On a Tuesday evening in late January, the front reception area of the Young County Arena was packed with leaders, volunteers and professionals from in and around Graham. The Graham Chamber Banquet had sold out pretty quickly, a statement reflected in the tight walking spaces between densely placed, large circular tables full of groups of people.
The Taste of Graham portion of the night had concluded, and Oak Street Baptist Church Pastor Joe Finfrock blessed the event. Chamber board member Lynn Day gave an address on the state of the chamber for 2014, and a few others spoke and presented various plaques and awards and nodded to some of the town's luminaries.
As the awards presentation for the Grahammys began, local figure of prominence and Chamber President Shane Weatherbee introduced each winner. During the second Grahammy presentation, he explained his pick for the President's Choice award.
“It was not a hard choice for me in deciding who to choose for the President's Choice Award,” Weatherbee began. “There is one person I have felt deserved recognition for all of their hard work and dedication to this community over the years, and I am thankful I have an opportunity to publicly recognize them. This person worked for their first year for free to get the organization off the ground and worked for years without a break or a vacation to ensure there was always someone to open the doors for the visitors and art enthusiasts alike.”
He then called on Marlene Edwards to come up and receive her Grahammy. Edwards has been a Grahamite her whole life, but that's not the reason she was selected as the winner of this year's President's Choice Grahammy. Edwards attended Graham High School in the '50s, a time she describes as much simpler.
“Graham was very small at that point, probably 7,000 people at the most at that point,” she said. “There wasn't too much going on in the world at that time that was upsetting.”
Shortly after high school, she married her husband, Tommy Edwards, also a born-and-raised Grahamite. Three years into their marriage, Tommy was called into military service for the Cuban Missile Crisis.
They both went to Louisiana while he served his country, and as soon as they could, the couple returned to Graham, settled down and had a family. They have been here ever since. Edwards has had a string of jobs since then, including work for some local doctors. But what she's most known for in Graham these days is serving as the director of the Old Post Office Museum and Arts Center.
She first started volunteering at the OPOMAC under two different directors in 2004.
“When the second director resigned, she just left and they didn't know what they were going to do,” Edwards related. “So they asked me if I would mind working there while they found someone, and I said ‘Sure.' Well, they still haven't found anyone and I'm still here.”
Read the entire story in this weekend's Graham Leader.