The Auburn Chamber of Commerce recently celebrated the local business community as well as individuals who commit themselves to public service and volunteer work at the 70th Auburn Chamber Annual Meeting.
More than a dozen awards were announced during the luncheon as more than 700 attendees celebrated businesses and individuals who made broad contributions to the Auburn community over the past year.
Perhaps most notable was a new award given out this year to pay tribute to an individual for 20 years or more of exceptional personal and professional contributions to the community. The award will be known as the Bill Ham Lifetime Impact Award in future years, named after its first recipient.
Bob Dumas, president of AuburnBank, presented the award to former Mayor Ham, outlining Ham's career in public service and praising him for his dedication to Auburn.
Ham's tenure in public office began in 1986, when he was 33 years old and elected to serve on the City Council. In 1998, when former Mayor Jan Dempsey decided not to run again, Ham was elected as Auburn's next mayor — a seat he would fill for 20 years.
"In those 32 years, Auburn has doubled in population and grown from a village into one of the most successful, attractive cities in the Southeast," Dumas said as he presented the award to Ham. "During Bill's tenure in public office, our economy has flourished, with a number of key public, private commercial development projects and the addition of 39 new industries and 86 industry expansions, totaling thousands of new jobs and more than $1.4 billion in capital investment.
"Bill Ham's tireless devotion to this community is unmatched, and the impact of his public service will be enjoyed for generations."
Accepting the award, Ham first thanked the "real winners" — those in the audience who spend every day working for the betterment of the community.
"You love this community and you want to make it better," he said. "Day in and day out (you) make this community a great place."
Ham said receiving the Lifetime Impact Award was a great honor.
"Auburn has given my family the opportunity to work hard and build businesses," he said. "My dad opened his first business in Auburn downtown in 1933 ... Auburn has given us the opportunity to give back to the community we love.
"Following the first election in 1986, I realized that maybe I could make a real difference in the lives of my fellow citizens by serving on the City Council. Years later, when Jan Dempsey decided not to run for mayor again, I felt pulled to serve as the Auburn mayor. Over those 20 years of service, the city has accomplished a lot of great things, and I derived some real satisfaction from watching that happen and to be involved in helping Auburn become a truly great and prosperous city."
Also at the luncheon, Auburn-Opelika Tourism Bureau President John Wild presented the Spirit of Auburn Award to former Auburn football coach Gene Chizik and wife Jonna for their contributions to the community and work with local nonprofits.
At the end of the meeting, the ceremonial gavel was passed from current chair Brian Snyder to Sarah Brown, who will serve as the chairperson of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce board for the upcoming year.