FOLLANSBEE, West Virginia. (Nov 9, 2014) – After being presented the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year award, Bill Schwertfeger remarked, “This is a real triple whammy for me.”
Schwertfeger joked that first he was crowned king of the city’s senior Christmas party a couple of years ago, then named Veteran of the Year by the Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation earlier this year.
He said the second honor meant a lot to him but he also appreciates the Citizen of the Year award as it comes from his peers.
“I’ll do my best to live up to your expectations,” he told the many attending the chamber’s annual dinner Friday at St. Francis Centre.
Chamber President Tony Paesano said it was Schwertfeger’s service both to his community and to his country that led to his being chosen for the honor.
A lifelong Follansbee resident, Schwertfeger was a sergeant in a machine gun platoon of the Army’s 34th Infantry Division during World War II and received a combat infantry badge and Bronze Star for his service, which included helping to liberate Italy from Nazi rule while participating in the battle of Monte Cassino.
A retired educator, he taught at Colliers and Hooverson Heights primary schools and served as principal and instructional supervisor for schools in Ohio. He also served on Follansbee Council for six years and as commander of Follansbee American Legion Post 45.
Paesano and other chamber leaders also honored several others for their community service and presented grants to six local teachers for special school projects with the help of special guests U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and his wife, Gayle, who is president of the state board of education.
The honorees were:
The Brooke High School student body, which Paesano said put in 22,000 hours of volunteer service during the 2013-14 school year, including collecting 6,000 nonperishable food items for the R.E.A.C.H. Program food pantry, filling 150 Christmas stockings for military serving abroad and purchasing $6,000 in toys distributed to children in need by the Salvation Army and Bernie’s Kids.
Toni Shute, the school’s principal, was presented the Educator of the Year award for her leadership in such efforts, including raising $10,000 for the Mozingo family after a gas explosion destroyed their home and killed their daughter, Hannah; as well as her nearly 40 years of service to Brooke County Schools, where she has been a teacher, coach and principal.
Recognition and a $300 donation from the chamber also went to Lisa Myers, Charlene Smith and Linda Abercrombie, volunteers with the school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association for its efforts in establishing a clothes closet and food pantry for students at the school in need.
David Secrist, for his efforts as chairman and in other volunteer positions for the Brooke-Hancock American Cancer Society Relay for Life; as a local emergency medical technician and volunteer firefighter and former teacher at Follansbee Middle School, where he initiated a student-run television newscast, wellness center for students and mini Relay for Life.
James McFadden, for his involvement with the Brooke County Gettysburg Address speech contest over 38 years, including 30 of them as coordinator andmaster of ceremonies.
George Dragonir, who has led a Follansbee American Legion committee that has solicited funds to send an unprecedented number of youth to Boys State leadership camp in recent years.
A Navy veteran, Dragonir also has served as president and treasurer of the post and as a major in the Wheeling Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol and member of the Ohio Valley Veterans Memorial Squad.
Sharing the Business of the Year award were:
Eric Fithyan, owner of Chambers and James Funeral Homes, which has supported veterans and current service members through such efforts as Sweaters for Veterans and Wreaths Across America and Operation Valentine.
Fithyan also has organized a 9-11 Patriot Walk in memory of first responders killed that day and served as president of the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club and coordinator of the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas parade.
Joe Mullenbach, owner of Mullenbach Funeral Home, who served for more than 20 years in the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club, chairing its chicken barbecue fundraiser and Christmas luminaria project; was president of the Wellsburg Lions Club and currently is a member of the Brooke Hills Park board and boards for three local cemeteries.
He also has been a supporter of Follansbee Community Days, the Wellsburg 4th of July and other local events and causes.
Paul and Karolee Lombardi, owner of Lombardi Development. Paesano noted the 15-year-old business has been responsible for the construction of many local businesses as well as several renovations at West Virginia University and two projects that earned it awards from the American Institute of Architects-West Virginia: the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folk Life Center at Fairmont State University and Raleigh County Judicial Center.
He added the Lombardis have quietly supported various causes, particularly those involving youth.
Pat Accettolo, chairman of the chamber’s education committee, presented grants to the following teachers:
Megan Harless of Follansbee Middle School, for digital cameras and related material to be used by students working on the school’s newspaper.
Scott Abercrombie of Follansbee Middle School, for digital balances and hexagonal weighing boats to be used to introduce students to principles of chemistry.
Suzanne Davidson of Hooverson Heights Primary School, for a Science Saturday event in March that will include the Starlab inflatable planetarium from the S.M.A.R.T. Center in Wheeling and other activities aimed at piquing an interest in science-related careers.
Carrie Ciccolella of Hooverson Heights Primary School, for a Valentines dinner and dance for pupils and their parents where they will learn dance steps together.
Terry Mains of Jefferson Primary School, for sets of nonfiction books and guides designed to develop children’s reading comprehension skills.
Debra Rea of Jefferson Primary School, for the Listening Program, which involves iPods and headphones and is designed to teach children various musical genres and improve their listening skills.
As guest speaker, Manchin touched on many current issues, but he also talked about issues closer to home.
He said when he and his siblings were growing up, his grandmother “made us cognizant there were people in the world who needed our help. She didn’t have much but she had a bed and a bath.”
Manchin said his grandmother’s help was contingent upon three rules: “You can’t swear, you can’t drink and you’ve got to work.”
He said his grandmother also told him, quoting Theodore Roosevelt, “that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Manchin said infighting between members of the Democratic and Republican parties has caused many citizens to lack faith in Congress and it’s something he’s tried to avoid.
“Most people in America aren’t sure if we really care. And we’ve got to clean this mess up,” he said.
Manchin said somehow the U.S. must attempt to return to the optimism and drive of John F. Kennedy. He said while Kennedy supported social programs, he also called for more civic involvement.
He said Congress must work to address its financial debt and improve opportunities for youth, but too many have come to rely on the government to resolve all problems.
“If he (Kennedy) were here today, he might ask something like, ‘Ask not what your country will do for you but if you can do anything for your country,” Manchin said.
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