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Past remembered, present recognized at banquet

Attendees took a look back at the Camellia City’s past on Thursday night as they gathered for the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce’s first banquet in many years.

Held at the Wendell Mitchell Conference Center on the LBWCC Greenville campus, hundreds turned out to enjoy a meal catered by Jan Newton and Jill Stallworth. Musician Rhonda Bentley performed a variety of classic tunes on the piano during the meal.

Compliments of Bob and Ellen Glasscock of Butler Services and Calhoun Studios, a PowerPoint presentation shown on two big screens allowed guests to glimpse many vintage photos of faces and places from Greenville’s history as they dined.

“Not being from Greenville, this is really interesting for me to see what the city once looked like,” said Dr. Charles Farmer, one of the CoC directors.

Guest speaker Melinda Rainey Thompson, former college English instructor and the author and co-author of three well-received collections of humorous stories, also reflected on her past in the Camellia City.

“Even though I’ve lived in Birmingham since 1981, I still tell people I am from Greenville . . . I didn’t realize how much I had written about Greenville until I started flipping back through my books,” Thompson, who calls herself a “grown-up Greenville girl,” said.

“I’ve written about the Greenville Country Club, the Ridge. Magnolia Cemetery, Leila Porter and Planter’s Mercantile, just to name a few.”

A 1981 graduate of Fort Dale Academy, Thompson says she was one of the first students to go through all grades at the school.

“I was well prepared for college by my teachers, some of whom are here tonight,” Thompson said.

Thompson, who has family and a number of friends still living in the area, said her three children, Warner, Nat and Lily, love coming to visit “the little house,” a former carriage house owned by her parents in Greenville.

“My children think Greenville is a great place to play golf and they’ve made such good friends – fourth generation friendships, which is wonderful,” Thompson said.

The author, whose first book, “SWAG,” spent 17 weeks at the top of the Independent Booksellers Association, took a break from her current national book tour to speak at the banquet. She and co-author Morgan Mann have been promoting their “he said, she said” collection of essays, “I Love You, Now Hush.”

“I’ve already logged in 2,600 miles in a car with a man I’m not married to. I told him we are either going to be bonded for life or be mortal enemies after this . . . I am glad to say we are bonded for life,” Thompson quipped.

Thompson signed copies of her three books prior to and following the banquet, and gave her audience a chance to participate in a Q & A session following her talk.

Honors were handed out Thursday night to local businessmen Arvind, Dinesh and Ramesh Patel who received the Distinguished Business Leader Award for their significant impact on business in 2009. The Patels own the Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, Comfort Inn and Best Western Inn.