Distinguished Persons of the Year

2000 - 2009

Ron Martin, Rotary Club of Morganton 2009 Distinguished Person of the Year

Ron Martin, Rotary Club of Morganton 2009 Distinguished Person of the Year


Ron Martin

Ron Martin has served the community in various roles throughout his life as a member of the National Guard, as an executive for Blue Bell, Buster Brown, and Shadowline, as a deacon for First Baptist Church of Morganton, as a board member for various non-profit agencies, and as a trustee for higher education institutions.  Ron received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from High Point University and completed his degree while working full-time.  He moved to Morganton in 1984 and quickly became involved in various public service roles. 

Ron previously served as president for the board of directors of Western Piedmont Foundation, which raises private funds to provide student scholarships and valuable programs for Western Piedmont Community College.  During his term as president, the Foundation established five new endowed scholarships and its assets grew to over $2 million.  The Foundation’s Annual Giving Campaign has been successful in recent years with the help of Ron’s tireless dedication, leadership and innovation.  As campaign chairman for the last four years, Ron led the successful effort to raise more than $6,000,000 for student scholarships and college improvement projects.  In recognition for these efforts, Governor Perdue recently appointed Ron to serve on the College’s Board of Trustees. 

Ron also served in Mars Hill College as Chairman of its Board of Trustees and member of the Capitol Campaign Cabinet.  Ron received the Philanthropic Service Award from Mars Hill College in 2006.  Ron is an ambassador for education, as well as for the Exploring Joara Foundation, which supports the archaeological excavation at the Berry Site (location of a native town and Spanish fort in the 16th century).  He previously served as board president of Burke United Way, Burke Council on Alcoholism and Chemical dependency, and Southeastern Apparel & Textile Manufacturers.  He also serves as a board member of South Mountain Children’s Home and Family Service, and Mimosa Hills Country Club.

Ron’s deep commitment and love for Christ, family and community radiates through all aspects of his life.  Ron has taught Sunday school at First Baptist Church in Morganton for more than 15 years, as well as served as Chairman of the board of Deacons for five years and member of the capital campaign committee.  He is President of Catawba River Baptist Association’s Foundation and co-chairman of the capital campaign. 

Ron and his wife of 51 years, Anne, are the proud parents of Linda Leech and Carol Kelley (who reside in Chattanooga, Tennessee) and grandparents of Payton, Sydney, and Graham.  Ron is also an avid reader, golfer, and fisherman, who enjoys spending each October at the Carolina coast and has traveled extensively in Europe and Japan.

Waits Gordon III, Rotary Club of Morganton 2008 Distinguished Person of the Year

Waits Gordon III, Rotary Club of Morganton 2008 Distinguished Person of the Year


Waits Gordon II

Waits Gordon II, a Food Lion Store Manager in Morganton for twenty years, loving husband, devoted father, member of Fist United Methodist Church, and community servant, is Morganton’s 2008 Man of the Year.  Having met his beautiful wife Laura Ann, at the age of fourteen in Morganton, Waits and she are extremely proud of their children: Waits Gordon III and wife, Deni; Kimberly Gordon Maugans and husband Pete; Beth Powell and husband, Tim; Todd Young and wife, Kim. Waits and Laura Ann’s joy in life comes from their grandchildren: Waits Gordon IV, Garrett Maugans, Nate Maugans, Jeffrey Young, Michael Young, Jennifer Beam, Bryan Powell, and Lauren Powell.

To impact each citizen of Burke County, Mr. Gordon served as Food Lion’s local coordinator to charitable organization.  Even though Food Lion’s two major areas of focus are elementary education and feeding the hungry, most non-profits in Burke have been affected from Waits’ service and leadership as he has rallied Food Lion employees for humanitarian efforts.  Among the numerous benefactors are Burke United Christian Ministries, South Mountain Children’s Home, Smart Start, the volunteer efforts of the Moose Lodge, the Veterans Auxiliary Support Services, the Historic Morganton Festival, the Burke Endowment for the Arts, Habitat for Humanity, Shekinah Food Ministry, the Deputy Marin Lawing fundraising efforts, the Morganton Recreation Department projects, the elementary schools of the Burke County Public School System, etc.

