Equine enthusiast Bess Neil and Cleveland businessman Allan Jones were recognized for their promotion of the Tri-State Exhibition Center and the horse show that has been staged at the center for several years.
The special recognition was held at the home of Bess Neil’s daughter, Anne, on Tuesday evening.
“Ms. Bess is a remarkable lady,” said Matt Bentley of Bendabout Farms, who emceed the event. “I have been here 22 years or so, and there are two things that she has been so involved in that were dreams of hers. One of them is the museum and the other is the Tri-State Exhibition Center.
“You took them under your wings, talked with the right people and the right politicians and the right private fundraisers and put everything in motion,” Bentley added, while addressing the 97-year-old Neil. “And we know that you were never anyone to stand up and ring your own bell, but you know how to ring everyone else’s.”
Commendations were plentiful for Neil at the event, including proclamations read by Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis (also on behalf of Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland), Maxine Gernert representing U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, and state Rep. Kevin Brooks.
“I remember driving through Blythewood Farms and seeing the horses and beautiful area, since I live nearby, and it always made my blood pressure go down,” Brooks said. “I appreciate all that Ms. Neil has done for our area, and when you mention the history of Bradley County, and when I was in class with Dr. Bill Snell, you can’t help but remember her contribution to this area.”
Davis said Neil has received many accolades for her devotion to the area and to keeping equestrian issues before the public.
“We therefore honor Bess Neil on this day, her love of horses and the knowledge that she has passed down to others, specifically her daughters Anne and Margo (Everhart) and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren ... and it is appropriate that our Tri-State Exhibition Center arena bears her name,” the mayor said. “We hearby proclaim today, June 14, as Bess Neil Day to pay tribute to pay tribute to the very special woman who lived and shared her life with love, passion, strength and grace.”
Her daughter Anne mentioned that her mother’s name is on the arena through the special work and contributions by Jones and Summerfield Johnston, owner of Bendabout Farms. Jones was recognized as the first recipient of the Bess Neil Award for his dedication to the Tri-State Exhibition Center, and to Cleveland and Bradley County.
As with Neil, many of Jones’ family members were in attendance at Tuesday’s event. He said he appreciates all that Neil has done for the community through her work with the center.
Jones himself has horses at his Creek Ridge, in the Anatole Subdivision, so he has a love for the animals as well.
“I am very honored to be the first to receive this award named for a wonderful woman,” Jones said.
Neil, in a prepared statement, acknowledged Jones’ contributions to the center.
“Because of my love of this area, I am delighted that Allan shares the same interests,” she said. “His passion for elderly people, animals, local history and the beauty of Cleveland ... is enjoyed by visitors to our area. Thank you.”
Many members of the Tri-State board of directors were in attendance at Tuesday’s event. Denise Lineberry of Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center was also at the Neil home and was recognized for her work with the program which helps children and adults with physical, mental and emotional issues through specific therapies utilizing horses.
Funds raised during the Chattanooga Cleveland Charity Horse Show, which begins today and continues through Saturday, will help the Therapeutic Riding Center continue its work with others.
One person who had not been recognized before for his work with Tri-State was also recognized at the event. Ray Marler has been involved with the center since its beginning.
“Ray volunteered his work and heavy equipment to go in and work that area,” Bentley said. “He did that without any need for recognition, and he never wanted a dime for his work.”
“I can’t believe we have waited all these years to honor Mr. Marler for his involvement with Tri-State,” Davis said.
Though 97, Bess Neil still keeps involved with Blythewood Farms. Her daughter said she drives around the area in a golf cart, still checking on the horses there.
“I remember when I first met her, I almost got run over with her on a horse coming at me,” Bentley said as he joked about nearly being trampled. “There are so many great memories of Bess Neil, and I wish that everyone had a chance to meet her, to talk to her about horses and the horse show, and just get to know her.”
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