United Way's Rodgers receives Order of the Palmetto at retirement party

Jun. 23—During the retirement party for United Way of Aiken County President and Chief Professional Officer Sharon Rodgers on Thursday, there were tears, laughter and lots of hugs.

In addition, Rodgers received a major award, the Order of the Palmetto, which is South Carolina's highest civilian honor and recognizes a lifetime of extraordinary achievement, service and contributions on the national or statewide scale.

On behalf of Gov. Henry McMaster, S.C. Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken; S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken; and S.C. Rep. Bart Blackwell, R-Aiken, presented the Order of the Palmetto to Rodgers at the United Way's Aiken-based headquarters, which is named in her honor.

"Sharon has been selected for the Order of the Palmetto because of her commitment to the people in this area and the people in this county ... but also in particular for her role at the state level," Young said. "She was involved in the public policy committee at the state level and was a true leader in the United Way's mission to serve all the people in South Carolina. She played a very important role ... in improving financial literacy instruction in public schools and for other things that the United Way advocated for across the state and the General Assembly adopted.

"The governor said that it was very important that Sharon receive this award," Young added.

Rodgers is leaving her leadership positions with the United Way of Aiken County at the end of this month after serving in those capacities since 2007.

"I don't feel like I deserve this, but I do appreciate it very much," said Rodgers, with tears in her eyes, of the Order of the Palmetto. "Thank you to everybody in this room. You're all part of why the United Way is successful, and we couldn't do it without you because it is truly a collaborative effort."

Rodgers described her work with the United Way as "the joy of my life" and urged everyone at her retirement party to carry on with their support of the organization going forward.

"The Good Lord put us on the face of this earth to do good for others," she said. "Those of us who are blessed should share those blessings with other people who aren't as blessed as ourselves. "Hopefully, the United Way can lead the pack in making sure those efforts are undertaken and that those people who feel alienated and marginalized in our society will have the opportunity for a good life," Rodgers continued. "That's what we strive to do, and with your help and God's help, we will continue to do that."

Under Rodgers' guidance, the United Way set a fundraising campaign record of $3,033,634 in 2016 after exceeding $3 million for the first time in 2012. The total for that year was $3,005,584.

In addition, the United Way finalized plans last year to acquire, renovate and move from a leased location on Barnwell Avenue to the former home of Aiken Senior Life Services at 159 Morgan St. N.W.

That building now is known as the Sharon L. Rodgers Community Resource Center.

In 2020, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce honored Rodgers as its Woman of the Year.

Discussing her experiences with the United Way prior to the Order of the Palmetto presentation Thursday, Rodgers said: "I've had so much fun. I've had a great time, and we have accomplished a lot ... everything I think we set out to do. I'm so thankful that the board of this organization entrusted the United Way to me, and I just hope that they are proud of what we've done. I also hope the community feels that what we do is impactful and that we will continue to be impactful in the future."

Rodgers added that her association with the United Way wouldn't be ending.

"I'm not abandoning the cause," she said. "I'm going to be a United Way Bookworms reader at Millbrook Elementary School, and I'm on Women United's executive committee. I'll also probably be involved in volunteering at some of the United Way's partner agencies. It's just going to be a different kind of participation than it was."

In addition to the three legislators who presented the Order of the Palmetto, the people who showed up at Rodgers' retirement party included Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian, County Council Chairman Gary Bunker and Aiken Chamber of Commerce President and CEO J. David Jameson.

"I came here last week for some one-on-one time with Sharon just to let her know what an amazing job she has done," said Heather Waddell, executive director of the Tri-Development Center of Aiken County. "She has been a true supporter of all the United Way agencies and partners in the community, and she will certainly be missed. She has been a shining light."

Will Williams, president and CEO of the Western SC Economic Development Partnership, also praised Rodgers.

"Sharon has done a fantastic job of inspiring the volunteerism that has emanated from the United Way, and she has done so many great things for the community," he said.