The 2020 Laurel County Homecoming Honorees will be recognized with an awards-only ceremony at Heritage Hills Banquet Hall on Sunday, Aug. 9. Due to COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings, the ceremony is only open to the honorees.

2020 WOMAN OF THE YEAR HONOREE

Paula Thompson

Helping her community carries deep meaning for Paula Thompson, executive director of the London-Laurel County Economic Development Authority.

She had an excellent role model in that capacity – the daughter of the late Charles Pennington, she worked beside her father in the industrial recruitment area for the past 11 years, watching the county’s job opportunities grow and develop.

During her time with the London Laurel County Industrial Authority, Thompson served alongside Pennington until his retirement when she stepped to the helm and continued to provide support to local industries as well as recruiting new business to the area. She expanded that role to include the retail arena and was a key player in securing businesses to occupy the former Kmart building – bringing Planet Fitness, Marshall’s, Kohl’s and Five Below to occupy that space – thus increasing the opportunities for new job growth and more options for consumers in the area.

While with the industrial development authority, she also had a major role in bringing several restaurants and other businesses to London, as well as developing three of the seven industrial parks in the area. Through her dedication in that field, the Fariston Industrial Park is filled with manufacturing and trucking facilities and she is currently actively recruiting occupants at the new Greer Industrial Park off KY 1006. To provide adequate infrastructure to that facility, she was a key player in getting a water tower erected in that park, providing better water service to residents in that area as well.

In 2018, Thompson was successful in securing a $1 million Community Block Development Grant for the LLCEDA which created 100 new jobs for the East Bernstadt Cooperative. Those funds were also used to develop infrastructure, a certified build ready pad and start a 60,000 square foot speculative building at the Greer Industrial Park.

That service to her community resulted in explosive job creation and expansion over the last several years by working closely with existing companies to move to a larger facility, holding job fairs to recruit new employees and staying in contact with corporate representatives to consider locating in London and Laurel County.

Her role in assisting retail businesses prompted the change of the organization’s name from strictly "industrial recruitment" to "economic development" to encompass the retail and restaurant industries and to continue to provide support to all businesses locating in the county.

Thompson is a lifelong Laurel Countian who serves on numerous committees and boards. Currently she is vice president of the University Center of Southern Kentucky Foundation board, board member of Somerset Community College Foundation and The Backpack Program of Laurel County, which provides weekend snacks to children across the county.

She is a familiar face at business openings and ribbon cutting celebrations, always encouraging businesses owners to utilize the resources available in the community to grow and expand or to participate in community activities to grow their businesses.

Working beside her father enhanced her interest in the development of the community and she works endlessly to highlight London and Laurel County. Thompson provides monthly updates on the recruiting and incoming businesses – videoing her updates on the London Laurel County Economic Development’s Facebook and web pages to inform the public of new developments in the area.

“Sometimes it’s a difficult job because you’re working on bringing businesses here and you get excited about it,” she said. “But you can’t say anything in case the company changes their mind and you don't want false information going out. Some companies want their information and interest to remain confidential and you have to make sure you do that.”

The middle child of seven children, she has been married to her husband Terry for 24 years and has two children, Kelsey and Anthony, and recently welcomed her first grandchild, Viviana, in July.

When learning that she was selected as this year’s “Woman of the Year” by the Laurel County Homecoming committee, Thompson said she was honored and humbled.

“What an honor to even be considered as a candidate!” she said. “I love London and enjoy working hard to help our community grow and thrive. I am surrounded with strong city and county leaders who are always willing to listen and help. My drive is to bring diverse businesses and create good jobs for our community.”

The award by the Laurel County Homecoming committee is especially meaningful since Thompson worked on the committee in 2008 and co-chaired the Miss and Teen beauty pageant.

“I’m humbled by even being considered for this award and it means so much to me,” Thompson said. “I look forward to continuing to serve the community and want to continue see it grow and offer good paying jobs to the people in the area.”

2020 MAN OF THE YEAR HONOREE

Jonah Deaton

Jonah Darrell Deaton was born on February 21, 1998 in Yevpatoria, Ukraine. He was adopted at the age of 2 by Randy and Gina Deaton and has been a resident of Laurel County ever since.

Deaton grew up in the Bush community and graduated Summa Cum Laude from North Laurel High School in 2016. In high school, he excelled at swimming and was a member of the very first North Laurel High School Swim Team. He was also in the first group of students to attend the Laurel County Center for Innovation, where he earned the Principal’s Leadership Award.

