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McDowell Technical Community College will recognize more than 160 students tonight earning various associate degrees, diplomas and certificates.

The graduation ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of East McDowell Middle School. The event is open to the public.

During the ceremony, over 160 students are expected to graduate with an associate’s degree, diploma or certificate in various areas of study, and an additional 45 students will receive either an adult high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate (GED or HISET).

Greg Conley will continue his long-standing tradition of singing at this year’s graduation. However, this year, he will be joined by another singer, Maggie Effler, who is one of this year's graduating students. She is the daughter of Chet and Lydia Effler.

A student will also be recognized as the college’s Academic Excellence winner and an instructor will be honored with the 2018-2019 Excellence in Teaching Award.

Freddie Allison Killough, co-owner of Killough's Music and Loan and executive director of the Marion Economic Development Office/ Marion Business Association, will deliver the keynote address to students.

Killough is a McDowell County native who grew up in the Old Fort area as the third of seven children born to Eunice Allison and the late Glenn Allison. She graduated from McDowell High School in 1976 and married Woody Killough in August of 1977. In 1988, Freddie and Woody opened Killough's Music and Loan in downtown Marion, and two years later she began working for the Marion Business Association.

"Freddie is one of Marion's best assets," said John Gossett, president of McDowell Technical Community College. "She is a champion of economic development and business growth in and around the city. More importantly, she is an advisor, advocate and cheerleader for new and expanding businesses in Marion and has been a primary catalyst for the recent uptick in new restaurants, ice cream shops and pubs that is attracting more and more activity to downtown, especially during the evening hours."

In fact, Killough's job with the Marion Business Association/Marion Economic Development office is just that--working with new and expanding businesses. She is one of several local partners, who started the GEM Program (Growing Entrepreneurs Marion) in January 2016. She is the lead and primary instructor for the program, which has had 83 graduates to date. The City of Marion, Marion Business Association, the McDowell Technical Community College Small Business Center and the McDowell Chamber of Commerce are the primary partners in this venture. Newly-opened businesses, whose owners have gone through the program and have well-established businesses today, include Artesana Ice Cream, Spillway Tap House and Music Hall, Mountain Marquee, Mica Town Brewing, McDowell Local, Flavors on Main, Dos Mundos Coffee Shop, Burrito Bros, The Makery and XYZ Spirits.

Recently, the Appalachian Regional Commission announced that the GEM Program has been awarded a grant in the amount of $70,000 to expand and enhance the program. "This will take us to a whole new level," said Killough. She was the primary liaison with Isothermal Planning and Development Commission in writing this grant.

Above all, Killough is a great teacher. She is a certified instructor in the REAL program (Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning) and was recognized in 2017 as the Rural Leader of the Year from the NC Rural Center. (The REAL curriculum was used by Killough and local partners as they developed the GEM program two years ago.) She has taught many classes at the Small Business Center for McDowell Tech over the years and is a frequent speaker or participant in other classes. In addition, she is a Sunday school teacher for senior adults and a worship leader at Mount Hebron Wesleyan Church in Old Fort.

Under Killough's leadership, the city of Marion became a Certified Retirement Community and in 2018 was named NC Small Town of the Year by the NC Rural Center.

"We cannot emphasize enough the value that Freddie has added to this county, our two cities--especially Marion-- and our community college over the last couple of decades," said Gossett. "We are delighted to have her speak to our students Friday night."

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