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ATHENA, Small Business awards announced by chamber


Vicki Hawkins Fitch said it took her breath away Thursday morning to be named the 32nd recipient of the ATHENA Award.

The award sponsored by the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce and Martin Dodge Jeep Chrysler RAM surprised the executive director of the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. It recognizes women who are positive role models in the community.

"Oh my goodness," Fitch said, staring out at the sea of faces in the chamber meeting room. Included among them was local clown Nick Wilkins, who held a fistful of balloons and wore a mask with the face of Fitch's husband, Bob.

"I couldn't do anything ... (without Bob)," she said of her husband, who was out of town for the announcement. "He knows how to throw water on me when my hair is on fire."

Fitch began her tourism career in 1982 at Conway Twitty's Twitty City and then at Music Village U.S.A., both in Hendersonville, Tenn. Fitch said she was just out of Western Kentucky University with a public relations degree and she did everything from writing employee manuals to publicity. Fitch joined the convention bureau in June 1991 as marketing director and served in that capacity until being promoted to executive director in August 2005. She currently serves as chair of the Kentucky Travel Industry Association.

"It is a very humbling feeling to be among those dynamic women," Fitch said of the 32 other ATHENA honorees, many who were present for the announcement.

Also announced Thursday was David Sears as the 2017 Small Business Person of the Year. Sears sells insurance for Center of Insurance/Van Meter Insurance and is president and co-owner of Kentucky Outdoor Advertising. Honorees will speak at the chamber's Excellence Awards luncheon beginning 11:30 a.m. May 18 at the Sloan Convention Center.

Sears said he enjoys Bowling Green and the business opportunities he has been able to pursue over the years.

"You keep your eyes open and surround yourself with good friends," Sears said to the appreciative audience. "You give more than you get. That's truly what it's all about."

Sears kidded that the awards committee must have been "reaching down in the bucket" to honor him and added he's good friends with previous ATHENA and Small Business Person honorees.

Chamber Chair Robbin Taylor said Sears is a true entrepreneur.

"He's always looking for the next project to start," Taylor said.

Sears, who has grown his business from 15 to 100 billboards throughout the region, also has ownership interest in Kentucky Mid-South Storage, S & H Industrial Properties, Campbell Hills LLC, Sears Development Group and Green Hills Development.

Sears is also active in The Presbyterian Church, Meals on Wheels, Boys & Girls Club, Bowling Green youth sports and Bowling Green High School sports programs. The Small Business Person of the Year was first awarded in 1985. It was sponsored by Citizens First Bank on Thursday.

Nominated for the 2017 ATHENA Award were Amanda Ashley, SKY Pediatric Dentistry; Janette Reed Boehman, WBKO-TV; Jean Cherry, Med Center Health; Ginger Cleary, State Farm Insurance; Cathy Palmer, Carr, Riggs & Ingram LLC; and Fitch.

2017 Small Business Person of the Year nominees were Kelly Arnold, Gemini Homes Inc.; Tony Bishop, HOT Yoga Bowling Green; Susan Hoechner, Barbara Stewart Interiors; and Sears.

- Follow business reporter Charles A. Mason on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.