter.