Best of Gaston 2023 Winners


Each year, members of the community nominate area businesses and organizations for best of Gaston awards, then vote in nearly 150 categories to select winners.

Anderson Davis “Andy” Warlick received the 2023 Allen H. Sims Award during the annual meeting of Gaston Community Foundation. Andy epitomizes its spirit by caring for and making an impactful difference in Gaston County.

Gaston Community’s Choice Awards

Gaston County is a culinary delight, boasting everything from comforting country cooking to fish camps with down-home charm. And its residents know how to celebrate in style – the 2023 Best of Gaston Awards provided an exquisite showcase for these celebrations with winners in categories spanning food and beverage to arts and entertainment.

The award winners were determined through online voting, which was open to the public from November 24 through December 1. Knowledge Networks conducted a representative sample survey with men and women between 18 to 54 without internet access; participants were presented with a list of candidates featuring national ratings averages, box office grosses and album sales as well as space to write in any additional information; final results were collected by a team of experts for tabulation.

At this event, community members nominated their favorite area businesses and organizations in over 25 categories. From these nominations, five nominees in each category were then nominated before voting took place to select winners in a virtual ceremony.

Finalists in each category were selected by a panel of judges representing Gaston County businesses, industries and media. Winners in each category received either a gold, silver or bronze trophy; overall winners were announced as Best of Gaston. Their success is celebrated each year during an awards dinner hosted by Gaston Community Foundation.

At this annual fundraiser, donors from all across the county come together under one umbrella of philanthropy. The evening features a report from the Board of Directors regarding Foundation activities as well as awarding of the Allen H. Sims Award recipient, given annually to those demonstrating excellence in charitable giving.

Marshall and Jeanne Rauch have made an outstanding impactful contribution to Gaston County as power couples. Through involvement in many initiatives such as United Negro College Fund, Schiele Museum of Art and Alliance for Children and Youth as well as sitting on boards such as United Way, Gaston Memorial Hospital and City of Gastonia Mental Health Initiative; Marshall and Jeanne are true “power couples”, committed to enriching quality of life for everyone living here.

Gaston Gazette Awards

The Gaston Gazette earned six awards at the 2023 North Carolina Press Association Excellence in Journalism competition, competing against similarly-sized daily newspapers from across North Carolina. Gazette reporters received eight first-place honors and three second-place finishes in categories such as breaking news reporting, feature writing and photography and education coverage. The Gazette also won first prize in two other categories of news reporting: general news reporting and digital media. Sports reporter Joe Hughes earned second place for his report detailing the emotional fallout following Hunter Huss High School’s loss against Morganton Freedom in the West 3A Boys Regional Championship game last March.

Shelton Watson has dedicated over eight years to the Trio Upward Bound program at Gaston College. His dedication and expertise in fostering self-sufficiency, employment opportunities, postsecondary education, and first generation college attendance has resulted in his students earning impressive GPAs, scholarships and becoming trailblazers as first generation college attendees. For his efforts he has been nominated for the Allen H. Sims Award, which recognizes those who “show selfless acts by seeing needs and providing solutions, caring for our communities, making an impactful difference.” He will receive this prestigious honor.

Eric Wildstein of former Gazette staff won four awards this year, including first place in investigative reporting for his series covering Belmont middle school’s land controversy, first-place multimedia projects for this year’s version of high school graduation map, as well as third-place education reporting honor for interviewing students about what success means to them.

This year’s Martin Luther King Unity Award winners are two friends who have collaborated for over two decades to foster acceptance of religious diversity in Gaston County. Rafat “Ray” Hamam of the Islamic Society of Gastonia and Bill Gross from Temple Emanu-El are longstanding leaders of Gaston Interfaith Trialogue which began shortly after Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as an effort to build bridges of understanding between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Gaston County Schools Awards

W.A. Bess Elementary of Gaston County earned national distinction. W.A. Bess is one of only five North Carolina schools and 297 across the U.S. to receive 2022 National Blue Ribbon School honors; these awards recognize high achievement and progress toward closing gaps among student groups – considered one of the highest honors a school can be granted in America.

The district also awarded several students with its renowned “Do the Right Thing” award. This longstanding initiative recognizes students who go above and beyond in their service to others, showing kindness, responsibility, and good character. Eight students were recognized this year – Sara Cable from Highland; Addie Eaker from Cherryville; Patrick Hairston of Stuart W Cramer; Briana Hoyle Hunter Huss; Logan Mason Ashbrook Ashbrook Emily Revels South Point Lena Ware Gaston Early College

At the 2022 Gaston County Schools Evening of Excellence, Steven Loudon from W.C. Friday Middle School received the Gaston County Teacher of the Year honor and Kristin Kiser from Lowell Elementary School won Principal of the Year honor. Aimee Tolleson from South Point High School was recognized with Assistant Principal of the Year status, while Angela Calamia of Central Office Administrator of Excellence Award.

Gaston County Schools also honored Maddison Szucs of Robinson Elementary School as their New Teacher of the Year. Szucs is an English/language arts teacher for seventh graders utilizing virtual classroom technology. She has 17 years of teaching experience and earned both her Bachelors from Appalachian State University as well as an education degree.

Gaston County Schools students have recently been recognized for their artistic talent. From high school art shows to pieces on display in uptown Charlotte, students in Gaston County Schools have found numerous ways to express themselves creatively through art. Three Cramerton Middle School students Hannah Langley, Sanaa Swain and Amy McPherson were recognized during the mid-Carolina Scholastic Art and Writing Awards virtual ceremony on February 11 for their artwork; it can now be found at Mint Museum uptown Charlotte.

Gaston County Schools Evening of Excellence

Gaston County Schools’ Evening of Excellence is an annual event to recognize outstanding educators within its district. Held this year to coincide with National Teacher Appreciation Day at Gaston Country Club, Kody Kubbs from South Point High School; Laura Dixon from W.A. Bess Elementary School; and Curtis Poplin, central office administrator for Technology Support Services Department were presented with one of Gaston County Schools’ highest awards: an Evening of Excellence medallion.

This event also served as the Gaston Community Foundation’s Annual Donor Meeting and Anderson Davis “Andy” Warlick was honored to join its Sims Society. After being held virtually and outdoors at CaroMont Health Park due to pandemic concerns in 2020 and 2021 respectively, dinner and program returned to traditional format this time around.

Johan Newcombe was honored to receive her second Sims award this year. She epitomizes giving back and making a difference, being actively involved with various volunteer organizations like David Belk Cannon Foundation Board of Directors; Rotary Paul Harris Fellow status; as well as belonging to All Saints Episcopal Church Gastonia as member.

Highland School of Technology was one of only eight North Carolina schools and 353 nationwide to earn this recognition this year, and fifth time overall since 1982 when this program first started.

Marshall and Jeanne Rauch were honored with the Allen H. Sims Award for Philanthropy to recognize their longstanding service to Gaston County community as well as dedication to helping others in need. Through these efforts, Gaston County is now an even better place for everyone living here.

The Harley B. Gaston Public Service Award was bestowed upon local health care workers who have been on the front lines of saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Representatives from Kintegra Health, CaroMont Health and Holy Angels accepted it on behalf of all health care community. These individuals and agencies will remain instrumental in keeping people safe for years to come.