Gresh, 57, was moved after receiving the surprise award from Journal publisher Otis A. Brumby III.
“I love my community,” Gresh said in her brief acceptance speech. “I love my city, and anything I can do I always try to be there.”
Brumby read off a list of Gresh’s deeds in business and philanthropy. When he read the name of the company, the audience of nearly 1,000 at the Cobb Galleria Centre applauded, sensing who the winner was. The cheering grew to a standing ovation when Gresh walked toward the stage.
She is the third generation in her family to run the petroleum business started by her mothers’ parents in 1926. S.A. White now has 50 employees and contracts with around 100 convenience stores selling branded fuel to Texaco, Citgo, Marathon and ConocoPhillips stations. It also delivers to large customers who use generators, such as WellStar Health System, Lockheed-Martin Aeronautics, C.W. Matthews contracting, the city of Atlanta’s public works department and Cobb County Fire.
A separate business Gresh started, Mobilized Fuels, grew from two to nine trucks in just two years.
Gresh’s companies distribute 100 million gallons of fuel per year, with combined annual revenue of $350 million last year.
She was the first woman to serve on the ConocoPhillips National Marketer Council and the Georgia Oilmen’s Association board. Brumby noted how Gresh starts each meeting of the Oilmen’s Association with a motion to change the name to represent both genders, but it goes nowhere.
Among the causes Gresh supports are the boards of the WellStar Foundation, the YWCA of Northwest Georgia, Friends of the Strand and the Cobb Community Foundation. Previous awards include the Marietta Citizen of the Year, Rotarian of the Year, YWCA Woman of the Year, Siegel Institute’s Woman of the Year and Marietta Schools Alumnus of the Year.
While she’s received other honors, Gresh said this one was special.
“As Little O said, I was born bred, my mom was born here, it means the world to me,” she said after the awards ceremony that highlighted the night’s program. “I’m all about community, my business is all about community and this is just like that cherry on top of that ice cream sundae.”
Gresh said her work isn’t finished. She’s still trying to raise $1.5 million each for the YWCA and the Strand, while she still has a-year-and-a-half to go on her WellStar term.
YWCA CEO and executive director Holly Tuchman said that no one has a better heart than Gresh.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about her friendship and her loyalty and who she is as a person,” Tuchman said. “Kim Gresh is good people.”
S.A. White was founded by Gresh’s grandparents. Her mother, Suse Ann White Gresh, took over the business after S.A. White was killed in the 1963 natural gas explosion at Atherton’s Pharmacy on the Marietta Square.
Kim Gresh was enticed to the company after college. She became president in 1999.
Among the previous winners are Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-east Cobb), former Gov. Roy Barnes, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Cobb Chairman and current state Attorney General Sam Olens.
The first winner was former Lockheed CEO Dick Pulver in 1963.
Brumby said that of the 49 previous Citizen of the Year winners, 28 are still living.
“And many of them are still actively engaged in the community,” he said.