HAZARD — Perry County’s chamber of commerce hosted its annual Civic Night Thursday, honoring several people and organizations who, for the past year, have worked to better the community. Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao served as the guest speaker.
Chao, who is also the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, served as the secretary of labor under former President George W. Bush. She centered her remarks on reviving the national economy and the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky, the latter of which has shed nearly 4,000 jobs since December 2011.
Chao took to task President Barack Obama’s administration, saying new burdensome environmental regulations have put a stranglehold on the coal industry in Eastern Kentucky, where production was down approximately 28 percent.
“It is clear that the number one priority of this administration’s environmental agenda is the killing of the coal industry,” Chao said, noting coal still provides more than 40 percent of all energy in the nation. “Congress, thanks in no small part to Mitch McConnell, has refused to grant the president a legislative license to snuff out coal.”
Chao also touched on the task of rebuilding the nation’s overall economy, which will need to create 325,000 new jobs every month for the next four years to reach pre-recession levels. Most of the country’s job creation comes from the private sector and small businesses, she said, and that’s where leaders should place their focus.
“There are many steps that can be taken to improve long term substantial job creation,” she said. “First and foremost, the government has to create an environment through which the private sector feels confident to create more jobs.”
Several local residents were honored during the evening, with annual awards presented for Man, Woman, Young Man, and Young Woman of the Year.
Dr. Joythin Chandarana was named Man of the Year for his service work in the community. A native of India, Dr. Chandarana has lived in Hazard since 1994, and serves on the board of directors for Hazard Community and Technical College. He has worked to set up scholarships for each of the local high schools as well as the college, and is a member of the Hazard Rotary Club. He also supports causes abroad, including the Rainbow Foundation. He currently works as chief of staff at the Hazard ARH, and began the dialysis program in Hazard, Jackson, and Harlan.
Terry Thies was named this year’s Woman of the Year for her extensive community service. Thies is the director for the Little Theatre of Hazard, and worked for several years with the Housing Development Alliance. She has also served on the board of directors for the Bobby Davis Park and the Kentucky Mountain Health Alliance, and chaired the board for the Appalachian Arts Alliance. Last year, she re-established the Perry County Democratic Women’s Club, and has chaired the Perry County Emergency Food and Shelter Board.
Two men shared this year’s Young Man of the Year award – twin brothers Wayne and Shane Noble, who for the past several years have worked to support a number of causes. They created Cheer for Life in Hazard, which for 11 years now has raised over $76,000. They have also served as cheerleading coaches at Chavies and Hazard High School, as well as for organizations such as United Cheer Stars. For the past 15 years they have helped design the annual Christmas for Charity event in Hazard. They have also served on the board for March of Dimes, and volunteer their time for a number of other events.
Perry County’s Young Woman of the Year has worked for a number of years to help bring the county’s premier event – the Black Gold Festival – to fruition. Nikki Begley is a member of the Black Gold Committee, currently serving as chair of the music committee. She also plays an active role with her church, Petrey Memorial Baptist. A graduate of Sullivan Business College, Begley works at the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center as the fiscal manager and finance director.
Several others were honored on Thursday, including Austin Pray, a senior at Perry Central High School who was named the county’s Teen of the Year, while Leslie Richie was named Youth of the Year.
The Hazard Police Department was presented with the college’s Outstanding Educational Service Award for its swift response to a triple shooting that took place at the college in January.
Additionally, the Hazard ARH was given the William D. Gorman Humanitarian Award, while five volunteers with the AmeriCorps program — Allison Tse, Karyn Knecht, Kathryn Beach, Carla Davis, and Aly Cooper — were recognized for their efforts in Perry County. Melissa Miller was also recognized with the Outstanding Citizen Award for her work with the Salvation Army.