Demaris Lee Named 'Champion of the Year'By HASKEL BURNS,
Demaris Lee has been a champion of Petal for the last few decades, serving with the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, The Petal News, the Rotary Club of Petal and many more organizations.
Those accomplishments are being honored by officials in the Petal School District, who recently announced Lee as the district’s 2018 recipient of the Champion of the Year Award.
“I feel honored,” said Lee, who currently serves as the director of the Petal Children’s Task Force. “There’s so many people out there that deserve it, so I was just astonished when they brought me the (acknowledgement) letter down.
“I didn’t know what it was for until I read it, and I was just overwhelmed with joy that I would even be considered.”
As part of the award, Lee will ride in the annual homecoming parade Oct. 11 and will be honored with a plaque the next day during a tailgating reception at Petal’s football game against Jim Hill.
“When you say ‘Petal,’ Demaris’ name just kind of comes up,” said Leahne Lightsey, executive director of the Petal Education Foundation. “She’s just a good human being and a fine representative of that kind of heart, as a graduate of Petal High School and the Petal School District. She’s just done so much for Petal.
“She, along with the folks on her board and all the people that work at the task force, works so hard to feed children. That’s one of the basic life needs, and she works tireless to meet that need for children and families. Children can’t learn if they’re hungry, and she realizes that. We’re lucky to have Demaris in Petal, constantly working on the behalf of everybody who lives here.”
Lee graduated in 1972 from Petal High School, where she played basketball and ran track. She was designated Most Valuable Player of the basketball team, and in her senior year was named Most Athletic. After attending Pearl River Community College, Lee graduated in 1993 from the Leaders of a New Century program with the Area Development Partnership.
In 1989, Lee and Jesse Rowell formed the Petal Children's Task Force, which got its start feeding and providing Christmas for two families. Now in its 29th year, the task force serves 457 families, which equates to about 1,187 people. The organization provides food each month to less fortunate children, along with school uniforms and Christmas gifts.
Lee worked with city officials to open Petal Civic Center in 1994, and was a founding member of The Petal News in 1997. In 1995 the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce named her as the recipient of Bobby Runnels Award, which is named after Bobby Runnels, a lifelong Petal resident who sat on the first elected board of aldermen and was named mayor pro tem while then-mayor Jack Gay served in Operation Desert Storm.
Lee served as director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce – where she is still a member – and also is involved with the Heritage Club and Rotary Club Of Petal. She attends Turning Pointe Church in Petal, where she serves on the Fellowship and Kid Venture teams.
“I’ve always loved to be around people and work with people,” Lee said. “So I’ve stayed involved all these years, and I guess God just gives me the strength to do it – that’s all I can say. I love staying busy.”
The tailgating reception – which is sponsored by A&R Development, Fairley Construction, IMPACT Education Group and the Petal Education Foundation – will begin at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at Panther Stadium, before the game. Officials are asking attendees to bring a canned food item to donate to the task force, and boxes will be stationed at each entrance of the station to drop off the goods.
“I’m looking forward to that,” Lee said. “I’m so excited about (the canned good drive), because that’s what I want to do, is to be able to help others.”