A longtime city of Cumming official was honored with this year’s Charles F. Welch Citizenship Award.
Gerald Blackburn, city administrator, received the award Friday night during the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s 56th Annual Meeting.
The award is given each year to someone who exemplifies citizenship and outstanding service to Cumming and Forsyth County.
It honors the late Welch, who served as a city councilman, county commissioner and chamber chairman.
Blackburn said he was surprised to receive the recognition during the banquet, which was held at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
“I was honored most of all, and humbled,” he said.
Blackburn has been an employee of the city for 39 years. His longtime boss, Mayor H. Ford Gravitt, said no one was more deserving of the Welch Citizenship Award.
“I’ve known Gerald basically since the teenage years,” he said. “You couldn’t find a better person, a better individual, a better Christian or a harder working person than Gerald Blackburn.”
Gravitt hired Blackburn in 1972. His first job with the city was as director of the Recreation and Parks Department.
“The city had received a grant for construction of City Park, which was the first park in the city or the county,” Blackburn recalled. “One of the requirements of the grant was to have a parks director, so I got the job.”
Blackburn had also been active in youth sports throughout the county for many years.
He said in those days, individual communities would “get together and clear off an area for a field.”
Blackburn said he began volunteering in youth sports due to his children’s participation, but decided to continue because he liked volunteering.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I just did whatever they needed me to do.”
Blackburn served as parks director for 13 years. In 1985, he was named city administrator, a position he still holds.
Gravitt attributed much of the city’s success over the years to Blackburn’s leadership.
“He’s a great influence on the employees of the city,” the mayor said. “He’s responsible for most of the longevity of employees.
“You don’t hear about much turnover here in the city of Cumming, and that’s largely because of Gerald Blackburn.”
Blackburn, in turn, attributed his long service to others.
“We’ve got the greatest team and best group of employees you could ever ask for,” he said. “It’s a good place and good group of people.”
Like his career, Blackburn’s personal life also reflects stability.
He and his wife, Sue, have been married for more than 50 years.
“We were high school sweethearts,” Blackburn said. “She was a city girl. She went to Cumming Elementary School and I went to Matt. We were the first group in what’s now Forsyth Central High School.”
Together they have three grown children — daughter Robin, and sons Shane and Kiwp — and eight grandchildren, ranging in age from 5 to 23.
Blackburn has been an ordained Baptist minister for the past 25 years. He has lead several Forsyth churches, including Mayfield, Shady Grove, Crossroads and currently Harmony Grove.
“I feel [becoming a minister] is a calling and something I felt lead to do and I had felt that way for quite some time,” Blackburn said.
As for the Welch award, Blackburn said he’ll keep it in a special place on his desk.
“Charles and I grew up together as boys in the Silver City community,” he said. “Charles, even as a young person, was somebody who had great vision … he was able to see what the lake, our being so close to the mountains, the closeness to one of the major cities in the world, and [Ga.] 400 making its way through here, he could see all those things and what they could bring to his community.
“That’s what makes this award so special to me, having known him all his life and his family.”