ASHCRAFTS NAMED CITIZENS OF THE YEAR 2016
Charlotte and Gary Lee Ashcraft share a passion for Nacogdoches that has touched countless lives and made Nacogdoches a better place for over thirty years. In recognition of their numerous contributions to the community, the Nacogdoches Chamber has honored them with its Citizen of the Year Award for 2016. Although either Charlotte or Gary Lee would be deserving of the award for their own individual contributions, it is their combined enthusiasm, skills, and experience, along with a dash of personal magic and generosity of spirit, that makes their partnership a genuine treasure in the Nacogdoches community.
Both Ashcrafts have pursued careers that provide a springboard for their extensive involvement in community activities. Charlotte currently serves as Vice President, Marketing and Assistant Corporate Secretary for Commercial Bank of Texas. Previously, she worked in a variety of marketing, sales, and advertising positions in the newspaper, nonprofit, and banking sectors. Gary Lee’s career has included Chamber of Commerce management, personnel recruiting, sales development projects, and nonprofit consulting. He is currently the President/CEO of the Nacogdoches Area United Way. He is also a partner in the Alazan Group, which owns the historic Woodman of the World building in downtown Nacogdoches.
“We have both been fortunate to work for organizations that not only allowed us the time for the community activities we feel so strongly about, but they all actively encouraged it,” Charlotte says.
Gordon Lewis, retired Senior Executive Vice President of BancorpSouth, recruited Charlotte to head that bank’s local marketing and business development program. “We didn’t even have a job opening,” he says, “but after closely observing her for several years in her work with the Nacogdoches Chamber, I knew we needed Charlotte’s cheerful kindness and enthusiasm on our team.” His intuition about Charlotte’s potential proved right; she was soon promoted to Vice President and Marketing/ Retail Sales Coordinator for BancorpSouth’s southwest region, where her role expanded to include overseeing marketing, retail sales, and business development efforts for forty-four branches throughout Texas and Louisiana.
For Gary Lee, there is no line between career and community service; as President/CEO of the Nacogdoches Area United Way, serving the community is his job, but it is obviously far more than a job to him. He talks about the United Way with the passion of a man who has found his calling. “Working with the United Way is a privilege for me,” he says. “I just know this is where I’m supposed to be. This work is the answer to a prayer.”
Paula Cook, Director of Dietary Services at Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital, was on the United Way search committee that hired Gary Lee seven years ago. “I knew instantly he was the guy for the job,” she says. “Gary Lee took the leadership role of the United Way and has not slowed down yet. He took the United Way from just a fundraising agency to a community impact agency, working tirelessly not just to raise money, but to raise people up.”
It is difficult to find a community cause or event in Nacogdoches that does not have one or both Ashcrafts involved in some form. In addition to his work with the United Way and its twenty-one partner agencies, Gary Lee is a member of the Nacogdoches Boosters Club and the Nacogdoches Rotary Club. Previously, he also served as Chairman of the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce and as the Senior Warden for the vestry of Christ Episcopal Church.
Charlotte serves as President of the Nacogdoches Treatment Center Alzheimer’s Day Care and Respite Care, President of Community RX, and Co-Chair of Leadership Nacogdoches. She is a board member of the SFASU Alumni Association, Christ Episcopal School, and Nacogdoches County Historical Foundation, as well as a member of the Fredonia Rotary Club. She has served in various leadership roles with the Nacogdoches County Heritage Festival for twenty-seven years, most notably as longtime co-chair of the Princess Committee. She currently chairs the Heritage Festival’s Royal Court. Both Gary Lee and Charlotte serve as Heritage Heralds and are members of Christ Episcopal Church.
One of Charlotte’s earliest community projects was chairing the Do-Dat Barbecue, which was sponsored for several years by her employer at the time, the Daily Sentinel. “The Do-Dat Barbecue was a huge cooperative effort that raised money for the Foster Parents Association,” she says, “and I found out that I really enjoyed bringing people together to make life better for somebody else.”
Charlotte is a Nacogdoches native and a graduate of SFA. Gary Lee moved to town in 1993, and it did not take long for his gregarious personality and gift for personal connection to catch the eye of community leaders. Paul Smith, a representative of the Roy Blake Insurance Agency and longtime co-chair of Leadership Nacogdoches, was one of the first to befriend Gary Lee, and the two have eaten breakfast together every other Friday for the last twenty-three years. “Gary’s background is in human resources recruiting,” Smith says. “His specialty is putting people together, and he’s a natural at it. He knows everybody. He has so much charisma, and yet he is totally unassuming. People love Gary.”
People do love Gary Lee Ashcraft. His generosity and exuberance know no bounds, occasionally to the hilarious chagrin of his more subdued wife. Bruce Partain, former CEO of the Nacogdoches Chamber, worked closely with Gary Lee during the latter’s tenure as Chamber Chairman. “I recall Gary jumping up on the counter of a restaurant to get the crowd’s attention for his chair’s message at a Business After Hours, and of course, Charlotte looking away with a priceless expression on her face. But there is no doubt that Gary’s friendly-but-persuasive activism has benefitted Nacogdoches.”
As comfortable as Gary Lee is in the spotlight, much of his good work takes place out of the public eye. His compassion for those who are hurting is genuine and deeply personal. Cook says, “I have seen him open his own wallet and take his time to listen to a person and try to figure out the best way to help them out of the situation they are in.
Although her style is more low-key than Gary Lee’s, Charlotte’s sparkling smile and vivacious personality light up every room she enters. She has a gift for people, a gentle way of putting them at ease and knowing precisely what is needed in any situation: a hug, a belly laugh, or a word of encouragement. She brings that same personal warmth and selfless spirit to her leadership roles in the community, but her talents go far beyond that. “Charlotte’s people skills are obvious and visible,” says Smith, who has known her for over thirty years and currently co-chairs Leadership Nacogdoches with her, “but she also has formidable management and organizational skills. She is absolutely a go-to person if you want to get something done in Nacogdoches.”
Gary Lee and Charlotte are a power couple in the finest sense: they support each other’s projects, enhance each other’s results, and bring an element of magic and excitement to everything they do. Holly Musick, a lifelong friend and former Citizen of the Year, says, “Gary Lee and Charlotte are a powerhouse. They each bring individual talents, but together they generate the magic that brings people together, influences them to give back to their community, and inspires them by example.”
Honoring Gary Lee and Charlotte together as Citizen of the Year is a recognition of the value this unique partnership has added to the community, and a celebration of the generosity of spirit that makes Nacogdoches a wonderful place to call home.
(by Melanie Denman; email – email@example.com ; cell 925-683-1142)