In closing, Waits Gordon’s volunteerism to the people of Burke County surpasses most individual’s imagination.  His tireless energy and passion to the success and progress of our community make Mr. Gordon a worthy recipient of this prestigious honor and the world a better place in which to live.

David Burleson, 2007 Distinguished Person of the Year

David Burleson, 2007 Distinguished Person of the Year


David Burleson

A graduate of Appalachian State University with an EdS. in Administration, David Burleson, an Avery County native, came to Burke County in 1982 where he began his career at Freedom High School as a math teacher and coach.  He served as assistant principal of that school from 1989 through 1991 until becoming the principal of what was then Oak Hill Junior High School.  He returned to Freedom as principal in 1992 and remained in this capacity until moving into the associate superintendent’s position in 1996.  Mr. Burleson became superintendent in 2000 and has been a pioneer in education from pre-k mobile education on wheels and beyond.  His unparalleled list of accomplishments include the following: helped develop the summer camps for students, procured millions of dollars in grant monies to address student need/creative programming, and realized alternative education programs for those who need a different approach to education.  Also, during Mr. Burleson’s tenure as superintendent, the county has experienced the lowest drop-out rate in the public school system’s history.

Professionally, he has received local, regional and state Principal of the Year Awards, Burke County Education Office Personnel Administrator of the Year Awards for four years, 2001 North Carolina Middle School Association Superintendent of the Year Award, the 2005 United Way Community Builders Award, the 2007 United Hmong Association Community Service Award, and 2007 Regional Superintendent of the Year as well as acknowledgement for several published articles and innovative presentations.

Very active in church and in community affairs, David has a litany of volunteer and leadership accolades including church member, deacon, Sunday school teacher, and active participant in the Morganton Rotary Club, Tar Heel Association of Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Burke County Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the North Carolina Standards Board, Chairman of the ASU Governing board, Past Chairman of the Northwest Superintendent’s Council, Chairman of the North Carolina Compliance Commission and member of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.  David serves on and has served on several local community boards and committees for a better Burke County which includes; Burke County Council on Alcoholism and Chemical Dependency (Vice-President), Boy Scouts Board of Directors, Lifegains Board of Directors (Past-President), Big Brothers/Big Sisters Board of Directors, Burke Partners for Economic Growth Board of Directors, Homes of Hearts Inc. Board of Directors (Past President), Burke County United Way Board of Directors and 2006 Campaign Chair, and Burke County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors (2008 President).  He has a broad spectrum of other interests which mainly involve being a Civil War enthusiast, motorcycle rider and spending time with family.  He is married to the former Beth Dayton of Spruce Pine, a partner with the certified public accounting firm of Johnson, Price & Sprinkle, PA.  They have two daughters, Heather, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Shannon, a junior at Freedom High School.

David Rust, 2006 Distinguished Person of the Year

David Rust, 2006 Distinguished Person of the Year


David Rust

It is often said that you make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.  If indeed that is the case, David Rust is making an extraordinary life.  David is a true gentleman in every sense of the word, and his exemplary character and charitable spirit make him a most worthy recipient of the 2006 Morganton Man of the Year award.  David has been employed with the Burke County Health Department for twenty-seven years, and has been the Director for the past nine years.  He sits on the boards and committees of the United Way, Southmountain Children’s Home Board of Trustees, the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, and the Criminal Justice Partnership, the Community Hearst board, the Lynn Michaels Foundation Board, Burke County Smart Start Board of Directors and the Governor’s Healthy Carolinians Task Force.  To say that David gives back to his community is truly an understatement.

In 2006, when Morganton’s charitable Good Samaritan Clinic was forced to eliminate a paid position, David agreed, with no pay, to become the interim director in August.  He is responsible for ensuring that the charitable clinic remains in business.  As director of the Health department, he is responsible for twenty-three different programs, from dental clinics to environmental health.  David credits his co-workers at the Health Department for taking on more responsibility so that he could handle the Good Samaritan clinic work.  In addition to the Man of the Year award, David was also one of this year’s Rotarians of the Year.  He devoted a substantial amount of his own time and resources to cook and deliver the barbecue for the Rotary booth at the Red, White, and Bluegrass festival this summer.