A lifelong swimmer, he swam for the Laurel County Barracudas for 14 years and was awarded the Scarlett Parsley Hooker Scholarship his senior season by the Lake Cumberland Swim Association. Jonah earned several scholarships while in high school, one of which was a full tuition scholarship to Somerset Community College.

While in high school, Deaton became interested in photography and bought his first professional camera with the help of graduation gifts. He began taking photographs of friends for fun, but quickly realized he had a passion for photography. He decided to pursue an Associate Degree in Visual Communications-Multimedia at Somerset Community College. While there, he became President of the Omicron Zeta chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. As a service project, Deaton gave away free photograph sessions to ten single Laurel County parents and their children, along with free prints. This project along with his involvement in PTK led to him being named the 2018 Kentucky New Century Transfer Pathway Scholar for which was awarded a sizable scholarship to continue his education.

While attending SCC, Deaton launched his namesake business, JD Photography. The skills he learned at SCC helped him to launch and grow his photography business, develop his own website and learn to market his business effectively.

In the past four years, Deaton has developed JD Photography into a full-time business. During that time, he has traveled to California, Oregon, Florida and other states to photograph weddings. He has also traveled to Alaska, South Carolina and many other states to do photography sessions. Deaton specializes in weddings, couples and senior sessions. He has also done commercial ad campaigns for several local businesses.

One of the highlights of his job is exploring the beauty of Laurel County to search out locations for photo shoots. His senior and couple sessions often feature some of Laurel County’s most beautiful scenery. From waterfalls, lakes and rivers to wooded pine forests, Laurel County has it all. Some of Jonah’s favorite sessions have been taken on his family’s farm at sunset. He says it’s hard to beat a Kentucky sunset!

This past May, Deaton graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Digital Media and Design from Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He completed his last two years of coursework online while working and developing his business. Deaton attributes much of his success to his social media presence. He has worked hard to attract followers on all the social media platforms. Recently, that effort paid off when some pictures of him went viral.

In March, after the coronavirus pandemic began, Deaton had the idea to take graduation pictures while wearing a mask, gloves and protective suit. He believed it would be a unique way to document current events, while drawing attention to the plight of those graduating during this time. The photos have now been viewed over 9.5 million times and had over 67 thousand shares. The first major group to take notice was the Facebook group called Love What Matters, which has over 8 million followers. After that, he was contacted by WYMT out of Hazard, KY who interviewed him on camera for a story. His story was also picked up by several Fox affiliates including Fox Phoenix as well as the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Then in May, he was contacted by a producer for CNN who wanted to do an on camera interview with him. Deaton actually filmed the interview himself from his home as the producer asked him questions over the phone. The interview was part of a story on seniors graduating during the pandemic and was aired on national television during a CNN morning show.

Most recently, Deaton found out that one of his Laurel County photos received a second place award in the International Shoot and Share contest. The photo that won the award was a taken last summer at the Laurel County Fair and was taken while he was riding the Ferris Wheel. The photos were voted on by the public, and it received the second most votes out of over 42,000 images that were submitted in that category.

Deaton loves what he does, and is constantly creating and developing his art. He absolutely attributes his success to the support from the people of Laurel County.

Deaton said, “My Laurel County clients were the first ones to take a chance on me. They trust me with their precious memories, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. My senior clients are always eager to try something edgy or new, and it makes my job a lot of fun.”

Deaton feels a special connection to the class of 2020 because he was also a graduate, albeit a college one. He decided he would do something to give back to the class of 2020. In June, he awarded the first ever JD Photography scholarship to a deserving senior who plans to major in the arts. The winner of the $500 scholarship was South Laurel senior, Abigail Maxey.

Deaton's love of travel and photography may take him to many faraway places, but his heart remains in Laurel County. He is an active member of Faith Assembly of God Church where he sings on the worship team and helps with the youth group. In his spare time, you could find him at church, at home playing the keyboard and singing, or out scouting photography locations. Deaton plans to continue to build his business, JD Photography, and would like to marry and raise a family in Laurel County someday. He also has plans to travel more, and use his talent to capture memories and document history.

2020 HUMANITARIAN HONOREE

Community Christian Healthcare Clinic

Community Christian Healthcare Clinic is a local faith-based not-for-profit organization operated by Community Christian Church in London under the medical direction of Dr. Nancy Morris. Doris Martin, RN and other helpful individuals with a passion to serve the community began the clinic in 2007. The clinic first opened in August of that year and has since had over 2,000 patient visits. All medical personnel and other staff members serve on a totally volunteer basis and believe that our God-given talents should be utilized in order to provide services and promote spiritual awareness.

