Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce recognizes 2020 honorees at annual gala

Published 2:02 pm Wednesday, June 23, 2021

NATCHEZ — The 2020 Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce honorees were “unmasked” Tuesday at the annual Chamber gala at the Natchez Convention Center.

Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, past Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce chairman Peyton Cavin said the gala and awards ceremony, which was originally set to take place in November, had to be postponed several times.

The 2020 honorees of the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce include Lynn Fortenbery Jenkins, Natchezian Woman of the Year; Walter Tipton, Natchezian Man of the Year; Natchez Coca-Cola, Natchez Small Business of the Year; and John and Melan Parks of Parks’ Places, Natchez Large Business of the Year.

While Matthew Hall has served as the new chairman of the chamber since November, Cavin did not forego the ceremonial passing of the gavel — which was missed last year due to the pandemic.

This year, the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce is also celebrating 113 years of serving the Miss-Lou community and Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson issued a proclamation in their honor.

Tuesday night’s gala would not have been the same without a record 18 different Natchez restaurants providing refreshments for the festivities — together serving a wide selection of their best savory appetizers, hearty entrees and decadent desserts.

Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Hudson said each year the chamber names a Natchezian man and woman of the year and small and large business of the year to recognize outstanding individuals and businesses in the community.

“They are nominated by the community for their vision, leadership, creativity, good citizenship and their dedication to Natchez,” Hudson said of the man and woman of the year.

Likewise, the chamber recognizes small and large businesses who are “involved in promoting Natchez internally and externally,” who create a positive workspace for their employees and are also members of the Natchez Adams County Chamber of Commerce, Hudson said.

2020 Natchezian Woman of the Year

Lyn Fortenbery Jenkins, the 2020 Natchezian Woman of the Year, is a native of Natchez and is heavily involved in the local tourism industry, Hudson said. She has served on the chamber board for seven years and was chairman in 2019.

“It is an absolute honor,” Jenkins said. “I’m happy to have worked with Debbie and Sela (Gaude) at the chamber and also happy to have been a board member and past chair. … I’m happy to represent Natchez and be an active member of the community.”

Jenkins began working at Dunleith Historic Inn in 2005 and continues to work there through the change in ownership as the assistant manager. While the house was closed, she went to work for the Pilgrimage Garden Club, where she was responsible for overseeing daily operations of the Stanton Hall and Longwood museum houses, the Carriage House Restaurant and Natchez Pilgrimage Tours.

She is also involved with the Natchez Downtown Development Association, Chamber of Commerce Tourism Council and has served as chairman on the Tourism Advisory Board for the Natchez Convention Commission. On the state level, she has served on the Mississippi Development Authority-funded Southern Hospitality Academy as a board member and has been on the Mississippi Tourism Association Board of Directors where has served as President and in 2015 received the MTA Member of the Year award from her peers.

She has been involved with a number of community events.

She has co-chaired the Natchez Food and Wine Fest Tasting Along the River, the annual St. Jude Benefit and has served on the committee for Claws for a Cause Fundraiser at Trinity Episcopal Church. She has helped to coordinate the Natchez Humane Society annual benefit, and is a member of the Krewe of Phoenix and the Pilgrimage Garden Club.

2020 Natchezian Man of the Year

Like Jenkins, Walter Tipton, the 2020 Natchezian Man of the Year, is also a native of Natchez and involved in Natchez tourism.

“Clearly, it’s a great honor,” Tipton said of the award. “We have a wonderful community and it takes a village. I am humbled and I have a lot of great people that work with me and I can’t accept anything without mentioning them. Congratulations also to Lyn (Jenkins). We both have an emphasis on tourism in our town and I believe that is going to pay off.”

Tipton has worked to market Natchez since he moved back here from Columbus in 1999 and was appointed by the mayor and board of aldermen as the Natchez Tourism Management Director, which included the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Natchez Department of Tourism management and development. As such, he was involved in the design and construction of the Natchez Convention Center, which was completed in 2002.

Tipton continues to serve as the general manager of both the convention center and Natchez Grand Hotel and as a staff member of New Orleans Hotel Consultants. He has also served on the board of the Natchez Downtown Development Association, as president of the Mississippi Tourism Association and has been active on the board of directors for both the Natchez Trace Association and Natchez Trace Compact for many years.

Hudson said Tipton is currently one of the local leaders at work on the Interstate 14 road project, which would connect Brady, Texas, and would pass through Natchez leading to Augusta, Georgia.

As a is a devoted Rotarian, he is involved in a number of community activities, especially the yearly Chili Cook-off aiding the Natchez Children’s Home Services. He is a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Natchez, where he regularly participates in the men’s prayer breakfast.

2020 Small Business Award

The 2020 Small Business award recipient, Natchez Coca-Cola, has operated in Natchez since 1906. It first opened at 222 Main St. and is now located on 191 Devereaux Drive. Though Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. took over the company less than 20 years ago, their mission states a desire to remain local in nature, Hudson said.

“And we are lucky because Natchez Coca-Cola has taken this directive to heart, earning this well-deserved award because of the great contribution they have made to the local community,” she said. “Their outreach for the many contributions to our community is extensive.”

The company supports Alcorn State University, Copiah Lincoln Community College and Natchez public schools through various programs, such as the Coca- Cola Natchez Tricentennial Endowment Scholarship that is awarded to a graduating senior from Natchez-Adams County schools as financial aid to Co-lin. The company participates in the Relay for Life, Natchez Homeless Shelter Outreach, Natchez Balloon Festival, Bon Temps Classic Charlie Golf Tournament, Joe Fortunato-Allen Brown Golf Classic, Natchez Mudbug Festival, Natchez Lighting of the Tree, and the Merit Health Storm Recovery Response.

“Most recently, Natchez Coca-Cola not only provided merchandize for the Chamber’s golf and tennis tournament and Natchez Bicycle Classic, but their employees also volunteered their time in setting up and participating in these events,” Hudson said. “We, the Chamber, cannot say enough to describe what a great partner Natchez Coca-Cola has been for us.”

2020 Large Business Award

The 2020 Large Business award recipient, Parks’ Places — owned by John and Melan Parks — is the proprietor of not one but three Natchez restaurants.

The husband and wife-duo opened Magnolia Grill in 2009 and expanded to Pearl Street Pasta in 2015 and 100 Main in 2019 — employing more than 60 people.

“According to their employees, they treat their staff as family, often helping in personal ways,” Hudson said. “The couple encourages staff to work together, support each other and they always find the time to tell each employee each day what a great job they have been doing.”

They also give back to their community by participating in activities and charities such as the Claws for a Cause fundraiser for Trinity Episcopal Church and organizing and sponsoring benefits for Natchez Stew Pot, the Natchez Adams County Humane Society and Junior Auxiliary, and Red Cross.

They have been involved with past Food and Wine Festivals, the Festival of Music with the Young Professionals Live @ 5 and the Natchez Bicycle Classic.

“Most communities are very lucky to have one great family business be successful but we here in Natchez have three special and unique places we are fortunate to call our own,” Hudson said. “During the challenges posed by COVID this past year, this couple figured out ways to stay open and serve the community while also utilizing pandemic cautionary measures for their staff and customers.”