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Jerry Davich: Unveiling our region’s true ‘unsung heroes’

Roger Hayward Gary founder It's Gary's Time Inc. community service group. | Jerry Davich~Sun-Times Media

Roger Hayward of Gary, founder of It's Gary's Time Inc., a community service group. | Jerry Davich~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 29, 2014 6:08AM



The phrase “unsung heroes” can be a misnomer, especially in a hoity-toity ballroom that’s rocking a who’s who list of notable names from across the region.

Yet that was the melodic pitch for Friday night’s third annual “Leaders as Heroes” event at Avalon Manor in Hobart, hosted by the South Shore Leadership Center. The dinner, dance and awards presentation honored 11 finalists by shining a spotlight on “those who are working to better Northwest Indiana’s quality of life,” as it’s billed.

Those finalists were: Rachel Delaney, Demond Ligon, Sr, Angela Nelson Deuitch, Ryan Strode, Colette Weitknecht, James O’Connor, Timothy D. Rice, Beth Sciackitano, John Cain, Ben Clement, and Marty Corley.

Only five of them received top honors – Cain, Nelson Deuitch, Corley, Clement and Strode – bestowed with the recognition they deserve and also custom-made awards reflecting their efforts through the years.

The center used 10 principles for criteria to choose the finalists and final winners, such as engaging, innovative, courageous and ethical, which would automatically rule out several region politicians that come to mind.

Contrary to those shameful black-eyes on the face of our region, another award winner that night could be the poster child for the best we have to offer.

Michael Griffin has served as Highland’s clerk-treasurer for so long (since 1992) that it’s easy to take his surging brilliance for granted. He was presented the center’s new pinnacle Crest Award, which embodies “teacher, historian, mentor, model and leader.”

Griffin, who certainly exemplifies each role, quoted Voltaire in his expectedly modest acceptance speech, but only after first thanking his staff, family and friends. He’s simply a class act in a region of “leaders” that too often mistakes ignorance for arrogance.

As I watched the evening’s formalities unfold, complete with silent auction, loud music and a wedding reception theme, I thought about all the other “unsung heroes” in this region. I’m talking about do-gooders who get little or no attention for their efforts year after years, let alone awards and public recognition.

As one of the finalists told me before the event, “Everyone wants recognition for their efforts, even if they don’t ask for it or seek it out.” So true.

With that in mind, here is my list of unsung champions for Northwest Indiana, who routinely add to our quality of life though they may not be in the right circles for well-publicized fanfare. My criteria isn’t as formal but it comes from the heart.

*Sharron Liggins, director of the Continuum of Care Network of Northwest Indiana, is not only an expert regarding homelessness issues but also a quality person. I’ve known her for many years and whenever I hear of someone who is homeless, I turn to Liggins for help. She never ignores my call or the plight of the homeless. Congrats Sharron.

*Roger Hayward is the founder of “It’s Gary’s Time Inc.,” a community activist organization that works tirelessly with ex-offenders to rehab homes in the city. And also to rehab those ex-offenders’ lives by helping them back into the workforce and society.

“He is constantly in Gary with these men cleaning the streets, helping senior citizens, helping those in need,” said Rebecca Bratcher of Sentinel Offender Services in Crown Point. “I have worked at Lake County Community Corrections for almost five years and he has, on a daily basis, picked up our residents to get them OSHA certified, taken them to church, and has shown them just because you made a mistake you are not worthless.”

“He does it because his heart is with trying to change the lives of men who didn’t have a mentor, father figure or someone to look up to while growing up.” Congrats Roger.

*Carly Petersen of Valparaiso has become a determined advocate for suicide prevention since her 15-year-old daughter, Kelsey, took her life on June 12, 2008.

Kelsey was born with a contagious smile, a chronic laugh and a lingering lust for life. She played the viola, played first base in softball and cheered for Pop Warner sports throughout her all-American upbringing.

This made it even harder for her mother to understand why she put a gun to her right temple and pulled the trigger.

“Instantly I knew she was gone,” explained Carly, who saw her daughter’s head hit her bedroom floor.

Carly has since been involved with the “Out of the Darkness” organization for suicide prevention and awareness, including into our schools. Congrats Carly.

*Paul Sams is the kind of guy who works hard to help others with little recognition. The 69-year-old Chesterton grandfather volunteers at three food pantries, mows lawns for the elderly, drives neighbors to doctor appointments and visits nursing home residents.

“He is a rare breed. He is my hero and my dad,” said his son John Sams of Hobart. “He is a friend to everyone, and has never met a stranger.” Congrats Paul.

*Jessie Oswald is a 13-year-old go-getter from Portage who took on a service learning project at Gabriel’s Horn shelter and continued helping even after her classroom duties ended. She also has volunteered for many other community projects, a rarity for most young teens these days. Congrats Jessie.

*Gail Talley is a life-long Portage humanitarian who hasn’t met a cause she hasn’t helped. Food collection drives, the “500 Turkeys” program, Relay for Life, home renovations for strangers, anonymous donations, you name it.

“Gail is very selfless,” said cousin Beth Toth. “She is truly an unsung hero.”

Congrats Gail, and if I had more space I could describe many more award winners, including Dina Cortez, Lorie Reed, Holly Singh and Carlyle Edwards.

It’s about time we sung your praises, too, and congrats to all of you.



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