The clinic has served over 600 individuals. They are now seeing 119 individuals as their primary medical care provider. There are countless testimonies that prove what an impact they make for residents in Laurel County. One testimony of the impact Community Christian Healthcare Clinic has made for are individuals who are diabetic are able to receive their insulin at a cost they can afford, who would otherwise not be able to afford it.

The clinic’s purpose is to provide quality primary medical care for individuals who are uninsured. Its approach to obtaining complete well being includes addressing not only the medical needs, but also the spiritual and social needs of their patients. They include prayer and spiritual counseling as an integral part of the healing process. CCHC is held on the fourth Saturday of each month from 9:00 to 11:00 am (date subject to change due to holidays, etc.)

2020 OUT OF TOWNER HONOREE

Jason Smith

"Lord Honey, for as long as I can remember, it has always been an honor to be from Laurel County," Smith said. "Being raised in a county where everyone is like family. From a hand shake, to a hug, to a wave hello and the smiles, which are never on shortage. All of this is part of what makes Laurel County, by far the most warm and inviting hometown around. Graduating North Laurel High school in 1996, I would have never dreamed in a million years the journey I was about to take.

"Long story short, I went from owning a flower shop in another town in Kentucky, to being a cafeteria manager in an elementary school, to winning Holiday Baking Championship and Food Network Star; and now being a Celebrity Chef on TV. But no matter where my road has led or will lead, it makes my heart happy to know that all roads will bring me home to Laurel County. I will always be true to my roots of where I came from and where I was raised. The community of Laurel County has helped me be the person I am today.

"No matter where I go, in my heart I will always be a Laurel Countian. I still love to come back to where it all started for me as often as I can, whether it’s to help out in the community or just to visit—There’s no place like home."

2020 LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT HONOREE

Earl Smith

Sherman Huff was quoted by the Courier Journal on July 17, 1960 as stating, “ I ain’t gonna git! They’ll have to float me out!” He offered this adamant response when told to relocate his homestead due to the building of the new Buckhorn Dam. This same drive and determination became the DNA of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and grandson of Sherman Huff, Earl Smith.

Earl Smith was born in Laurel County on March 8, 1933. As a teenager, Smith joined the Chapel’s Dairy Company, which later became Flav-o-rich. He remained a faithful employee there for the next 39 years, until retiring. He married Rosa (Maxey) Smith on November 17, 1954. They will celebrate 66 years of marriage this fall.

In the 50s, Smith traveled with the Medley brothers & Alan Barnett. The “Spiritual Four” as they were called, would spend sometimes 300+ nights a year singing in churches and at events. Smith became the songleader and choir director at the First Pentecostal Church in the early 70s. He held this position around 30 years. He was also a board member and active in their bus ministry. He was involved in the church softball league for years. He took the mound until his mid-50s before shifting to coaching. Smith is no stranger to the LC Homecoming. He coordinated the Sunday “Gospel Singing” during the seventies.

Common to many youth in the 40s, Smith did not complete high school. However, realizing the value of education, he received his GED at age 35 and then attended Cumberland College. He obtained his real estate license and was an active realtor for many years. He served as the Master Commissioner of Laurel County under the late Judge Robert Helton for over 10 years.

Smith was a strong supporter of local progress and a passionate entrepreneur. In the 70s, Smith purchased and introduced the modern “United Muffler “ franchise into London. In the 80s, he, Rosa and children owned the Good News Christian Bookstore which later sold to the Kidd Family. Smith’s name is synonymous with good food as he and his family previously owned the Ideal Restaurant, The Charcoal House and Zachary’s. These endeavors evolved into Smith’s Catering & Events, serving thousands at a time. His clients included presidents, actors/actresses and thousands of happy customers.

Smith is a past president of the London Rotary Club, Republican Youth Chairman, former Chairman of the Laurel County Republicans and was campaign chairman for the memorable “Switch to Mitch” campaign in the early 80s. He was a recipient of the National Leadership Award presented by the National Republican Congressional Committee and named Honorary Co-Chairman of the Business Advisory Council.

Today at age 87, Smith can be found on morning walks with his brother Ken or hosting Sunday dinners for the entire family along with Rosa. To this day, he remains active, mentoring those who want to live life to their fullest and desirous to make a difference in our community. He still remains an inspiration to many!

2020 BUSINESS OF THE YEAR

House Oil

Not many businesses in Laurel County can boast they have traded with multiple generations. Durwood and Darrell House of House Oil Company have done business with up to four generations in families in their 48 years of business.

Standard Oil began operations in Laurel County around 1910 at the same location House Oil Company is today. Until the interstate system was completed, gasoline, diesel and kerosene products were shipped by rail. The last petroleum rail shipment was in 1968. Interestingly, the House brothers have Standard Oil price books from the 1920s and 30s. At that time, the local bulk plant sold petroleum products including specialty oils and waxes of the times.

