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2021 North Carolina Housing Coalition Awards

Each year, the NC Housing Coalition receives nominations from our members to recognize individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that every North Carolinian has a home in which to live with dignity and opportunity. We are excited to announce the 2021 winners and celebrate their incredible accomplishments over the past year and beyond.

Louise Mack Housing Counselor of the Year – Charlotte Spradling

This year’s Louise Mack Housing Counselor of the Year Award goes to Charlotte Spradling for her incredible work at Johnston-Lee-Harnett Community Action. Charlotte is a HUD Certified Housing Counselor who began her counseling career in Sept. 2009 with Johnston-Lee-Harnett Community Action in Smithfield, NC.  She is a North Carolina native from Harnett County but has called Johnston County her home for many years. 

She received a BA in Sociology and a Masters in English from Northwestern State University in Louisiana where she resided for 15 years. Prior to her Louisiana residency, she held a North Carolina Broker’s license which she credits with assisting her in understanding many housing issues.

Her education, training and previous real estate background qualifies her to work with low-income families and individuals who need assistance in housing related matters of  Prepurchase and Homebuyer Education, Financial Counseling, Default and Foreclosure Prevention, Reverse Mortgage (HECM), and Fair Housing.

Sister Barbara Sullivan Volunteer of the Year – Donald J. McGowan

This year’s Sister Barbara Sullivan Award Volunteer of the Year Award goes to Donald J. McGowan for his commitment to housing Southwestern North Carolina through his role as Board Chairman of the Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership. Don was pivotal in organizing the Southwestern North Carolina HOME Consortium, which created an avenue for seven WNC counties to receive more than $2 million in HOME funds. As the founder and chair of Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership, his leadership has guided the development of 30 affordable homes and 5 self-help homes and the creation of a new housing counseling program. 

Donald J. McGowan is a national award-winning community bank CEO with a highly distinguished 45-year banking career. He has specialized in turn around management, small business banking, strategic planning, product development, affordable housing, marketing and loan and credit administration.

McGowan served as the President and CEO of BankFIRST in Winter Park, Florida from 2003 until the sale of the bank to Seacoast National Bank in November, 2014. Under his management the bank grew from $220million in assets to $700million with 12 offices located in Orange, Lake, Seminole, Brevard and Volusia counties. BankFIRST was the largest SBA lender in Central Florida and had been named “Best Community Bank in Central Florida” by the readers of the Orlando Business Journal.

Previous to BankFIRST, McGowan was the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Flagship Bank and Trust Company, headquartered in Worcester, Massachusetts from 1987 until the sale of the bank in 2002 to the Chittenden Corporation in Burlington, Vermont. Flagship had $400 million in assets and six offices located in Worcester County. Flagship Bank was recognized as one of the most successful denovo banks in the country specializing in serving small and medium size businesses. Flagship was the leading Small Business Administration lender in Massachusetts. Under McGowan’s leadership Flagship won the highest national banking award for product development for its SBA program, which led to McGowan being named the “National Small Business Financial Services Advocate of the Year” by the U.S. Small Business Administration. McGowan also won a second “Golden Coin Award” from the Bank Marketing Association for his socially responsible banking program called the “Worcester Fund.” He was named “Business Person of the Year” by the Worcester Business Journal, “Citizen of the Year” by the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and received the prestigious “Torch Award for Commitment to the Community” by the Better Business Bureau.

Previous to Flagship Bank, McGowan held other senior executive banking positions in Massachusetts and Florida. He served as the President of the Central Massachusetts Region of Bank of Boston, was the President and CEO of FinancialFed Mortgage Corp. and concurrently the Chief Loan Officer for its parent company, Financial Federal Savings and Loan Association in Miami Lakes, Florida. He was the Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning and Corporate Development for the Conifer Group, a $4 billion community bank holding company in Worcester, Massachusetts. McGowan started his banking career in the management training program of Marine Midland Bank, New York, NY where he became a Regional Commercial Loan Officer responsible for commercial lending in the eastern part of Long Island.

McGowan has remained actively engaged in a number of professional and community organizations throughout his career. After retiring to Waynesville, NC he is on the Planning Board of the Town of Waynesville, a Commissioner of the Waynesville Housing Authority, Chairman of the Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership and the Founder of the SW North Carolina HOME Consortium. In Massachusetts he served as the Chairman of the Massachusetts Bankers Association, Chairman of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Research Institute, Chairman of the Alliance for Education, Chairman of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, Chairman of Community Healthlink. He was also a Director of Commonwealth Bioventures, Memorial Hospital and the HMO HealthSource of Massachusetts. In Florida, McGowan has served on the Government Relations Committee of the Florida Bankers Association, Leadership Winter Park, Riverside Theater, the Environmental Learning Center, National Entrepreneur Center and Vice Chairman of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florida.

He is a graduate of Dowling College with a BBA, attended Boston University MBA program, and the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University.

Don McGowan and his wife Geri reside in Waynesville, North Carolina.

