During the American Heritage River Day at New River State Park, O’Banion was presented the Old North State Award by members of the New River Community Partners and county officials. O’Banion is president of the board for New River Community Partners.
The Office of the Governor issues awards to recognize individuals for contributions that have had a significant and positive impact on the state of North Carolina. The Old North State Award is given to individuals who have a proven record of exemplary service and commitment to the state and their respective communities.
“I think it’s great. It’s quite a surprise,” said O’Banion. He was moved by the special award presented to him by his friends and neighbors in Ashe County. The award was presented on Saturday during the festival by Millie Barbee, a director for New River Community Partners, and by Ken McFadyen, executive director, who said O’Banion had received many honors from the state for his work in tourism, and an honor for him in his home community was long past due.
In preparing a resume to nominate O’Banion for the Old North State Award, McFadyen listed his many accomplishments in supporting tourism.
“Ernest O’Banion has devoted his talents and tireless energy to the fields of hospitality and tourism promotion,” McFadyen wrote. “Soon after his graduation from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in hotel administration, he began a management career in that industry. His career took him to Michigan, Tennessee, South Carolina, and then to North Carolina. After successfully managing several Holiday Inns, he became part of a hotel management team, with responsibility for supervision of a number of high quality properties. In 1988, he and associates formed JEB Management, Inc., with Ernest as president, to supervise operations for a number of lodging establishments. He continues in that role today.” O’Banion has for many years operated Nations Inn in West Jefferson.
“Ernest has been identified with a myriad of travel and tourism activities in North Carolina since 1969,” McFadyen wrote. “He has served with distinction as president of the North Carolina Hotel and Motel Association, High Country Host and the Travel Council of North Carolina. One of his many accomplishments was spearheading the creation of an acclaimed hospitality training program, and then acting as an instructor in the program. The man knows how to train and to inspire employees, with the average employee tenure at his Nations Inn being 12 years.”
McFadyen noted that O’Banion has served with the West Jefferson Tourism Development Authority, and since 1998 as president of New River Community Partners. Both are vital in helping the Ashe County community thrive and attract visitors to a region known for its quality of life.