By Alyssa Schnugg
LaVera Hodges’ family suggested she dress up for the annual Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting Luncheon Wednesday as her son was expected to receive an award.
“I said, ‘I wasn’t getting an award, why do I need to dress up?'” she said, chuckling.
However, when Outgoing Chairwoman of the Chamber Board Lolita Gregory read off the accomplishments of this year’s Citizen of the Year, all eyes were on Hodges.
When she realized what was happening, her jaw dropped and she began wiping away the tears that started to fall.
“I was so surprised,” she said.
Hodges, the owner of L Hodges Funeral Home, was named the 2023 Chamber Citizen of the Year for her commitment to volunteerism and ministry.
Since 1972, the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce has sought to recognize individuals who have made positive contributions to Oxford, Lafayette County and the University of Mississippi as Citizen of the Year.
Through a smile and a kind disposition, our honoree brings hope and compassion to families all across this region on a daily basis,” Gregory said of Hodges. “Today, we honor a mentor, a friend, and a caregiver who has dedicated their life to the service of others. Today, we celebrate the “Continuation of a Legacy.”
The daughter of the late Nathan Hodges Jr., she has been involved with several community organizations, including:
•The Oxford Love Packs Program for Oxford and Lafayette Schools
•The Diabetic Foundation of Mississippi
•The Burns Belfry Multi-Cultural Museum
•And to her church, Philadelphia Missionary Baptist Church
A cancer survivor twice over, she is the founder of the “Strutting Pretty in Pink’ fashion show where proceeds go to support families undergoing treatment at the Baptist Cancer Center.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, she was an answered prayer to many through her willingness to offer complimentary and pro bono services to families who could ill afford the cost of final arrangements,” Gregory said.
In 2009, she was crowned Ms. Total Package, Ms. Congeniality, and Most Outstanding Professional in the Ms. Total Package Pageant.
Prior to Hodges receiving the Citizen of the Year Award, the Chamber announced its 2023 Outstanding Service Award winner is Bill Henning, CEO and Administrator of Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi.
The Outstanding Service Award is an honor that the Chamber started in 2004 to pay special tribute to individuals, who have contributed their time and service to the Oxford-Lafayette County Community, and most importantly, to the mission of the Chamber of Commerce and EDF.
Henning has more than 35 years of experience in hospital operations and has served as the CEO and Administrator of BMH-NM for the past 10 years.
In November of 2017, under his leadership, the hospital built a brand new, five-story, 600,000-square-foot regional referral center offering expanded healthcare services and facilities for patients and their families. He launched an Internal Medicine
Residency Program at Baptist in Oxford. He currently serves on the Mississippi Hospital Association Board of Directors, as Chairman of the Board of Directors Mississippi Trauma Foundation and the Oxford-Lafayette Economic Development Foundation Board of Directors.
Also recognized Wednesday was Ethan Rainey as Ambassador of the Year.
(Rainey is) always the first to volunteer at our events and they’re always willing to help with anything else we might need,” said LOU Ambassador Jason Plunk of Rainey. “They have shown a level of dedication that is truly inspiring. It is clear that their passion for helping others is what drives them to do what they do.”
The luncheon kicked off with Gregory passing the “golden scissors” to Plunk, who will serve as the 2023-2024 Chamber of Commerce Chairman.