Hero Awards honor those who have given back in the past year

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 | 9:40 p.m. CDT; updated 11:47 a.m. CDT, Thursday, April 25, 2013

COLUMBIA — An astronomer, symphony board member and a group of Rock Bridge High School students were among the guests honored at a reception Tuesday night that recognized the community service of local individuals and groups.

Recipients of the twelfth annual Columbia Daily Tribune Hero Awards were honored at a ceremony at the Stoney Creek Inn. The seven winning volunteers and 36 nominees gathered with their families and friends to celebrate their hours of service to the Columbia community.

John Cleek Jr., Individual Volunteer of the Year

John Cleek Jr. was awarded the Individual Volunteer of the Year award at Tuesday's Hero Awards for his work for a local organization offering services to adults and children with autism.

Cleek's annual Bowling for Autism event will be held Saturday at AMF Town and Country Lanes at 11 a.m. Read more about Cleek and his story here.

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Award recipients received a crystal trophy with the Hero symbol engraved on it and a $400 award to the organization the volunteer serves, paid for by the Columbia Daily Tribune and Landmark Bank. Support for the awards was provided by the Voluntary Action Center.

Here’s a look at the winners and the work they’ve done in Columbia:

Patrick Kane

Patrick Kane walked nearly 3,000 hours and countless miles to earn his Outstanding Volunteer in Community Protection award.

He walks the trails at Bear Creek Park almost every morning, looking for anything unsafe. Whether he’s clearing branches after storms, stopping illegal hunting or telling dog owners to use leashes, the 66-year-old is working to keep the parks clean and safe as part of the Park Patrol.

“We are ambassadors for the City of Columbia,” he said. “We are a friendly presence on the trail. Just the presence of a park patroller gives a lot of people peace of mind.”

Kane, a social worker, has walked with the Park Patrol for 10 years. He noticed the group of official city volunteers while walking his daily three miles and wanted to become a part of it.

“I thought I'm already out anyway, I might as well be part of the — we call it the eyes and ears of the trail,” Kane said.

He sees this award as acknowledgement of his work over time, not any specific action he’s taken.

“They're not for individual actions, they're for people who are everyday heroes,” Kane said. “People who do things over and over again that are a service to the community.”

Val Germann

For the past 31 years, Germann has taught children about astronomy at the Columbia Public Library. For his tireless commitment, he received the Outstanding Volunteer in Education or Literacy Award.

He taught astronomy at Columbia College for 20 years and staffed the Laws Observatory at MU for more than 30 years. For the past 10 years, he has led a spring and fall series — seven presentations a year — of astronomy lectures for children of all ages and their parents.

“I try to give them an idea about astronomy and science at a young age,” he said.

The presentations begin indoors around 7 p.m. with a PowerPoint on constellations and planets. The kids receive star charts and other resources to help them pick out objects in the sky, then go outside for a look through the telescope to see what stars and planets they can find.

“The first view through a telescope can have an impact on kids down the road,” he said.

Germann’s main goal is to get as many children exposed to science and astronomy at a young age to spark interest for a possible career. If the weather is decent, around 50 kids will show up with their parents.

“I’m still kind of in shock,” Germann said about receiving the award. “I’m happy to be recognized.”

His deepest thanks go out to the library, he said. Without its help, the functions would not be possible.

Ann Havey

Ann Havey’s work at the Boone County Council on Aging earned her the Outstanding Volunteer in Health Care award.

Havey has volunteered at the agency for more than ten years, including two terms as board president, according to a press release. She encouraged more than 40 homeowners to take part in “Kitchens in Bloom,” a fundraising tour that raised $50,000 for the council. She also spends many hours each week giving rides to low-income seniors who can’t get to places on their own.

Lucy Vianello

For her founding of the Missouri Symphony Society and the Women’s Symphony League, Lucy Vianello received the Outstanding Volunteer in the Arts Award.

When she moved to Columbia in 1968, Vianello and her husband collaborated with parents of children who played orchestral instruments and together they formed the Missouri Symphony Society, a not-for-profit organization. In 1971, she co-founded the society that came to be known as the Women’s Symphony League and served as president for the first two years.

“It’s a long time to be involved in one organization,” she said. “As co-founder, I try to be the backbone.”

She was a part of the Missouri Symphony Society board when it purchased the Missouri Theatre in 1987 and when the Society began renovations of the theater in 2008. She has been a strong presence and force behind the scenes for both of these symphony groups.

“As a board member, I try to always promote the purpose of the society and do what I can to help,” she said.

Although she knew about her nomination, she was not expecting a win.

“It came as a big surprise,” she said. “A very welcomed surprise though.”

Rock Bridge Reaches Out

The group of Rock Bridge Reaches Out students who volunteer for The Intersection faced tough competition for The Youth Volunteer of the Year award: the other nominees were cute. Really cute.

“We had nothing on cuteness,” said core leader Stephen Turban, a fifth-year student at Rock Bridge High School. After all, they were up against boy scouts and Cierra Nelson, a 9-year-old collecting shoes for people who can’t afford their own.

Rock Bridge Reaches Out has multiple “cores” who volunteer at different locations. Each weekday, the group of about 60 students in The Intersection core lead a different activity at the after-school program in northern Columbia.

On Monday they do crafts, on Tuesday they cook (usually cookies), on Wednesday they perform science experiments, on Thursday they take part in multicultural activities and on Fridays they play games or do other activities, said core leader Aniqa Rahman, a senior at Rock Bridge. On one Friday, the students brought henna, a red-orange Indian dye used to draw on skin.

“The little kids love them, adore them.” said Marilyn Toalson, a retired teacher who works with the students.

When Turban started this core of Rock Bridge Reaches Out, they volunteered at Centro Latino, logging more than 100 combined hours in the first week. But they soon had to find a new location when Centro Latino wanted to focus more on college-aged volunteers, Turban said.

When they could no longer volunteer at Centro Latino, the group was in a “big bind,” Turban said. “We had all these volunteers who were super enthusiastic about coming and hanging out with kids, but we didn’t have anywhere to volunteer.”

A friend suggested The Intersection, who welcomed them with open arms, and before long the group was going there five days a week.

The core leaders aren’t sure what The Intersection will choose to do with the award money. The students’ next goal is to get fresh food for the kids every day.

Grade A! After School Leadership Team

A group of MU students’ work to save an after-school program called Grade A! earned them the Group Volunteer of the Year award.

Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, the program pairs students in grades three through 12 with a mentor to receive tutoring and other academic support. Program volunteers serve as role models and outlets for the kids to receive help with their schoolwork, said Robbie Cox-Chatman, an MU senior and Grade A! team leader.

Grade A! faced a possible shutdown in 2010 due to a lack of volunteers and new leadership became necessary for the program to continue. Four MU students currently serve as the leadership team for the program and coordinate everything from group activities to transportation to and from the church.

In addition to academic support, Grade A! also teaches lessons to the kids on topics such as self-esteem, setting goals for their futures and what it means to be a strong person, Cox-Chatman said.

“As a leader I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “It helps you get yourself together so you can be a better role model, and it’s helped me do better in school. It gives us a chance to reach out to the community about the program and get more students involved.”

Supervising editors are Zach Murdock and Richard Webner.

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