Gala-vanting the Night Away

An evening of food, fashion, and fun

By Katherine Dyke

On Thursday, September 28, the Columbia Chamber hosted its 115th Annual Gala to toast the past year’s accomplishments, look ahead to new goals, and celebrate some of the Midlands’ most inspiring individuals. Columbia Metropolitan Magazine was honored to be a sponsor of the event along with Presenting Sponsor BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and other community leaders. More than 800 Midlands business leaders attended the Gala at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Two receptions opened the evening: a VIP reception upstairs included a wine tasting sponsored by Aleph Wine Corporation, and the reception on the Lower Level featured a photobooth by the University of South Carolina Athletic Department. Both were very well attended.

The gala program and seated dinner were held in the Exhibit Hall, a large, hangar-like exhibition space transformed into a rather elegant dining room. Stars lit the walls and ceiling! Wine coolers made of ice adorned the tables! Fun music and a festive feeling filled the room.

Once everyone settled down and settled in, dinner and the program began. Up first: the presentation of the colors and the singing of the national anthem, which alone made it a worthwhile evening. Beautiful! Carl Blackstone, Columbia Chamber President and CEO, then thanked the evening’s many and generous sponsors and introduced the group of 2017 honorees. The honors included: Ambassador of the Year, Young Professional of the Year, Public Servant of the Year, Military Advocate of the Year, and Diplomat of the Year.

The 2017 Ambassador of the Year is Dawn Staley, University of South Carolina Women’s Basketball Head Coach. Dawn Staley is not only an accomplished coach, leading her Gamecocks team to the 2017 NCAA National Championship title, but also a selfless Midlands citizen committed to giving back. Dawn accepted the honor via video recording, thanking the Columbia Chamber and speaking of her mother’s example of generosity in helping others. University President Harris Pastides and Athletic Director Ray Tanner represented her and the University of South Carolina while Staley was in California for a commitment as head coach of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team.

John Griggs of NBSC was honored as the 2017 Young Professional of the Year. The 2017 Public Servant of the Year is Bobby Hitt, South Carolina Secretary of Commerce. Kevin Shwedo, of the SC DMV, was named the 2017 Military Advocate of the Year. And the 2017 Diplomat of the Year is Phyllis Wood of Palmetto SolarPros. Tribute videos highlighted each recipient’s positive impact. The honorees are smart, dedicated, and deserving; how fortunate to have them working in our community!

The Columbia Chamber’s Immediate Past Chairman, John Singerling, introduced the new Chairman, David Lockwood. John Singerling, David Lockwood, and Carl Blackstone all spoke to the strength of the Chamber and its impact over the last several years. They also introduced the Chamber’s futurist initiative, “Forward, Together,” as their exercise to ensure the Chamber continues to build a stronger Midlands community for businesses and residents through 2040.

The Columbia Chamber’s 115th Annual Gala was a fun and inspiring evening all around. Congratulations to the 2017 honorees!

P.S. In case anyone is  interested, here are fashion and food details. Attire was black-tie optional. A surprising number chose the option of tuxedos and floor-length gowns, which definitely added to the celebratory atmosphere. Dinner included a green salad with peaches and prosciutto and a lemon vinaigrette; dinner rolls with five compound butters; surf and turf of sliced teres major steak (aka, bistro filet) with a crab cake, asparagus and roasted potatoes; and, tables of petit fours and coffee for dessert. Sound good? Plan to attend next year’s event!

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