The owners of an iconic Onslow County attraction continue to gather awards.

Mike and Theresa Lowe, the husband and wife team that created Mike’s Farm in 1986 as a way to supplement their income, were honored by the Jacksonville-Onslow Chamber of Commerce as the recipient of the 2017 Small Business of the Year Award, presented by First Citizens Bank at a morning breakfast held at Onslow Memorial Hospital May 19 in Jacksonville.

“This award is the payday for all the years of hard work,” an emotional Theresa said soon after she and her husband were giving a standing ovation by the more than 50 chamber members seated in the hospital’s cafeteria. Wiping tears from her eyes, Lowe said receiving the award “brings back memories of all the hard work we put in.”

The seed that would blossom into a regional tourist and wedding destination pumping tax and tourism dollars into the Back Swamp community and providing employment to more than 120 seasonal workers began as a small Christmas tree farm.

The Lowes were recently inducted in the N.C. Cooperative Extension Hall of Fame but refuse to rest on their laurels. In her acceptance speech on behalf of her husband and staff at Mike’s Farm, Mrs. Lowe hinted of future expansion plans evolving at the couple’s small business involving North Carolina produced merchandise and products.

“Over the past couple of years we’ve been thinking about creating a retail shop at the farm where everything we offer for sale is exclusively made in North Carolina. We get a lot guests out at the Farm from out of state that want souvenirs to take back home that are made here in Carolina,” Mr. Lowe said.

Onslow Memorial Hospital Chief Executive Officer Penney Burlingame Deal addressed the assembled and said in her opening remarks that those in attendance help create the culture of the community "through collaboration, individuality, innovation, and just plain hard work."

"We all are interwoven into the fabric of Onslow County and the more supportive we can be to each other, the stronger the fabric will be. This is our family, our hospital, our business, our community,” Deal said.

The Friday event was the culmination of Small Business Week. The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates more than 56.8 million people are employed in more than 28.8 million small businesses nationwide.

The chamber began bestowing an annual award to local small business people in 1989 when Lois Dupuis was the inaugural recipient for her work at Flying Dutchman Travel Agency. In a speech sprinkled with humor and modesty, Dupuis described the Spartan ceremony consisting of doughnuts and coffee when she was presented her award at the chamber office on Marine Boulevard that was “slowly sliding into the river.” Dupuis offered advice to small business owners to be open to change and to remember that “people do business with people they like.”

Before presenting the Lowe's with their glass trophy, Budda Howard, senior vice president of First Citizens Bank, the award's sponsor, outlined the criteria used to select an honoree. Howard said recipients possessed three qualities including, "excellence of knowledge and integrity in their business or professional field; is an active chamber member; and demonstrates the chamber's mission to support our citizens, the military and the local business community."

Other past recipients in attendance were Sheila Pierce Knight (’04), Joe Henderson (’07), Dr. Robert Sheegog (’13), Brad Padgett (’15) and Dr. Gina Francis (’16).

If you’re a small business owner and wish to learn more about the Jacksonville-Onslow Chamber of Commerce, contact Business Service Manager Caitlin A. Diaz at 910-347-3141, ext. 251.

Contact Daily News Government Reporter Mike McHugh at 910-219-8455 or mike.mchugh@jdnews.com.