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Ellijay, GA
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Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year Kent Sanford, center, accepts the award from last year’s honoree, the Rev. James Holt, left, as Sanford’s wife, Rhonda, looks on. (Photo by Whitney Crouch)
by Whitney Crouch

Service to the community is a way of life for Kent Sanford, who was named the 2013 Citizen of the Year (COTY) during the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce’s annual gala Saturday, Jan. 25. 
“We live in a world that is all about making money, and I think it should be all about helping people,” he told the Times-Courier. 
These words may sound surprising coming from someone working in the banking industry, but for Sanford this attitude of reaching out to others is firmly rooted in his faith, compassion for those around him and desire to see his hometown succeed. 

‘An unassuming servant leader’

As stated in a letter nominating Sanford for the COTY honor, “So many citizens of Gilmer County will never know how Kent has impacted their lives. He is an unassuming servant leader in our community and shies away from the spotlight.”
Ruth Caudell, who was named COTY in 1999, read these words prior to welcoming Sanford to join the ranks of the 28 individuals who have been selected for the honor since 1986. 
Adding her own thoughts, Caudell stated, “Kent, it is time now for you to be recognized for your character and dedication to your faith, to your family and to your community.”
After receiving the award, Sanford told the gala attendees, “I have to admit I don’t get caught by surprise very often, but this time, y’all got me. I am humbled. I am thrilled. The joy of living in this community is beyond belief as many of you understand very well. We like to say some of us were blessed to be born here, others got here as quickly as we could, and it’s just the greatest community anybody could live in, so why would you not want to serve it as best you can.”

A man of many hats

A lifelong Gilmer County resident, Sanford currently serves as the local market executive for Park Sterling Bank. His influence also can be seen in numerous other areas of the community outside of his chosen career field. 
As observed in a letter nominating Sanford for the COTY honor, “There is no resume or list of boards on which he has served that will fully explain how impactful Kent Sanford has been on our county. He has served on every imaginable board, serves as a deacon of his church and continually gives of his time and energy to make Gilmer County the best it can be.”
A former chairman of the chamber’s board of director, Sanford is chairman of the Gilmer County Library Board of Trustees, a member of the Ellijay Lions Club, an active participant in the Mountaintown Baptist Association, a deacon at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church and a leader in making the Apple Festival a success each year.  
“I just love this community and want to see it move forward. I feel if you are not moving forward, you are probably backing up,” Sanford observed concerning his service. 
When asked what have been some of his most fulfilling avenues of service, Sanford pointed to his work on the board of directors of the Gilmer Christian Learning Center, stating he enjoys the opportunity to cooperate “with churches, individuals and businesses to impact the lives of students.” 
He also cited his work with Ellijay’s Downtown Development Authority, of which he is vice chair, and the chamber, through which he was selected as Member of the Year in 2012. Over the past few years, he also has enjoyed working with Faith, Hope and Charity, explaining, “To be involved in an organization ... that goes the extra mile is a real blessing.” 

Why be involved?

When asked what has inspired him over the years to stay active in the community and look for ways to serve, Sanford first referenced one of his favorite Bible verses, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23, NIV).
He then went on to describe some of the people — many of them past Citizens of the Year — who have served as “excellent examples” in his life of how to build up and benefit the community. 
Sanford’s first boss was 1987 COTY Glen Marshall, who was always pointing to ways to get involved. He also cited the influence of Caudell and 2011 COTY Lex Rainey who served as examples of how to stay active and have an impact on those around them. Sanford also expressed his appreciation to Charlie Waters (2006 COTY) and Farrell (2004 COTY) and Roger Starnes for taking him on his first mission trip when he was a senior in high school. 
In response to a question about how he feels to join the ranks of such impactful citizens, Sanford stated, “The first word that comes to mind is humbled. It’s just amazing. I don’t count myself as part of that group.”
Sanford proceeded to express his appreciation for the encouragement of his family, particularly his wife Rhonda.
“You don’t get there by yourself,” he observed, recalling an old time story about finding a turtle on a fencepost and knowing it had to have had help to get where it was. 
He concluded by encouraging other Gilmer County citizens to “get out there and find ways to get involved ... (and to) always look for a bright spot.” 

2013 in review

During the course of the gala evening, the chamber also recognized its Member of the Year — Albert O’Shields — and Business of the Year — Huff’s Drug Store. 
The chamber’s 2013 board of directors chairman Travis Crouch reviewed some of the organization’s strides in the past calendar year, highlighting such things as the review of the organization’s strategic plan, solid increases in tourism, the development of the Catalyst for Prosperity team, the return of Leadership Gilmer and the success of the chamber’s first full year in its new office. 
Crouch then presented a gavel to incoming chairman Jim Fox.
The 2014 Chamber board of directors includes chair Jim Fox, chair-elect/vice Dave Richey, past chair Travis Crouch, treasurer Alan Davenport, Jessi Barton, Mario Benitez, Gail Lyons, Hubert Parker, Rachel Reece, Linda Wingate, Betsy Sheppard, Kayann Hayden West, Elaine Westmoreland, Lex Rainey and Russell Williams. 

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