Monthly Archives: April 2014

Remembering Derrick Whittle

Derrick Whittle

Derrick Whittle

At the moment I write this column, it is a beautiful Friday morning overlooking Butternut Creek Golf Course. A single ray of sunshine is illuminating the mountaintop out my window. Men and women are gathering in the pro shop and stepping outside to take a few last minute practice swings. Golf carts are winding their way around the cart path. It is the day of the Derrick Whittle Memorial Golf Tournament, and it feels like our old friend is right here with us.

Derrick, our friend who was killed in the line of duty, was known and loved by so many. As I considered writing this piece, I almost felt unworthy because truly, Derrick and I were not the best of friends nor did we spend a lot of time together. But therein lies the beauty of this man. I believe that anyone can leave a lasting mark on their family and closest friends when they are gone, but it takes someone very special to leave a lasting mark on those they encountered less. Simply put, Derrick had a big heart, a giving heart and lived life in a way that all could admire.

Jim and Sharon Whittle, Derrick’s parents, have tirelessly worked to keep the memory of Derrick alive in our community. Today’s tournament, which raises money for local scholarships, is just one of many ways they are continuing the work of their son in the place he called home. Union County is so fortunate to have been blessed with Derrick Whittle. Today we continue to be blessed with the presence and work of Jim and Sharon.

As a flock of white doves flies over the golf course, I am reminded of the love that Derrick shared with so many in this community and the peace it brings all of us in knowing that he remains in our hearts forever.

Spring Itinerary

Helton Creek Falls

Helton Creek Falls

The weather has warmed and the sun is shining over Blairsville-Union County. Spring is finally here! Are you ready to spend time in the great outdoors? Here are a few ideas for putting together a wonderful spring itinerary.

Venture out on one of our three lakes, Nottely, Winfield Scott, or Trahlyta, and choose your activity. Boating, fishing, skiing, kayaking or pedal boats make great lake activities. If waterfalls are more your style, we have plenty of those too. A waterfalls guide can be obtained in the Chamber’s Welcome Center or requested online at

Are you ready to see Union County from a new perspective?  Try taking in the views atop Brasstown Bald or exploring the lovely countryside while horseback riding. Many of the hiking trails that wind throughout the county offer incredible views that just might take your breath away. If history is your cup of tea, Union County has a lot to offer. Have you ever toured the Historic Union County Courthouse or the Mountain Life Museum? Have you seen the Trackrock Petroglyphs up close? How about the Byron Herbert Reece Farm & Heritage Center or the CCC Museum at Vogel State Park? Here is one you might not have thought of – the historic cannery and interpretive displays at the Georgia Mountain Research & Education Center.   While you are there, you can browse the ethnobotanical and native plant gardens.

There is definitely no shortage of festivals and events to attend this time of year. Weather you prefer arts and crafts, green beans, or bagpipes, you need not look any further than right here at home in Union County. Also, consider one of a host of other local events that offer music, dining, gift items, and educational activities. Those can be found on our online Chamber events calendar or by signing up for our weekly or quarterly events newsletter.

The Chamber is always ready to assist with planning your next weekday or weekend escape right here in Union County.   Check out our preplanned itineraries online at or call us at 706-745-5789.

Buy Local Extravaganza

The Blairsville-Union County Chamber of Commerce invites you to our BuyBLE Local Extravaganza to be held on Tuesday, May 6 from 5:00 to 7:00pm at the Union County Community Center. This event is being presented in partnership with United Community Bank. Over 40 anticipated local businesses will be onsite offering food samples, product samples, and door prize giveaways to the public. This year we expect to have a number of outdoor vendors to add to the fun. Make plans to stop by and see all that your local merchants have to offer. There is no admission fee and children are welcome.

The Buy Local Extravaganza event is part of the Chamber’s ongoing Buy Local campaign – an effort to promote eating, shopping, playing and staying local. This awareness campaign is intended to be a reminder to residents of Union County that buying local first allows for a healthy and thriving community. Not only does it mean prosperity for local business, but is also means jobs for our neighbors, new and enhanced public assets like Meeks Park and the Farmers Market, and an overall higher quality of life for everyone

Make plans to stop in and enjoy the sights, tastes and offerings of Blairsville-Union County merchants at this year’s Extravaganza. The Community Center is located at 129 Union County Recreation Road. We appreciate our presenting sponsor, United Community Bank as well as corporate sponsors Financial Guideposts, Woodmen of the World, and The Mountain Life Team. If you are a business owner who would like to sign up for a booth space or a resident who would like to sign up for our e-coupon newsletter, contact the Chamber at 706-745-5789 or chat with us online at

Congratulations Mountain Education Charter High School

Last week the Blairsville-Union County Chamber of Commerceboq acknowledged Mountain Education Charter High School (MECHS) as our Business of the Quarter. This program was established by the Chamber as a way to recognize members who are doing great things in our community. It is my distinct pleasure to announce MECHS as our latest recipient.

