Two of McDowell County’s most successful business owners and employers recently received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the highest honors in North Carolina.
Tom Johnson and Ford Miller were presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine at a recent meeting of the McDowell Trails Association. Retired Judge and former N.C. Rep. Bob Hunter, who was a previous recipient, made the presentation on behalf of Gov. Roy Cooper. McDowell Economic Development Director Chuck Abernathy, civic leader Bobbi Young, former Chamber Director Rod Birdsong and former Mayor Everette Clark submitted letters of support.
“Among the most prestigious awards conferred by the Governor of North Carolina is The Order of the Long Leaf Pine,” reads the web site for the Order. “It is awarded to persons for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina.”
Johnson and Miller were nominated for their “exemplary community service that demonstrates the tremendous impact” they have had in improving McDowell County.
“Tom is known across the Southeast for his highly successful recreational vehicle dealership (Tom Johnson Camping Center Inc.) of which he was the president and the majority owner,” reads the nomination letter. “Just two of the numerous awards he received are ‘Top 100 Most Influential People in the History of the RV Industry’ and ‘The Top Dealership in the United States.’ Tom Johnson Camping, before it was sold recently, employed approximately 150 people in Marion.”
In addition to his Marion location, he owned and operated a second dealership at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. He’s donated the use of his rally park in Marion to many non-profit organizations in McDowell County. Relay for Life is just one organization which continues to have their annual event at the rally park at no cost to them. The McDowell Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Entrepreneur Award is named after Johnson.
His civic leadership was again recognized by the Chamber when he awarded the McDowell Citizenship Award in 1998. Also, in 2007 he was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the McDowell County Commissioners, the Marion City Council and the Old Fort Board of Aldermen, according to the nomination letter.
Miller has developed his business into one of the most successful bridge and construction firms in the state. “He is known for finishing complex state projects on time and within budget,” reads his nomination letter. “His success in business for over 50 years, serving as a major employer, has enabled him to make many significant business and personal donations to McDowell County, especially to McDowell Technical Community College.”
An active member of Providence United Methodist, he was instrumental in the construction of the building in use today by providing equipment, financing and materials for the building. Over the years, he provided other local churches with equipment for maintenance, site prep, as well as donating his time to complete the projects.
Miller donated the former Marion Manufacturing administration building and two acres of land to McDowell Tech for use by the county. This building on Baldwin Avenue was renovated to house the Work First program, Employment Security Commission and the HRD programs, thereby providing a central site for people to obtain training and information about employment. That building is now the Ford Miller Training Center. He was instrumental in getting the construction class started at McDowell Tech, providing space and materials for classes and donating a van for transportation to worksites, according to the nomination letter.
Both Johnson and Miller gave easements across their property for the Catawba River greenway, said Hunter.