David is a native of Valdese and now resides in Drexel.  He and his wife Kaye have been married for 26 years.  They have two lovely daughters, Ashley, 23 and Kelly, 18.  He has been a member of North Morganton United Methodist Church for 26 years, and taught Sunday school for 18 of those years. 

Paul M. Braun, 2005 Distinguished Person of the Year

Paul M. Braun, 2005 Distinguished Person of the Year


Paul M. Braun

For the past 10 years, Paul Braun has led the effort to preserve and protect Lake James, one of Burke County’s most precious natural resources.  Concerned with what the future development around Lake James would do to the shoreline, water quality and way of life for future generations, in 1997 Paul initiated a grassroots campaign to ensure responsible development of Lake James property.  This campaign started with the collection of more than 5,000 names on a local petition.  The following year, Paul founded “Citizens to Save Lake James.”  Paul often used vacation time from his job as maintenance technician for Continental Teves to attend meetings in which his voice was often the only one opposed to unrestricted development of Lake James.  Writing editorials, public speaking, organizing events, fundraising and developing strategies to solve problems are things Paul was not comfortable doing at first, but did them anyway and became proficient at all of them.

The results of Paul’s hard work are now evident.  Burke County and Crescent Resources have reached an agreement for a new plan to develop Lake James with conservation principles in mind.  Lake James State Park will increase in size from 600 acres to more than 3,600 acres with 30 miles of public shoreline, hiking-biking trails, supervised boat-in campsites, restrooms, wildlife viewing areas and most importantly, an investment in managed public access for the next generation’s enjoyment.  The $30 million deal to expand Lake James State Park includes a $12 million donation from Crescent Resources and $18 million in public dollars that, according to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Braun helped to raise.

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation recognized Paul’s efforts by honoring him as a recipient of the “Nancy Susan Reynolds” Award in 2004.  In honoring Paul, the Foundation stated, “Perhaps the most significant result has been the birth of a leader.”  Paul Braun says his 10- year campaign has changed his life, 

“I learned that a little guy with no money can make a difference…and it changed me.  I will always be involved in public interest work from now on.”

Paul is joined in his love for the environment and his community by his wife, Mary, who serves as Office Administrator for the Foothills Conservancy, and his son Corey Devan Braun who is a North Carolina Teaching fellow and freshman in college at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

Thomas A. Bland, 2004 Distinguished Person of the Year

Thomas A. Bland, 2004 Distinguished Person of the Year


Thomas A. Bland

A native of Wake Forest, Thomas (Tom) Bland, Jr., has served as a Senior Minister of the First Baptist Church of Morganton since June 1, 1995.

Tom is a graduate of Wake Forest University (B.A. magna cum laude), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (M.A., Ph.D.), and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M Div. with languages).

Prior to being called to the pastorate of First Baptist Church, Tom served during seminary as Assistant Pastor and Minister of Education of English Road Baptist Church in High Point.  After completing his seminary education in May 1989, Tom took his first Pastoral position at Sharpsburg Baptist Church in Sharpsburg near Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

While in Morganton, Tom has served as Campaign Chairman (1999) and President (2001) of Burke County United Way and in 2003 received the Community Builder award.  He has served as President of the Rotary Club of Morganton (2002-2003).  He is currently in his second term as Moderator of the Catawba River Baptist Association.  Tom is also chairman of the Table Rock District of the Piedmont Council Boy Scouts of America and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for the Morganton Housing Authority.  Tom was recently appointed to the Board of Directors for the Bank of Granite in Morganton.

Tom has also served as Visiting Associate Professor of Preaching at the M. Christopher White School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University.  He is a former member of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Committee at Wingate University.

Tom is married to the former Patricia Stogner of Rockingham, N.C. who currently works as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with the State of North Carolina.  Tom and Patricia have two children, Eleanor and Edward.

Carl Evans Sr., 2003 Distinguished Person of the Year

Carl Evans Sr., 2003 Distinguished Person of the Year


Carl Evans Sr.

