Whittle, Cuchens receive year’s top honors


The Newton Area Chamber of Commerce honored Leigh Anne Whittle and Randy Cuchens as the Woman of the Year and Man of the Year, respectively, at its annual chamber banquet on Thursday night.

Whittle is no stranger to the Newton area, serving the community as chamber executive director until 2017 and has continued to be a loyal volunteer and strong influence in the community. She has worked closely with current executive director Emily Pugh since she was approved by the board last year.

“I was very humbled and honored by the members of the Newton Chamber of Commerce to be recognized as Woman of the Year,” Whittle said Monday. “I have enjoyed training and supporting our new director, Emily Pugh.  She is positively carrying the mission of promoting businesses and improving the community for our citizens.”

Cuchens was not able to attend the banquet due to the death of his wife, Susan, whose visitation was also scheduled Thursday night. He has served as music director at Newton First Baptist Church and continues to be active with the Newton Municipal School District and many other areas of the community.

The chamber also welcomed pianist Beau Roberts to perform before the crowd. A native of Meehan and a piano student for 14 years, he is currently attending East Central Community College, majoring in piano performance where he is a member if Phi Theta Kappa, the national honors society. Beau’s musical education has been largely focused on congregational accompaniment, classical performance, hymn arranging, choral accompaniment, and advanced theoretical concepts.

The chamber’s keynote speaker was Richelle Putnam, a Mississippi Humanities Speaker, a Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) Literary Teaching Artist & Roster Artist, and a 2014 MAC Literary Arts Fellowship recipient. She hosts two radio shows on Supertalk Meridian 103.3 and is the author of several books including “Lauderdale County, Mississippi, a Brief History.” The Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office commissioned her to write the history on nine counties (Clarke, Kemper, Lauderdale, Newton, Neshoba, Leake, Smith, Scott, Jasper) in East Central, Mississippi for the 2017 Mississippi Bicentennial book.

During the banquet, the United Givers Fund was highlighted with Betty Thames honoring UGF chairman Van Lucas.

The 2017-2018 Board of Directors for the chamber was recognized, including treasurer Doug Whittle, Trisha Spence, Ashley Duke, Fred Snow, Jamie Baucum, Aaron Brown, Kim Henley, Steve Dixon, Tommy Jackson, Chafony Poole, Nita McCullough, Lynne Woolley, Eva McDonald, Mayor Murray Weems, Teresa Hodges and Mark Doucette, all of whom will serve one more year. New board members included Shelby Harris, Don Vares, Lacey Smith, Christal Oliphant, Pamela Edwards and Kaylind Brown.

Board Members who finished their terms included vice president Karla Butler, Andy Armstrong, Frank Kirtley, Edward Otkins, Carl Walters and the writer of this story.