By Steven Hoffman
A loving teacher, a dedicated library volunteer, a big-hearted community activist, a helpful property owner, two hard-working co-owners of a business, three community-oriented committees of a church, and a productive organization that has supported Oxford schools for more than two decades were among the recipients of the 2014 Citizen Recognition Awards. Oxford Mayor Geoff Henry handed out the awards to seven aforementioned honorees at the May 19 council meeting.
Henry explained that he established the Citizen Recognition Awards in 2006 as a way to recognize the individuals, businesses, and organizations that have made positive contributions to the town.
Beth Baity, a teacher with the Oxford Area School District, was nominated for the award by John Thompson for being an energetic teacher always shows her dedication to education and love for her students and their families. She was praised as being well-respected by students and her peers.
Baity has been a first-grade teacher in Oxford for the last 13 years. She is also a longtime resident of Oxford who participates in a variety of activities and charities in the community, including the local Relay for Life chapter.
Council member Paul Matthews recalled that when his late son, Eli, was battling cancer, Baity would work all day and then show up at the Matthews’ home at night to help Eli with his schoolwork. He won’t soon forget what Baity did for the family.
“Mrs. Baity will always hold a special place in our hearts, too,” Matthews said.
Ruth Holmes, a longtime volunteer with the Oxford Public Library, was nominated by library director Carey Bresler. Holmes was described as “a champion of the library” and she has served the library and its patrons in a variety of ways through the years. Holmes served on the library’s board of directors and has been involved in the library’s annual appeal for many years.
Karen Hovis, a member of the library's board of directors, said that Holmes first joined the library board in 1973. Holmes has always been a consistent supporter of the majority opinion of that board, and has been a stickler for following Robert's Rules of Order. Hovis described Holmes as a very humble woman who is reluctant to talk about herself, but is always willing to share great anecdotes about the library.
Nick Toto was nominated by Sue Lombardi for his efforts in revitalizing the borough’s downtown district. He was lauded for working tirelessly to convert what had long been an eyesore into a clean alley. According to Lombardi’s nomination, Toto used his own money to pave Sopher’s Alley, made improvements to the property, and worked well with other property owners to make the borough a more beautiful and safer place.
For her volunteer work with SILO and the Anti-Human Trafficking Alliance of Oxford, Peggy Russell was nominated for the award by Ed Herr.
While making the nomination, Herr said that Russell is always willing to take the time to serve and love others.
“Peggy’s kind and enthusiastic spirit is a gift to our SILO gatherings,” Herr wrote. “She offers her time as a mentor and companion. Her energy, passion, kindness, and sensitivity have not gone unnoticed.”
The Octoraro Hotel & Tavern and its co-owners, John McGlothlin and Brannon Seaman, were nominated by Randy Grace because of the way they embraced the Oxford community after buying and renovating the business. McGlothlin and Seaman supported the Halloween party, fundraising efforts for the library, and several activities aimed at revitalizing the downtown.
Grace also lauded McGlothlin and Seaman for the significant upgrades they made to one of the most important buildings in downtown. “They have brought tasty, affordable food to downtown Oxford. The new atmosphere inside is family-friendly and they continue to do upgrades and look for other ways to partner with the community,” Grace wrote.
An award was also presented to three distinct committees of the Second Presbyterian Church:
The Outreach Committee, Helping Hands, and Board of Deacons. Sheila Bowers, Linda Bond and Edith Gray, among others, were in attendance to accept the award on behalf of the committees.
When making the nomination, Denise Chandler wrote that these committees have provided valuable services to the community, especially the help that they give to those in particular need.
“The Outreach Committee has been a strong force in the Oxford community for many years,” Chandler wrote. This committee provided food baskets, hot meals, and visitations to the sick and the elderly.
The Helping Hands Committee, which is relatively new, has several different initiatives underway, including a laundramat project where coins are handed out to people who are about to wash and dry their clothes.
The Deacon Board is a committee that has been in place almost since the inception of the Second Presbyterian Church in 1881. In more recent years, the Deacon Board has been providing fuel assistance to area residents in need and organized several youth outreach activities.
“All three of these groups see service to the Oxford community as the focus of their mission,” Chandler wrote.
Mayor Henry nominated the Oxford Area Educational Foundation, which has been providing assistance to Oxford schools for the last 20 years. The Oxford Area Educational Foundation has created a successful mentoring program where professionals in the community volunteer to work with youngsters, raised money to offer professional grants to teachers, and served as a catalyst to connect sources of funding with specific needs and projects for the school district. All the Foundation’s activities have helped enhance the education for students in the school district.
With the seven recipients in 2014, there have now been a total of 66 individuals and organizations that have been presented with the Citizen Recognition Awards.
Henry emphasized that the recipients of the awards don’t do the work that they do for the purpose of receiving an award; rather, they provide the services to the citizens of Oxford because they are motivated to help others and to make a difference in the Oxford community.
“It truly is a labor of love that all these individuals and organizations provide to the community,” Henry said.