BURNETTOWN -- The 1950s came back to life Friday night as the Midland Valley Chamber of Commerce re-created a bygone era when Elvis was king and bebop was the thing.
At Midland Valley High School, nearly 200 chamber members and their friends decked themselves in '50s fashions: Poodle skirts, rolled-up jeans and untucked shirts were the uniforms of the day. But the stars of the evening did not come from Nashville or Hollywood. They thought they were merely attending the chamber's annual banquet, and were surprised to receive the group's highest honors, and in the case of one member, one of South Carolina's highest awards.
Sharon McLaughlin, publisher/editor of The Villager, was named Midland Valley Citizen of the Year. Midland Valley High School senior Rebecca Napier was selected Youth of the Year. Maury Rice, of North Augusta, received the Silver Crescent, South Carolina's highest honor for volunteerism.
"I do love the Valley," Ms. McLaughlin said. "I have a passion for it, and I believe anybody who lives here knows that passion."
Described by Awards Committee Chairman and Aiken County Councilwoman Lawana McKenzie as a true "Valley lady," Ms. McLaughlin graduated from Graniteville High School and Winthrop University, returned home and became active in her community. A graphic artist and journalist, she worked at The Augusta Chronicle, The Aiken Standard and the Edgefield Citizen News before beginning a monthly publication that focuses on the communities of Horse Creek Valley.
"Sharon loves the history of our area and works hard to preserve it through organizations like the Horse Creek Historical Society, which she founded, and in her paintings and her writings," Mrs. McKenzie said.
Ms. McLaughlin is co-author of Reflections of Graniteville and has produced a series of prints titled Remembering When in Graniteville.
The daughter of Aiken County Councilman Phillip Napier and Melody Napier, Rebecca Napier was called from her church prom to see her father get an award, only to find out she was being honored instead. Midland Valley High School Principal Margaret Mullen called Rebecca a youth with a "commitment to excellence," possessing "high motivation, dedication, leadership and a good sense of humor."
Rebecca is ranked No. 1 in her class, and her community activities have included working with Habitat for Humanity and the March for Life. She also has served as a missionary in Wyoming, El Salvador, Slovakia and Hungary.
Beech Island native and retired Army Col. Maury Rice was presented with the Silver Crescent by state Rep. Roland Smith, chairman of the Aiken County legislative delegation. Nominated for the award by Gloria Busch Johnson, executive director of the chamber of commerce, Mr. Rice is a graduate of North Augusta High School and Clemson University and served in the Army for 25 years.
"It is very conservatively estimated that he has driven at least 50,000 miles to help others in the past 20 years, all at his expense. Plus he has donated thousands of hours to volunteering," Ms. Busch Johnson said.
He traveled to Manning to help clear debris left by Hurricane Hugo; he delivers peaches contributed by growers every season to area nursing homes; and he volunteers at Christmas and other times at the TriDevelopment Center in Aiken.
Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895 or