A native of Morganton, Carl firmly placed his feet on the ground to build both a family and a career in his beloved hometown.  After serving in the Army for seven years, he began employment with Morganton Hardware as warehouse manager for over 38 years, retiring in 1992.  He very quickly realized the importance of giving something back to the community and began to seek opportunities to be of service.  He began his first community involvement in 1960 as member and chairman of the Mountain View Community Center Advisory Commission.  In 1965 Carl began as part-time supervisor for the Morganton Recreation Department.  Clinton Foust, former Director of Recreation for the City of Morganton stated:

“Carl was a tremendous asset to our city during the integration of recreation facilities in the mid 60’s.  His knowledge of people and his natural instinct of communicating echoed a calming effect in a time of uncertainty.  Carl along with supervisor like Forney Happoldt, Sr. and W.R. Carswell made Morganton an example for all cities to follow.”

His interest in his hometown led Carl to become involved in politics.  In 1987 he was elected to City Council to represent District 2 and became the first black councilman in Morganton.  He has been re-elected four times and during this time has been active in city and regional affairs.  He served on the Western Piedmont Council of Governments Policy board as Morganton’s delegate since 1990, served on the executive board as an At-Large member in 1991, 1992, and 1993; Secretary in 1994 and 1995; Vice-Chairman in 1996 and 1997; Chairman in 1998 and 1999; and Past Chairman in 2000 and 2001.  Carl is also a member of the North Carolina Black Municipal Officials.

An active and devoted church member of Slades Chapel AME Zion Church, he serves as Chairman of the Trustee Board and is a member of the men’s choir.

On a community wide basis, Carl is a member of the Morganton Optimist Club and is a past member of the Redevelopment Commission and former member and chairman of the Burke County Social Services Board.  His service to his “hometown” extends beyond leadership roles as he has given of his time and talents to help with community projects at the Morganton Community House and the Morganton Parks and Recreation Department.

He and his wife Hazel have four children, Pamela Hicks, Tricia Hunt, Colonel Carl Evans Jr., Tony Evans and eight grandchildren.

Although happy to be a behind the scenes player, Carl is always willing to accept any challenge.  His lifetime achievements have earned him the gratitude of all those who, like him, seek to uplift and improve the quality of life for everyone. 

Wayne Abele, 2002 Distinguished Person of the Year

Wayne Abele, 2002 Distinguished Person of the Year


Wayne Abele

Wayne Abele is the 55th recipient of the Man of the Year Award presented annually by the Rotary Club of Morganton.

His selection exemplifies the Morganton Rotary Club’s Man of the Year Award honoring a man for outstanding civic and public service work during the previous year.

In 1979, he moved to Morganton and purchased Shoney’s Restaurant.  The restaurant, which was failing at the time, became Wayne’s newest challenge.  Under his leadership and with the help of his family and friends, Shoney’s again became a flourishing business.

Since his move to Morganton, Wayne has served with many community organizations.  His volunteering work includes Burke United Way, Christmas Cheer, Phoenix Group Homes, Salvation Army Volunteer Center for Burke County, Western Piedmont Community College, Burke County Youth Alliance, Juvenile Crime Prevention Coalition, Career Ready, Path ways to Wellness, Burke Partners for Economic Growth, as well as many others.  Through theses organizations he has continued to provide strong leadership and commitment to the community in many areas including health, families, children, community building and education.

As a past winner of a Nine who Care Award, Abele was honored for his tireless efforts to give back to his community.  According to the award, he is best known for his community involvement and philanthropy, both which have enriched the lives of countless local children and families, particularly those most at risk for failure.

His interest in his adopted county led Wayne to become involved in local politics.  Just recently elected and sworn in as a County Commissioner, he will continue to serve his commitment to improve the quality of life for all who live in our county.

He is a member of First Baptist Church of Morganton and a member of the Koinonia Sunday school class.

Wayne and his wife Ellie have three children, Wayne Jr., Wesley and Tracy.

Robert E. Benner, 2001 Distinguished Person of the Year

Robert E. Benner, 2001 Distinguished Person of the Year


Robert E. Benner

Robert E. Benner is well known as a professional and as a volunteer who has rallied individuals and groups to work for immediate and long term betterment of his community.

He was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and graduated from high school in Atlanta, Georgia.  He attended the University of Georgia for undergraduate studies and received his master’s degree from the University of Illinois.  He retired after 25 years of service with Western Piedmont Community College as Director of Intramurals and Instructor of Health and Physical Education.

