Chief Cyrus Ben of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, right, was the speaker during the annual Kemper County Chamber of Commerce / EDA banquet. He is pictured with Craig Hitt, executive director of the Kemper County Economic Development Authority.
Chief Cyrus Ben of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, right, was the speaker during the annual Kemper County Chamber of Commerce / EDA banquet. He is pictured with Craig Hitt, executive director of the Kemper County Economic Development Authority.
By Steve Swogetinsky

Kemper Messenger



Some of the best in Kemper County were honored last Thursday during the annual Chamber and Economic Development Authority Meeting.

The annual event was held on the campus of East Mississippi Community College in Scooba. The award winners were as follows.

Business of the Year: Pilgrim’s Foodliner, owned by Steven and Brenda Lockley and presented by Mike Hull, Chamber board president.

Hull discussed the company’s deep roots in Kemper County. It started during the Depression years when William Pilgrim had an old bus that he turned into a rolling store. He and his wife would run routes in Kemper County, serving the different communities on different days of the week. In 1942, he built a General Merchandise store on Highway 16. In 1965, they built a new grocery store in DeKalb on Highway 16. In 1990, Mike Pilgrim and Brenda Pilgrim Lockley bought the business from their parents. In 2005, Brenda and her husband, Steven, became the owners of the business. In 2008, they built a new 20,000 square foot store, gas station, and developed the first shopping center in Kemper County. They employ 37 people and generate a $450,000 annual pay roll to the local economy. They hire students, giving some their first job.

When accepting the award, Brenda Lockley challenged those gathered to take another look at Kemper County; what it has been and what it can be again.

- The John C. Stennis Award of Merit: The EMCC Workforce Services at the Scooba campus, under Dr. Raj Shaunak This award was presented by Craig Hitt, executive director of the Kemper County EDA.

“The workforce services program has been a vital asset to the EDA and the industries in Kemper County,” Hitt said. “We have had significant increases in employment in some of our work places. The workforce program has played a major role in training capable workers for these jobs.”

Susan Morgan accepted the award for Dr. Shaunak who was unable to attend.



Citizen of the Year: Mary Jane Nelson, presented by Mike Hull of the Chamber board.

A native of Kemper County, Mrs. Nelson attended school DeKalb and graduated in 1962 from DeKalb High School. She graduated from East Mississippi Junior College and went to work the USDA. She retired after more than 30 years of service and then worked as a secretary at Commercial Bank for a number of years, and at Meridian Stockyard, where her husband, Jerry Nelson, was the manager. She is active in her church and numerous community organizations.

“This award means so much to me,” Mrs. Nelson said. “I thank the Chamber and the Economic Development Authority for this award.”

- Special Recognition from the Kemper County EDA Board of Director: Andrew “Mose” Fleming;

- Special Recognition from the Kemper County EDA Board of Directors: Willie McIntosh for his service on the board from 2013 to 2019;

- Special Recognition from the Kemper County EDA Board of Director: Mike Luke, who has served on the Board of Supervisors from 1978 until present. Luke is the longest tenured supervisor in the state of Mississippi and was re-elected to a new term earlier this month.

Chief Cyrus Ben of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians was the featured speaker.