Chamber honors top volunteers

Published 7:30 am Saturday, May 20, 2023

LaVera Hodges named Citizen of the Year

Several community members were honored recently during the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon Wednesday, May 17. 

LaVera Hodges of Hodges Funeral Home was named Citizen of the Year. She was described by Chamber board president Lolita Gregory as someone who “exemplifies what the Citizen of the Year honor is meant to recognize. … [she] dedicates her focus and energy to important causes because she has a deep and personal understanding of the significance of our time here on this earth. She is a cancer survivor twice over and serves this community with compassion and love as a funeral director.”

Email newsletter signup

Gregory said Hodges learned her compassion from “her family, especially her father, who made it a priority to instill in her the foundational principles of morality, responsibility and respect,” as well as “…equality, honor, forgiveness, loyalty and the importance of always keeping your word. … [She] has done nothing but take those lessons and apply them positively to her daily walk in life.”

Hodges is a volunteer to countless missions and ministries, including the Oxford Love Packs Program for Oxford and Lafayette County schools, Inter-Faith Ministries, the Diabetic Foundation of Mississippi, the Burns Belfry Multi-Cultural Museum and her church, Philadelphia Missionary Baptist Church.

She also founded the “Strutting Pretty in Pink” fashion show, where proceeds go to support families undergoing treatment at the Baptist Cancer Center. “Her vocal support and recognition of early detection has brought a heightened awareness on the importance of self-examination in the fight against breast cancer,” Gregory said.

This past year’s chair, Lolita Gregory, presented the Outstanding Service Award to Bill Henning, CEO of Baptist Hospital.. “We present [this award] every year to a LOU citizen who has gone above and beyond in outstanding service to our community. The award … was [created] by the chamber in 2004 to pay special tribute to individuals who contributed their time and service to the Oxford-Lafayette County community.”

She related that as a health care business leader, Henning has more than 35 years of experience in hospital operations and served as the CEO and administrator of Baptist Memorial Hospital North Mississippi for the past 10 years. She described how under his care, Baptist North Mississippi built a new five-story 600,000-square foot regional referral center, offering expanded health care services and facilities for patients and their families. 

In the 10 years Henning has been with Baptist, the facility has doubled its medical staff to 150 physicians and Henning himself initiated an Internal Medicine Residency Program to train the next generation of internal medicine doctors, with high hopes they might remain in Oxford.

Henning has a bachelor of science degree and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Georgia in Athens. He is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. He serves on the Mississippi Hospital Association Board of Directors, as chairman of the Board of Directors Mississippi Trauma Foundation and the Oxford Lafayette Economic Development Foundation board.

The LOU Ambassador of the Year award went to Eathen Rainey of BankPlus. “This award is given to someone who has shown an unwavering commitment to making our community a better place and this year’s recipient has certainly done just that,” said Chairman-Elect Jason Plunk with Bullseye 95.5. “[He] has worked tirelessly to make a positive impact in our community and [his] efforts have not gone unnoticed. 

“[He] is always the first to volunteer at our events and …always willing to help with anything else we might need. [He] has shown a level of dedication that is truly inspiring. It is clear [his] passion for helping others is what drives [him] to do what he does. I am honored to present this award and I hope Eathen’s example will inspire others to get involved and make a difference in their own communities.”

Ambassadors represent the chamber at functions and events to support the city and county. Their main duty is to be a good representative of the chamber in order to support local businesses; increase their own businesses’ visibility; and participate in networking, seminars, workshops and legislative events.