Their father, Raymond House, became the Standard Oil of Kentucky agent on March 13, 1972. In 1974, Durwood House returned to work with House Oil after serving in the United States Army. Darrell House completed his studies at Eastern Kentucky University in 1977 and joined his father and brother in the family business. They have been there ever since. Ray Allen has been a House Oil Company employee since 1974.

Eventually, Standard Oil became Chevron for which they were a distributor. Today, House Oil Company is an independent petroleum distributor serving Laurel and the surrounding counties.

Raymond House loved his community and continued working daily with his sons until 2007. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 87.

“We were fortunate to have worked with our Dad through the years,” Darrell House said.

In the 48 years House Oil Company has been in the petroleum business, the House brothers have seen a lot of change come to Laurel County. They feel it has been a great place to live and a great place to be in business.

2020 NON-PROFIT OF THE YEAR

London Women’s League

Most civic organizations can boast promoting one or two causes. London Women’s League, formerly London Younger Woman’s Club, not only operated the city’s kindergarten program for many decades, they also brought the Chamber of Commerce to London in 1978. More recently, the group has narrowed their focus to helping the women and children of Laurel County. To that end, the women devoted to London Women’s League have provided Christmas presents for elementary-age children, donated care packages to the women at the local domestic violence shelter and remodeled the playroom at that facility for the children there.

To fund projects, London Women’s League sells their famous gyros at the Chicken Festival. Their booth is so popular customers often tell them the gyros are what bring them to the annual festival. The money raised has gone to arts and music programs at local schools. London Women’s League has also provided financial assistance to the homeless shelter, Camp Leap, Shop With a Cop, Come Unity Co-operative Center, the Prom Project, March of Dimes and Relay for Life, as well as many other organizations.

One of the group’s favorite activities is its Random Acts of Kindness where members split into teams to offer spur-of-the-moment financial assistance. One year, they offered to help a lady at a local gas station. The woman told them they were an answered prayer as she was going to a job interview the next morning. She was sitting in her car trying to decide whether to spend her last dollars on gas to drive to the interview or food for her family. The team bought her both.

The Redbud Ride is a fun event the organization participates in annually. Since 2010, London Women’s League has sponsored and manned the first rest stop.

Rodney Hendrickson, retired Director of London-Laurel County Tourism, said, “London Women’s League were the first civic organization to step up.” For each ride, the organization chooses an original theme, which has included 1980s Prom, Pajama Party, Rosie the Riveter, the Kentucky Derby, and Babes on Bikes. Riders always stop to see what the ladies of London Women’s League come up with to encourage the cyclists.

“Cyclists from all over the country looked forward to that,” Hendrickson said.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit many organizations hard, including the Older People Activity Center on East Fourth Street. London Women’s League donated money to provide meals for the senior citizens who rely on the services of OPAC. London Women’s League welcomes any local lady who would like to join or get more information about the group and its mission. President Kazzi King can be reached at kazmophoto@gmail.com.

2020 RISING STAR AWARD HONOREE

Kaylie Grimes

A 2020 graduate of South Laurel High School, Kaylie Grimes, her many achievements put into perspective how much her hometown and community really mean to her. Throughout high school she has been an active member of the Laurel County Youth Leadership Council, among several other clubs. Through the council she has participated in multiple projects for the community such as park clean ups, packing bags for the local backpack clubs, working with elementary students, visiting the surrounding nursing homes, and feeding the homeless shelter. She also organized a food drive through South Laurel High School during Christmas to feed less fortunate families in the area.

During her high school years she has been a very involved student. Throughout school she maintained a 4.0 GPA and finished with a 4.1, she participated in multiple clubs. Those being: Beta, DECA, National Honors Society, KYA, Laurelettes, and the Laurel County Youth Leadership Council. She won 2nd and 3rd place at the KYA 2019 and 2020 conferences. She played sports and danced at the school for 2 years, as well as dancing at her local studio Gail Fredrick’s School of Dance for 13 years. She was enrolled in college classes through Somerset Community College her senior year. She also received the Presidential Scholarship and the Lewis Appalachian Scholarship both through University of the Cumberlands, as well as the Camellia Jackson Overcomer Scholarship.

Grimes is the daughter of Clayton and Kara Baker and has two sisters, Addison Baker and Violet Baker. She is currently at University of the Cumberlands where she has been accepted into the Forcht School of Nursing to pursue her dream of becoming a Nurse Practitioner.

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