McCleskey Cotton Company, in Bronwood, Ga., was named Southeast Gin of the Year.

Jimmy Sanford, a cotton farmer and business leader in Prattville, Ala.,, was presented the Southern Cotton Growers Grower Achievement Award.

And the late Billy Carter, a North Carolina cotton farmer and long-time executive director of the North Carolina Cotton Growers Association, was inducted into the Southern Cotton Growers Hall of Fame during the recent Southern-Southeastern cotton growers and ginners annual meeting in Atlanta.

The Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association made a slight change in their annual top award this year, recognizing that every past winner has noted the prestigious award is a company effort. “With all the new technology available today, ginning has become very much a team effort, and the Board of Directors of our organization felt it would be more meaningful to select a gin for our top award,” says Robbie Water, president of the organization.

Though the 2013 award is a gin award, make no mistake the heart and soul of McCleskey Cotton Company, including the gin, is owner and co-founder Ronnie Lee. Lee’s son, Ron Lee, manager of the gin and Gin Engineer Keith Gill shared in accepting the award.

In announcing the award, Waters said, “Will Rogers once said, to be successful is simple, you just have to know what you do, love what you do, and believe in what you do.”

“Ronnie Lee and all the people who run McClesky Cotton Company, including the gin, personify Will Roger’s words,” Waters adds.

The gin started in 1995, built and was operated by Ronnie Lee and two partners.

In their first year, they ginned 12,000 bales of cotton and for the next seven years ginned between 25,000 and 30,000 bales.

In 2003, Ronnie Lee bought the gin outright. With the help of his son, Ron, and a former gin builder, now gin engineer, Keith Gill they began to build the business into one of the top producing and highest qualities gins in the Southeast.

Last year McCleskey ginned 96,000 bales of cotton.

For the senior Lee, Jan. 26 was a big day. In addition to being his birthday, his cotton gin, the crown jewel of McClesky Farming Company, was named top cotton gin in the Southeast, and he won a raffle during the Southern-Southeastern annual meeting for a highly coveted .270 caliber hunting rifle.

“Having this audience, filled with so many people I admire so much, sing Happy Birthday to me was truly a big thrill,” Lee says.