POWHATAN – Halfway through Ruth Boatwright’s heartfelt presentation about the 2020 recipient of the annual Kathy Budner Award of Excellence, she told her to sit back down.
“I’m not ready for you to come up here yet,” Boatwright told Janie Dean as she prepared to come forward and be recognized.”I’m not done. That’s too short. I’ve got more to talk about.”
So, Dean sat back down and continued to listen to Boatwright, a friend since they were in fifth grade, talk about what she has done in the community to warrant her receiving the annual award from the Powhatan Chamber of Commerce. The award was presented at the chamber’s annual celebration, which was held on Thursday, Jan. 23 at Independence Golf Club.
Dean is the owner of County Seat Restaurant and Gathering Place, which is now in its 26th year in business in the heart of the historic Powhatan Village area. With her restaurant, Dean created a community gathering place in Powhatan that touched people’s lives through their mouths and their souls, Boatwright said. She said Dean knows no stranger and joked she has “been aware of our eating habits for years.”
“The lady that we honor tonight has contributed so much to add to the fellowship of our community. You see the people who make a difference in our lives are not the ones with the most credentials, or the most fame, or who have the most money. They are the ones who leave a lasting impression on us, who help to create and be a part of lasting memories that we will always remember,” Boatwright said.
Dean took over the Udderly Delicious snack bar located inside Maxey’s Store (now Four Seasons Restaurant) in 1993 and renamed it the County Seat. She kept her business there until 2001, when the restaurant moved to its current location, a new building built by John Rothert – something for which Dean is still grateful.
During her speech, Boatwright talked about the move to the new location and how it demonstrated the role Dean and her restaurant played in the county. The restaurant has many regulars, including some who made the move a little bit easier.
“On a regular morning in December 2001, the usual breakfast crowd came in for breakfast. When they got through eating, they all picked up their chairs and they started up the sidewalk to the new County Seat. And the next morning, the County Seat opened for breakfast. We are Powhatan,” Boatwright said.
Dean praised her family and employees but also spoke about how, when she started, local residents would come in and help by washing dishes, sweeping floors or greeting people. The love for the “community has flowed both ways,” she said.
“I do think the character of our country comes from right here. A lot of people think it comes from the top down. That is important, too. But the most important thing in our whole country is the way we treat each other (locally),” Dean said. “You and I can’t change anything nationwide or worldwide, but we can do whatever we can do to make sure our local atmosphere is what we want it to be.”
Dean is the 11th recipient of the Kathy Budner Award, which is given to a chamber member who has demonstrated a selfless contribution to local businesses and to the chamber. Recipients are chamber members whose service and performance positively reflects excellence as demonstrated through their work ethic and contributions to the Powhatan community.
The award honors Budner, who was instrumental in starting the chamber in 1992 and served as its executive director for 16 years.
Unlike many recipients who are surprised by the announcement, Dean knew it was coming. She said her daughter, Tracy Cifers, co-owner of the County Seat, told her about two weeks earlier, knowing her mother doesn’t like last-minute surprises. But even with the early warning, Dean said she was still surprised to have been chosen for the award.
“I am honored to be in company with Kathy Budner - just being mentioned in the same sentence with Kathy Budner and Ruth and Susan Ash and the others ... it’s an honor,” she said.
Past recipients of the Kathy Budner Award of Excellence are: 2010, Larry Lyons; 2011, Ruth Boatwright; 2012, Dan Jones; 2013, Kathy Grasty; 2014, Susan Ash; 2015, India Cox; 2016, Connie Moslow; 2017, Carson Tucker; 2018, Michael Potter, and 2019, Robbie Urbine. The selection committee that decides each year’s recipient is made up of the past award winners.
Ash said the decision to recognized Dean with the award was long overdue because she has done so much for the community. She embodies the qualities that the committee was looking for in a recipient: “people that go above and beyond, people that you can trust, people that you just know have ethics and care about their community and would go out of their way to do what is right.”
Budner, who was at the event, said a prerequisite for receiving the award named in her honor is that the recipient uphold a quality of work and excellence in how they do their jobs.
“For so many years, Janie has just been so good at what she does, and I think it is because of her character and her willingness to embrace just about everybody who comes into the County Seat,” Budner said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.