This year’s recipient of the David E. Laird, Sr. Memorial Award is Matthew W. Sawyer, CEO of Bennett’s Creek Wholesale Nursery, Suffolk, VA. Born in Portsmouth, VA, Matthew attended Nansemond Suffolk Academy and Averet University, Danville, VA. He began working at the family nursery in 1994 at the age of 13, and held the position of VP of Operations from 2007 to 2015, until his father’s (Wayne Sawyer) untimely passing in 2015 when he stepped into the role of CEO.
Matthew has served on the Virginia Nursery & Landscape Association board from 2007 to 2014, and served as President in 2013. He served as Chair of the Virginia Nursery Association Horticulture Research Foundation (2007-2013) and coordinated the annual Research Gala Auction increasing the endowment from $630,000 to $698,000 while still funding over $215,000 in grants.
In his spare time, Matthew enjoys photography, aviation, drums and music, as well as beer brewing and growing his own hops. He and his wife Melanie are expecting their first child (a daughter).
Established by the SNA Board in 1999, the SNA Environmental Award recognizes individuals and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and through their voluntary efforts exemplified inspiration, vision, innovation, leadership and action to preserve and protect the environment. This award is not limited to SNA members or to the horticulture industry. Nominations for this prestigious award are made by the SNA Participating State Associations and SNA Members with final selection by the SNA Board of Directors.
This year’s recipients of the SNA Environmental Award is Tim Thoms, Thoms Trees and Plants, Fayetteville, GA. Thoms Trees specializes in locating quality trees and shrubs for landscape projects. A registered Landscape Architect who has been in the industry for more than 30 years, Tim’s list of contacts and sources for quality materials means he has the experience to find plants that meet his customer’s needs for quality, value and needed delivery time. His past projects include the Carter Presidential Library, the John Portman residence, Centennial Olympic Park, Auburn University Toomers Corner Oaks, East Lake Golf Club, Lindbergh City Center, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Tim has been an industry leader on water issues for more than 20 years and has spent countless hours away from his business working on behalf of the industry with little notice or appreciation. He played an integral part in the early days of the Georgia Water Wise Council which seeks to bring together the green industry along with water providers and environmental groups to find common ground on water conservation. He has also served with the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, many times being the sole voice representing the industry among hundreds of elected officials and regulators. Finally, Tim served as the only green industry representative on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders group which worked for 3 years to develop operational plans for the basin and its reservoirs. This monumental effort brought together stakeholders from Georgia, Alabama and Florida all focused on protecting their interest’s right to water while working to find a solution that would work for all. Tim has become a recognized and knowledgeable source on outdoor water issues. His integrity and experience on the topic make him an invaluable member of the industry in Georgia and beyond.
Tim is a member of the Georgia Green Industry Association (GGIA), Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia Urban Forest Council, and International Society of Arborists (ISA). He has served with the Metro Atlanta Water District, ACF Stakeholders, the Georgia Chapter of ASLA, the UGA School of Environmental Design, and the GGIA. He is a prior winner of the GGIA-Jake Tinga Distinguished Professional Award. He is a GGIA Certified Plant Professional, and a GGIA Certified Nursery Professional. He is also a registered Landscape Architect and ISA Certified Arborist.
Away from his business, Tim has been actively involved in his community having previously chaired the Fayette County Planning Commission, teaching classes and coordinating youth activities at his church, as well as working with local youth sports and youth civic associations. Besides thoroughly enjoying his marriage of 32 years to Betsy Heefner, and his son, daughter, son-in-law and grandchild, Tim values cooking, officiating football and baseball, and friend and family time at Lake Burton.
The Don Shadow Award of Excellence, named for the first recipient, Don O. Shadow, Shadow Nursery, Winchester, TN, is presented to an individual, corporation or organization that has provided exemplary service, leadership and generosity in the development, promotion and use of new and improved landscape plants. Recipients must demonstrate a sincere commitment to and passion for expanding knowledge and use of new and improved plants for the landscape. Nominations are accepted from attendees of the Southern Plant Conference and SNA Members. Nominees may be carried forward from one year to the next. Selection is made by the SNA Board of Directors.
The 2016 recipient of the Don Shadow Award of Excellence is Dr. Michael A. Dirr. Retired Professor, University of Georgia, world renowned plant breeder and evangelist, author and speaker.
Dirr earned his Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science degrees in Horticulture from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D in Plant Physiology from the University of Massachusetts. Upon graduation from the University of Massachusetts, Dirr was an Associate Professor of Ornamental Horticulture at the University of Illinois, Urbana, where he continued to work until 1978. He then became a Mercer Fellow at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University through 1979. In 1979, he became the Director of the University of Georgia Botanical Garden. In 1981, he returned to teaching and research at the University of Georgia and was promoted to Professor in 1984.
From 1981 to 2007 Dr. Dirr fostered the University of Georgia Plant Introduction program, a program widely emulated by other universities. His program has contributed more than 100 new plants to the industry, with 13 patents. In October of 2003 Dr. Dirr officially retired from the University of Georgia and as a tribute to his many contributions to the plant world, the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia established the Michael A. Dirr Endowed Professorship for Woody Plant Instruction and Introduction. The endowment will insure that future faculty members will embody the commitment to teaching, research and woody plant introduction exemplified by Dr. Dirr.
Dr. Dirr’s influence in horticulture is far reaching. From landscape and nursery industry professionals to the home gardener, his teaching and research have impacted the way we interact with woody landscape plants. He has published more than 300 scientific and popular publications, and has authored 12 books. His book, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture and Propagation and Uses is one of the most widely adopted reference text in Horticulture and Landscape Architecture education. It has sold over 500,000 copies.
Dr. Michael Dirr continues his quest to bring only the most outstanding plants to market. He is a founding partner of Plant Introductions, Inc. PII breeds, evaluates and introduces new woody and herbaceous plants for the nursery industry. The companyʼs new breeding, propagation, production and testing facilities are located in Watkinsville, GA.
The SNA Board of Directors also honors individuals that have served this association and the nursery industry in various capacities throughout the years and have made outstanding contributions during their active participation in the Southern Nursery Association with honorary membership awards. This year, six (Gene Brogdon, James Harwell, Louis Hillenmeyer, III, Sherry Morris, Jeff Miller and Ed Porter) deserving industry members received SNA Honorary Member Awards. Each recipient has made outstanding contributions to the association and the industry during their active participation in the Southern Nursery Association.
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