Robert Kucab Professional of the Year – Mary Nash Rusher

This year’s Robert Kucab Professional of the Year Award goes to Mary Nash Rusher for her longstanding dedication to North Carolin’s tax-exempt bond program that has increased the state’s ability to build more affordable homes. Mary Nash is the managing partner of McGuireWoods’ Raleigh office. She works closely with local governments, nonprofits and others to finance capital improvements using tax advantage financing, primarily tax exempt bonds. Her work includes financings for educational institutions, including public and private K-12 schools, charter schools, and public and private colleges and universities. She assists local governments and nonprofits in traditional tax exempt financings of capital projects, as well as more innovative financings that involve public-private partnerships, synthetic tax increment financing and new markets tax credits. Mary Nash has been involved in nearly all of the affordable housing bond issues in the state over the past decade that involve tax exempt bonds and 4% tax credits, and she continues to work with local governments to find innovative ways to provide more affordable housing in North Carolina. The best part of her practice is working with public and private borrowers to find ways to provide needed infrastructure and capital improvements using creative and cost-effective financing tools. “It is satisfying to know that when we finish a deal, something will be built that the community needs,” she said.

Bill Rowe Service to Affordable Housing Award – Sallie Surface

This year’s Bill Rowe Service to Affordable Housing Award goes to Sallie Surface for three decades of exemplary service at the Choanoke Area Development Association of NC, Inc. and to the state of North Carolina. In 1983, Sallie Pait Surface began her thirty-eight-year career at Choanoke Area Development Association, of NC, Inc., (CADA), a private, non-profit corporation that has served Northeastern North Carolina-Bertie, Halifax, Hertford, Martin, and Northampton Counties-since 1962.  

As the Executive Director of CADA from 1991-2021, Ms. Surface facilitated partnerships to assist families and communities to build assets and a better quality of life, and expanded CADA’s role in Community and Economic Development to include: 

  • Grantee for Head Start and Early Head Start Program and child development initiatives;
  • An educational homeownership counseling program for prospective buyers and designation as a HUD Housing Counseling Agency that led to a NCHFA Rural Homeownership Development Award for the number of first-time homebuyers served;
  • The development of affordable housing communities- Choanoke Meadows in Rich Square and the expansion of Southgate subdivision in Roanoke Rapids;
  • Recognition by NCHFA for the rehabilitation of over 600 single family homes of low-income senior and disabled homeowners; 
  • Partnerships with local municipalities such as Roanoke Rapids for the nationally recognized redevelopment of an economically distressed mill town area of the city;
  • The use of historic and low-income tax credits to convert three historic schools into award-winning, subsidized senior-living communities: Woodland-Olney School. Ahoskie High School Apartments, and Enfield School Apartments; 
  • The ability to respond quickly to community needs such as the aftermath of natural disasters and the current pandemic; and
  • Programs such as Welfare to Work and workforce development programs, youth programs, Mobile Food Pantry, a solar energy pilot program to lower home-energy cost, an IDA Program, Urgent Repair and Healthy Homes, and a focus on Financial Literacy. 

Ms. Surface, a graduate of Wake Forest College-now University, has had additional training in Economics and Community Development. She is a graduate of the Rural Economic Development Institute and the Center for Creative Leadership, has served on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Low-Income Housing Coalition, North Carolina CRANC (Community Reinvestment Act), and the PNC Eastern North Carolina Advisory Board.  

Currently, Ms. Surface as a Senate appointee, serves as Vice-Chair of the North Carolina Housing Partnership Board that provides oversight of the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund, and is a member of the NC Weatherization Assistance Program Advisory Council. She has been a presenter/facilitator for local, state, and national conferences such as the National Rebuild America Conference, National Affordable Energy Conference and National Weatherization Conferences. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal for her advocacy for rural banking services as many rural communities are becoming un-banked.

Ms. Surface received the 2006 Outstanding Rural Leadership Award presented by the NC Rural Economic Development Center and the Rural Economic Development Organization. In April 2015, Governor Pat McCrory conferred the Order of the Long Leaf Pine to Ms. Surface for over 30 years of service to the citizens of North Carolina. She was inducted into the North Carolina Community Action Hall of Fame in 2004.

The CADA Board of Directors has bestowed on Ms. Surface the title of Executive Director Emeritus. The Counties CADA serves acknowledged her leadership and declared August 22, 2021 Sallie Surface Day, and on that date, the CADA Board of Directors re-named the CADA Administrative Office, Rich Square, NC, the Sallie P. Surface Complex. On October 16, 2021, Chowan University, Murfreesboro, NC honored Ms. Surface with the 2021 Chowan University Community Service Award in “recognition of outstanding community service, selfless volunteerism, and benevolent interest in the needs of others.”  

Ms. Surface encourages all to “Bloom where they are planted” and work for extraordinary results in ordinary places through partnerships. Her Mission to advocate for affordable, safe, healthy housing options for all people continues even in retirement. Ms. Surface and her late husband, Dan Surface, have three children: Dr. Eric Surface, Julianne Surface, and Brian Surface.

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