Tommy Folk presented Russ Award

• RUSTON LA

Tommy Folk is the recipient of the 2008 Robert E. Russ Award for community service.

The award, given by the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, is the community's highest honor for outstanding contributions to local business and civic development. Folk received the award Jnuary 13 during the chamber annual Gala held at the Ruston Civic Center.

The Ruston Jaycees also announced their Outstanding Young People awards, with the top honor of Outstanding Young Person going to Robyn Brown. Other Jaycee winners were Charles McFarland, Ruston Fire Department, Outstanding Young Firefighter; Cpl. Henry Wood, Ruston Police Department, Outstanding Young Police Officer; Kyle Faulting, and teacher at Ruston High's freshman academy, Outstanding Young Educator.

Aileen Freasier, retired educator and active community volunteer, was named the winner of the Ruston Rotary Club William "Bill" Best Humanitarian Award.

Brent Shuff, district five administrator for the Little League America, was honored by the Ruston Lincoln Convention & Visitors Bureau as the 2008 Lincoln Parish Hospitality Award winner.

Shuff was selected for his leadership in bringing the Southwest Regional Big League baseball tournament to Ruston in July 2008. The five-day tournament drew teams from a four-state region, and generated a significant economic impact.

The Lincoln Parish School Board also recognized the Super 1 Foods and Trinity United Methodist Church as Distinguished Partners in Education.

Chamber President Scott Terry said the gala honors "people and groups helping others ... giving back to their community. Each of this year's winners was very deserving of their honors. Our awards ceremony continues to serve as an example of how wonderful and gracious the people of Lincoln Parish can be."

Folk, a Ruston native and retired president of construction operations for T. L. James & Company, is chairman of the board of Ruston's Dixie Center for the Arts. He's also a supporter of Louisiana Tech University's College of Engineering and Science, a volunteer with a local hospice, and on the board of a non-profit center that works with at-risk youth.

Folk's association with the Dixie began in 2000 when he agreed to chair the construction committee charged with restoration of the historic downtown theater.

"Without Tommy Folk and the respect and admiration that he so quietly inspires, the restoration, renovation and completion of the Dixie Center for the Arts would not have been possible," said Linda Graham, a long-time local civic volunteer who was also active in reviving the Dixie.

Friends describe Folk as quiet and humble, but fervently committed to preserving Ruston's past while enhancing its future.

"He's just a quiet giant of man," Dixie board member Michelle Sills said.

Board member John Emory Jr. said Folk "has brought together people, ideas and vision that will lead the way for a cultural exchange that will benefit generations to come."

Marlen Waters, director of the Dixie Center for the Arts, credited Folk's support with helping the theater become a cultural center for North Louisiana.

"He believed in preserving and enhancing the 1928 Dixie Theater knowing that the Dixie would become an entertainment anchor contributing to the preservation and revitalization of historic downtown Ruston," Waters said.

Waters said Folk's support of the arts makes Ruston and Lincoln Parish a better place to "live, work and play by bringing quality live performances, art, and educational experiences home."

In the three years since the Dixie has reopened, approximately 40,000 people have attended over 200 events at the theater.

Folk is a civil engineering graduate of Louisiana Tech University, and is past president of Tech's Engineering Foundation. He and his family have provided "significant support" for laboratories and other facilities in Tech's College of Engineering and Science, university Vice President for University Advancement Corre Stegall said.

Folk is an adjunct instructor in construction engineering technology. Stegall said his practical, hands-on approach helps equip students with the knowledge to be successful.

"He has provided a unique perspective and is a valued advisor to the college," she said.

Folk is former board president of the Louisiana Associated General Contractors, and a past board member of Ruston's Cedar Creek School. He volunteers with Hospice of Caring Hearts, and is on the board of the Emerson Centre, a local non-profit group that works with at-risk children.

Folk is also a member of the Ruston Kiwanis Club and of Trinity United Methodist Church.

Winners of most of the awards given during the Gala remain secret until the event. Terry said he enjoys watching the faces of the winners as they discover that the award presenters are talking about them.

"Sometimes it comes as a shock (to the winner), sometimes the winner gets pretty emotional," he said.

Terry said he could envision the gala becoming a community awards night, and urged other groups or organizations affiliated with the Chamber to contact him if they'd like to incorporate their awards into future galas.

This year's gala was hosted by First National Bank of Ruston. Program sponsors were BancorpSouth, Franke Consumer Products, and Princeton Place; decoration sponsors were House of Flowers, Nora's Flowers, and Ruston Florist.

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