In August of 1993, Wade Smith and the superintendents of Union, Towns, and Fannin school districts opened Mountain Education Center at the Union site in Blairsville. The purpose of the school was to increase the high school completion rate and promote education as a life-long experience. It specifically addressed the “at risk” student and those who had dropped out of traditional day school by offering them an evening school where they could progress at their own pace and earn a high school diploma. Since then, MECHS has grown from one site to 11 sites serving students in 34 counties.

In July of 2007, MECHS was established as a state charter school and this past year changed its name to Mountain Education Charter High School to emphasize its status as an accredited Georgia High School that offers students a second chance to earn a regular high school diploma, not a GED. It helps student make up failed classes and return to day school or it receives full-time students who become graduates of MECHS.

MECHS has increased the number of diplomas awarded by MECHS from three in 1994, the first year of operation to 207 in 2012 with a total of 1,848 in the almost 20 years of operation. In all, MECHS has helped over 6,000 students earn a high school diploma in Northeast Georgia.

Please join me in congratulating MECHS for the great work they are doing in our community!

Do you know a business that is worthy of consideration for future recognition? If so, I encourage you to nominate them today. Forms can be obtained at Click on Chamber Programs, fill out the application, and submit to the Chamber. You may also contact the Chamber at (706) 745-5789.


Have you heard? The Chamber is offering a group travel trip to Italy on Chamber Newsletter insert - TuscanyOctober 20, 2014! We have already received a great response and have several travelers signed up for this 9 day adventure to beautiful Tuscany. I am writing about this opportunity again this week because I just received word that the Book and Save deadline has been extended to April 30, 2014. Simply make your deposit by April 30 and save $100 per traveler. As a reminder, here are some of the details of the trip:

One hotel – No need to worry about packing and unpacking. Travelers will stay in one hotel for seven nights.

All inclusive – Travelers will visit Montecatini, Florence, Pisa, and San Gimignano. Airfare, first class accommodations, and transportation included as well as daily breakfast and four dinners.

Optional tours and extension available – Feeling ambitious? You may opt in to tours of Carrara/Portofino, Venice, and Siena as well as a two day Rome extension.

Unique experiences – The package includes visits to many famous and unique attractions including the Leaning Tower of Pisa, an Italian leather workshop, a wine tour and tasting, and a fabulous Tuscan feast.

Great prices – Trip pricing starts at $2,899 per person if your deposit is made by April 30, 2014.

If you would like to learn more about this group trip to Tuscany, please contact the Chamber at 706-745-5789 or email

Special Thanks

I’ll never forget the words that were spoken to a group of Chamber hdr-logo-001professionals at a conference that I attended a few years back. The presenter said to the audience, “Chambers of Commerce do the things in communities that most people think just happen.” While it may not be as profound to you as it was to me, something clicked at the time. I would venture to say that few people in communities around the state truly understand the importance of their local Chamber. While we offer a list of direct benefits to Chamber members, there is a long list of projects, committees, and issues that our staff works diligently on that contribute to the overall health and vibrancy of our community. Things such as building a quality educational system, working with local government to create a healthy economic environment, planning for and working on initiatives that create jobs and grow business, supporting healthy growth of downtown, providing avenues for individuals to become successful community leaders, and on and on.

One of the things at which we are best is leveraging partnerships, and I am proud to share the latest success of our Chamber with the support of several local partners. The Towns County Chamber and the Blairsville-Union County Chamber co-hosted the Georgia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives Staff Development Conference at Brasstown Valley Resort. Chamber Executives and their staff from around the State of Georgia spent three days, and hopefully lots of money, in our communities. Through the generous support of United Community Bank, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, Young Harris College, Sunrise Grocery, and the dynamite staff at Brasstown Valley Resort, we were fortunate to show off the beauty and hospitality of north Georgia.

It is an honor and privilege to work every day on behalf of our 550 members and contribute to the wellbeing of our wonderful community, and I mean that with the utmost sincerity. I consider my job one of the best and most rewarding you will find. The impact that our Chamber has on so many aspects of our local community makes the work we do each day hardly seem like work at all.