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May 7, 2015

May 7, 2015

For additional information,
Contact: Amanda Shell Jennings
Moxley Carmichael
(865) 255-0661

GKHA - Kristi Sowards

Knoxville Convention Center Sales Manager Kristi Sowards (center) displays her Pauly Award for Volunteer of the Year from the Greater Knoxville Hospitality Association (GKHA) standing with her nominators, Convention Center General Manager Mary Bogert (left) and Director of Sales and Marketing Rebecca Williams (right).

Kristi Sowards, sales manager at the Knoxville Convention Center, has been awarded the 2015 Pauly Award for Volunteer of the Year by the Greater Knoxville Hospitality Association (GKHA) at the 11th Annual Pauly Awards sponsored by the University of Tennessee Tourism Institute and Visit Knoxville.

“At the Knoxville Convention Center, we love Knoxville and are dedicated to making Knoxville the best possible place to live, work and visit,” said Mary Bogert, general manager of the Knoxville Convention Center. “Kristi always goes the extra mile in dedicating time to community service. She whole-heartedly supports her colleagues and provides the highest level of customer service to show guests to Knoxville our Southern hospitality. We delighted to have her on our team, and congratulate her on this well-deserved award.”

The Pauly Awards, named after local hospitality industry leader the late Paul Sherbakoff, are held annually by the GKHA to honor and recognize the best of the best in Knoxville’s hospitality and tourism industry. At the event, the GKHA also awards the 2015 Scholarship winners for students at the University of Tennessee and Pellissippi State Community College.

“The Pauly Awards are a wonderful opportunity for the unsung heroes of the hospitality industry to be honored,” said Jill Thompson, GKHA executive director. “Kristi was nominated and selected by her peers because of her positive attitude and dedication to customer service. She exhibits these attributes at work, through her varied community service and in the home.”

The award recognizes Sowards for her outstanding dedication to community service in local nonprofits and industry organizations. In 2014, Sowards received the Presidents’ Award from the Tennessee Chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), the largest global meeting and event industry association, and 2015, she received the Rock Star Award from the organization for her efforts on the event planning committee for Knoxville members.

Sowards also serves as TNAchieves Mentor to low-income, first generation high school juniors and seniors to help them navigate the college application and enrollment process. She has served as the Knoxville Convention Center’s United Way loaned executive and assisted the organization to reach its fundraising goals.

Additionally, Sowards volunteers her time at Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, Community Action Committee’s Mobile Meals, Dogwood Arts Festival, HonorAir Knoxville, Knox County Schools Parent-Teacher Association and her children’s sporting events, modeling and other activities.

Sowards, a 20-plus-year hospitality veteran, has worked at the Knoxville Convention Center since 2011 and was selected by her coworkers in 2012 as the Leader of the Year. Originally from Maryville, Tenn., Sowards currently lives in West Knoxville with her husband, Scott, and three children.

Additionally, the Knoxville Convention Center’s in-house audio-visual provider, M&M Productions USA, was awarded the Pauly Award for the Service/Supplier of the Year. A full-service event planning and production company, M&M Productions provides customized audio-visual, design and video production services to all events at the Knoxville Convention Center, as well as events and venues across the region.

“M&M Productions USA is a wonderful partner at our facility, and we were proud to nominate them for this award,” said Bogert. “Mike Brown and his team always perform above and beyond to design the perfect solution for our clients’ audio-visual needs and help us keep visitors coming back to the Knoxville Convention Center year again and again.”

Other Pauly winners were:

  • Attraction/Museum of the Year: Market Square Farmers Market
  • Community Service of the Year: Springhill Suites,  Knoxville
  • Attraction/Museum Employee of the Year: Dana Hart, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Lodging General Manager of the Year: Marc Bauer, General Manager of the Holiday Inn World’s Fair Park
  • Restaurant General Manager of the Year: Mahasti Vaferie, General Manager/Owner of the Tomato Head
  • Lodging Manager of the Year: Tim McSwords, Holiday Inn World’s Fair Park
  • Restaurant Manager of the Year: Toby Winters, Copper Cellar Cumberland Avenue
  • Lodging Employee of the Year: Debbie Sisson, Best Western Plus Cedar Bluff
  • Service/Supplier Employee of the Year: Kelli Gibson, Visit Knoxville
  • Friendliest Face of the Year: Fatin Yalcin, Marriott Knoxville

Eligible Pauly Award winners are automatically submitted for the Stars of the Industry state awards sponsored by the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association.

About the Knoxville Convention Center

The Knoxville Convention Center, managed by SMG, is located in downtown Knoxville adjacent to the Sunsphere. It boasts a 120,000 square-foot exhibit hall, a 27,000 square-foot divisible ballroom and up to 25 meeting rooms. For more information, visit