During his outstanding career as an educator, he has served on many state committees dealing with outdoor education and the environment.  To name a few, he served as President of the N.C. Intramural Sports Council, Conservation Council of N.C., Chairman of Outdoor Education Section of the NCAHPER, and Chairman of the S.E. Intercollegiate Canoe Races.  He has also been involved with many other organizations such as, Founder and Past President of the Carolina Canoe Club, Representative to the American Canoe Association Congress, consultant to the N.C. Outward Bound School, instructor and trainer with water safety programs with the American Red Cross, member of Unifour 2020 Strategic Planning Task Force, Coordinator and board member of the Central Blue Ridge Task Force of Mountains to Sea Trail, Friends of State Parks board member, Parks Advisory Committee of South Mountains State Park, past board member of Foothills Conservatory of N.C. and member and past chairman of the N.C. Trails Committee.

He has authored several publications including Carolina Whitewater, A Canoeist Guide to Western North Carolina, Co-Author, A Paddler’s Guide to Eastern North Carolina and collaborator on Southern Appalachian Whitewaters.

He has received numerous awards for his achievements including outstanding educator in 1975, excellence in teaching award in 1990, Sam Thomas Memorial Award for outstanding conservation efforts in 1991, and outstanding individual conservation efforts with the Burke County Visions Council in 1992.

Beyond his professional life and after his retirement in 1995, Bob has given of his time and talents to many volunteer organizations in our community.  His volunteer work includes, Christmas Cheer, Habitat for Humanity, Historic Morganton Festival, Burke County Public Schools Outdoor Education Program, Timer for Freedom High School Cross Country Team, and many more.

He is a member of the First Presbyterian Church and is very active in their Mission Trips.

Bob and his wife Donna reside in Morganton.  He has a son, David Benner, a daughter Dawn Styhaus and a step-son Scott Reid.  He also has two grandchildren, Brett Styhaus and Lindsay Styhaus.

Bob has played many roles s a professional, volunteer, teacher, mentor, advisor, taskmaster and above all a friend to everyone.  Bob’s unselfish devotion to the community and his active participation in any club, project or endeavor that would improve or enhance the quality of life for all Morganton Citizens makes him the choice for this recognition.  The Morganton Rotary Club proudly honors Robert E. Benner as Man of the Year for 2001.

Fred B. Bentley, 2000 Distinguished Person of the Year

Fred B. Bentley, 2000 Distinguished Person of the Year


Fred B. Bentley

Fred B. Bentley, whom we honor here tonight, is the 53rd recipient of the Morganton Man of the Year award presented annually by the Morganton Rotary Club.

The city and county are extremely fortunate that Mr. Bentley chose to come to Morganton in 1995.  During these years he has become deeply involved in many phases of community life, with a special interest in “Habitat for Humanity.”

As a “giving and caring person,” Mr. Bentley strives to make a significant difference for good in any endeavor with which he is associated.  When he believes strongly in a cause, he gives his wholehearted support.

As president of Mars Hill College from 1966 to 1996, he received several honors during his career in higher education.  These included being named to the National Register of Prominent Americans, Who’s Who in American Education, Who’s Who in the World and president for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Beyond his professional life as an outstanding educator, he is reaching out to give to his community.  After his retirement with Mars Hill College, he has become heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity.  Starting as a volunteer worker, he went back to school and earned his North Carolina General Contractor’s License.  Fred now volunteers in the capacity of Habitat for Humanity’s general contractor.  His leadership is invaluable to the success of Habitat for Humanity and its goal to provide affordable housing in partnership with those in need of adequate shelter.

Additionally, Fred has also been active as a volunteer for Christmas Cheer, and works with the Phoenix Home for boys, Hospice patients and for the elderly through First Baptist Church’s assistance program.  He is also giving of his time to help in renovating the former New Hope in Christ Church on Bouchelle Street for a Hispanic mission.

He is a member and Trustee of First Baptist Church of Morganton.  He is also a member of the Koinonia Sunday school class. 

A native of Roanoke, Virginia, Fred and his wife Doris have three children, Steve, Phil and Rhonda.

Fred’s unselfish desire and ability to help his community and his willingness to share credit for any accomplishments make him worthy of this award.  In a relatively short time he has shown such a high degree of civic pride and dynamic spirit that it is both timely and fitting the Morganton Rotary Club honors Fred B. Bentley as Man of the Year for 2000.