This year’s Maxine Wargo Award recipient differed from past years.
Presenter Kathy Missel said most winners of the Streator Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry award are a part of influential groups such as a Rotarian or a member of the Kiwanis Club of Streator, but this year’s recipient wasn’t a “joiner.”
Instead, the “second to none” efforts of Joe Richard were on display through the numerous community activities and initiatives he supported and helped get off the ground.
Richard said at the Monday night awards banquet his efforts were all in service to one goal.
“I just want to make sure we have things in this town for people to do,” Richard said. “I accept this award and I just can’t thank you all enough for everything you’ve done. Your support means a lot.”
Richard has had a hand in a number of volunteer organizations in Streator including, but certainly not limited to, Relay for Life, St. Jude, Make a Wish, Light Up Streator and the Streator’s Fourth of July Celebration.
Missel specifically shared her own personal story wherein she was inspired by Richard’s guidance when working on the Fourth of July Celebration after the celebration was restructuring following the loss of key committee members.
“When I personally signed a three-year contract for the fireworks knowing we didn’t have the money for one year I jokingly said, ‘I hope I’m not going to jail’ and (Richard) kept telling me it was going to be OK and it was,” Missel recalled.
Richard said with a smile he remembered.
“She was nervous when we were restructuring the Fourth of July Committee and every day she said ‘I don’t want to go to jail.’ I assured her that she wouldn’t be going because they’d probably want to give her back to us,” Richard said with a laugh.
Missel said it has been 27 years since she lost her best friend, Maxine Wargo for whom the award is named.
She said Wargo was a person who inspired many in the community through her volunteer efforts and said the award was created to inspire others to support the community.
The claim seems to be holding true as a former Maxine Wargo Award recipient went on to receive the Cephas Williams award later that night.
Dr. Sue Schmitt, veterinarian at Countryside Animal Clinic, wasn’t expecting to be recognized when she arrived at the banquet.
“I handle surprises about every day at work. I wasn’t expecting to handle it tonight,” she said to laughs from the crowd.
Mayor Jimmie Lansford noted Schmitt’s commitment to the community and continued success in Streator.
Schmitt initially practiced animal medicine elsewhere before returning to Streator and establishing Countryside Animal Clinic on North Bloomington Street in 1985. The practice outgrew that location when it was moved to its current location at 701 Oakley Ave, but then continued to grow and required a building addition.
“That storefront clinic on Bloomington Street has grown into a staff of four veterinarians plus a support staff of 11,” Lansford said. “That’s a lot of paychecks that help Streator grow.”
He added her support of Streator organizations and committees does not go unnoticed.
“When she belongs to an organization she doesn’t just pay her dues, gets her name on a roster and then never shows up to meetings. She gets involved. She gets way involved,” Lansford said to laughs from the crowd.
Schmitt reiterated that she was honored to receive the award.
Homeless nonprofit recognized
St. Vincent DePaul Society also received the non-for-profit award of the night.
Presenter Julie Ramza said many in the community may not be familiar with their work, but they’ve operated in the community for five years and work to assist the homeless in the area.
The organization, which was started by members of St. Michael’s parish, is staffed by volunteers to address the immediate needs of the homeless as well as redirect them to other agencies for long-term care.
The organization gives rides and provides meals to those in financial crisis regardless of religious affiliation and operates on donations both monetary and otherwise including used furniture. During 2017, the society provided $40,000 in financial aid and more in meals and rides.
President Robert Gubbels received the award and thanked the community for their support thus far.
“Our operation continues to grow because the need continues to grow,” Gubbels said.
He added the organization is looking into ways they can give tools and motivation to those in poverty to overcome their situation.
“So instead of taking hands outs they’ll be able to hand themselves up,” Gubbels said. “We’re hoping to get that accomplished shortly.”
Other award winners
• Streator Fire Lt. Bryan Park and Marcia Kolojay for community action.
• Dr. Glen Ricca for professional/business.
• Manager Rachel Rapson on behalf of Streator Eagle 6 for entertainment/restaurant.
• Owner Emily Overy on behalf of Flowers Plus for retail/wholesale.
• Emily Overy as an Outstanding Young Leader.
• Dustin Muntz as an Outstanding Young Leader.
• Beau Doty as an Outstanding Young Leader.
• Jennifer Bunker as an Outstanding Young Leader.
• Ryan McGuckin as an Outstanding Young Leader.