SELMA — Johnston Now Honors celebrated the achievements of 11 individuals and a nonprofit organization making a difference in Johnston County during a ceremony at The Farm at 95 on July 14.
Johnston Now Honors, celebrating its fifth anniversary, is an awards program designed to spotlight the accomplishments of Johnston County citizens and organizations.
“We’re so proud to present this year’s honorees,” Johnston Now Magazine and JNOW Digital general manager Shanna Capps said. “It’s always so inspiring to hear from all of the winners at the awards program, and we love telling their stories.”
This year’s class includes: Evelyn Wool, Excellence in Arts; Deron Donald Sr., Inspiring Coach; April Stephens, Dynamic Entrepreneur; Barry Stanley, Outstanding Firefighter; TJ Mims, Distinguished Police Officer; Judy Williams, Best Healthcare Professional; Robin Sanders, Legend Award; Marilyn Pearson, MD, Spirit of the County; Junior Women’s League of Smithfield, Nonprofit of the Year; Courtney Lassiter, Rising Star; Robert Boyette, Veteran Service Award and Leigh Hudson, Exemplary Volunteer.
Wool, an artist and author who lives in Selma, owns and operates the Wool Family Farm. The farm has proven to be a constant source of artistic inspiration, including her latest children’s book, “Eve’s Big Day on the Farm.”
“The farm has provided an endless supply of stories, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what I’ve actually been able to take the time to write down,” she said. “Right from the start, I had a bunch of encouragement from my friends and co-workers back up north. They said, you know, ‘we want to see what’s going on. Send us stories.’ … So, I started writing stories as best I could.”
Donald, the football coach at Smithfield-Selma High School, has engineered a remarkable turnaround of the Spartan program. The team went 8-4 in 2021, which was the most wins the school has had since 2005.
“Going into the situation, we just wanted to lay the foundation,” Donald said. “I felt like laying the foundation, providing the structure and the discipline — the rest would take care of itself. … I think we did a great job of coming in and doing that, and the byproduct was winning the eight games this year. And we expect to continue going up that slope.”
Stephens, the face of The April Stephens Team real estate company and a recent addition to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, embodies entrepreneurship, but is quick to credit her team for her achievements.
“My success has been driven by being surrounded by other successful people, such as my teammates,” she said.
From an early age, Stanley always wanted to be a firefighter. He joined the Four Oaks Fire Department in 1995, and has been chief there since 2007.
“It’s definitely an honor that someone pays attention to the time and service that you put into being a member of the fire department,” he said.
Mims, a member of the Clayton Police Department since 2013, is a graduate of East Carolina and a native of Wendell. His purpose in police work is a simple one.
“I truly love what I do. I love helping people,” he said. “Most of the people we deal with, it’s pretty much their worst day. Helping people out when they need it the most is a big deal to me. I have people I dealt with in my first year as a cop that still remember me to this day. … I’ve had people thank me for saving them, just from words of encouragement and trying to help them. Just simple things. Over time, what keeps me going is still helping people.”
As long as there has been a wound center at UNC Health Johnston, Williams has been its hyperbaric technician. In those 19 years, she’s touched plenty of lives.
“I love doing what I do, because I get to connect with the patients,” she said. “My patients come every day, Monday through Friday, they’re in the chamber for two hours a day and they come for six to 12 weeks. So, we build a relationship, we build a bond. Talking every day, I get to hear about their families. I get to know them. It’s not just ‘room so-and-so down the hall needs something.’ It’s a person.”
Sanders, a floor tech with UNC Health Johnston who retired from Johnston County Public Schools after 33 years, takes pride in lifting up others.
“I try to stay behind the scenes,” he said. “I don’t care about the spotlight. I just do what I do and try to bring joy to people.”
Pearson has been the face of Johnston County’s COVID-19 response as the county’s health director.
“People didn’t know who I was before the pandemic,” she said. “Now? Everybody knows my face. Not that I wanted them to, but now everybody does. Which is good and bad. It gives me a platform to, at least, encourage people to do some things and work with people to try to improve the health of everybody in our county.”
The Junior Women’s League of Smithfield sponsors a litany of projects locally, including blessing boxes, diaper closets, peanut butter buddies, backpack buddies and much more.
“We’ve had the same partners from the beginning,” JWL of Smithfield president Kelly Blanchard said. “As the county grows, the needs of our partners grow.”
Lassiter, a rising senior at Smithfield-Selma High School and a member of the International Baccalaureate program, has seen her artwork featured in galleries across the Eastern seaboard, and currently has a piece on display at the U.S. Capitol building.
“I’ve drawn my whole life, but I only got serious about it in sixth grade,” she said. “I started out wanting to be a computer programmer, but over the course of my life that’s gradually changed to wanting to be a gallery artist. I have a lot of stuff going on lately. Because I put in the work to get myself out there. I really feel like that’s coming back to me now.”
Boyette, veteran service officer for Johnston County, retired from the Army and Army National Guard after 30 years as a lieutenant colonel and continues serving his fellow veterans in his current billet.
“There are 14,000 veterans in Johnston County,” he said. “Why would anyone choose me? There are many that are much more deserving than me. I’m humbled, honored and surprised.”
Hudson, the owner of Hudson’s Hardware and Outdoor Equipment, has spent decades giving back in the Clayton area. Lately, he’s been instrumental in the Flags for Heroes project.
“In the hardware business, you have to help people,” he said. “It’s something I can’t not do.”
Yes, let’s honor April Stephens for benefiting from her County Commissioner role as a realtor. Does anyone around here understand conflict of interest?
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