Attending the 2012 Citizen of the Year dinner on Friday night was a trip down memory lane -- and not just because it was honouring a Historical Society volunteer.
During the years I was a reporter, editor, and then publisher at the Daily Herald, the Citizen of the Year dinner was a highlight; a time to shine the light on positive aspects of our community, rather than revealing the negative side, which is the daily responsibility of the news media. That annual event -- and writing a column for this page -- were two of my favourite things about working at the newspaper. A quick thank you to Perry for offering me the chance to write for the Herald again, but without all the accompanying the headaches of his job. I’m very happy to continue teaching as my occupation, as I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years now.
Sitting at this year’s dinner for Harris May, and looking through the list of past recipients, I remembered attending many of those dinners and thought of the people who had been previously honoured. Many of them are now gone, unfortunately. Two that come to mind as dying far too young are Marge Nainaar and Bernice Sayese, both dynamic women within their spheres of influence in our city. Another Citizen of the Year whom we lost far too soon was Ajay Krishan, who was the youngest honoree in the history of the award at the time it was given to him in 1992. Examples like these remind us to say thank you when we can, whether in small gestures or formal events.
Other honorees from the list were in attendance on Friday night and continue to serve our community; just two examples are Herschel Davidner, who refuses to let time diminish his enthusiasm for good works, or Malcolm Jenkins, who finds ways to encourage philanthropy from others as well as providing an ongoing example himself. They show us that achieving an award is no excuse to take a break from involvement.
During the years I was directly involved in the award, the one thing that stands out is the humility of the recipients. Although it was before my time as editor, the story goes that the Kinsmen Club and Herald representatives who surprised Davidner with his award had to spend a half hour convincing him to accept it before the news conference could go on. Without exception, none of the top citizens expected such an award; each was just doing his or her job in the community.
So it was with this year’s honoree. Having known Harris and Diane May for many years, it was a bit of a joke when the full-page ads in the Herald showed Harris’s photo amid fireworks and starbursts, since that’s so unlike him. Another of the quiet, steadfast workers who get things done in our community -- in this case, for the Historical Society, Habitat for Humanity, the Mann Art Gallery, and last year’s Centennial of Flight airshow -- Harris would never expect to be put in the spotlight. Yet, like all the others before him, he graciously accepted the award, sharing the accolades with the family, friends and other volunteers who made things happen.
Other volunteer work by Harris, which was not publicly acknowledged at the dinner, was part of the reason I and many others from our women’s group were at this year’s dinner. The Canadian Federation of University Women is a females-only organization, dedicated to supporting higher education for women. Diane May has been a member of the local club longer than I’ve been a member, and I joined more than 25 years ago. She has served as president for years, and before that, as treasurer. I like to think that the award given to Harris is also an award to Diane, for her volunteerism with our group and many others. Since CFUW is a women’s group, it was Diane’s name was on the books as treasurer for years; but it was really Harris’s accounting training we were relying upon, and continue to follow.
The main fundraiser for CFUW -- Prince Albert is our book sale, which now supports five scholarships to local high school graduates. Donated books are put out for perusal and purchase for a few weekends of the year. The rest of the time, they’re in storage. The number of times that the May half ton truck was put into service -- along with the May children -- to move boxes and boxes books for the sale is countless. Harris, along with my husband and kids, and many other spouses and children of club members who have “volunteered” to help with our book sales are like unofficial members of the club. Thank you all.
And so it is for so many organizations in our community: not only are there the leaders, who become the public face and are sometimes forced to accept the glory for the work, but there are the countless others who help out to make things happen. What would Prince Albert be without its volunteers? We don’t want to know.
Barb Gustafson, a lifelong resident of Prince Albert, is a former reporter, editor and publisher at the Daily Herald.