Once again it is the time when many people in the Brockway area have begun to think about the possible choices for “Man and Woman of the Year.” To be eligible, the individuals must be residents of the Brockway community, which includes the borough and all the outlying townships included within the Brockway School District. The honoree must display community-wide interests and contributions to family, church and the public. They also need to be the nice, likable kind of people that their neighbors will enjoy honoring.
This year, on the evening of Saturday, January 26th, there will be several hundred people from this community gathered in the Brockway High School cafeteria at 6:30 when the festivities begin and the mystery will start to unfold. After some brief introductions, a full dinner of roast beef and chicken breasts with all the trimmings will be prepared by Fremer’s Catering and served by high school students from this year’s confirmation class out of St. Tobias Roman Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, in order to keep the secret from the honorees and the rest of the world, family members and special friends are slipped quietly into the band room across the hall for their own private dinners while the two unsuspecting recipients sit in the main dining room, just looking around and speculating as to who will be chosen this year. It has also become a tradition for dinner music in song and verse to be provided by the Village Voices of Brockway under the direction of Betsy Bond Dallaire. This group has come to represent the community throughout the year in a variety of events.
When the food has all disappeared from the dinner plates and the musical entertainment has finished, the secrets will begin to be revealed. Points from the two life stories will be read aloud, leading from a point where it could be almost anyone in the room ... down to the place where only one person could possibly be the one. We expect everyone to be totally surprised when their name is read. These are all very humble people who do their community service with no expectation for reward.
For quite a few years, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on the committee that pulls this event all together. We have learned to be pretty sneaky in getting together biographical information from families and friends without the recipient catching on. Over the years, we’ve been able to surprise almost everyone, although a few have become a little suspicious as the night of the dinner approached. A few have claimed later, “Oh! I knew all along!” but they probably didn’t. The burden has rested upon the spouse or other family members who have had to choose their words very cautiously for several weeks as they wait for release of tensions after the dinner.
As names are passed to the committee for consideration, I am often surprised to see names of people that I know personally and consider to be “good people,” but I never suspected that they have been doing such “special” things for people in the community, around their church, and with their family. I have known them to be nice friendly people but that’s all. As the discussion proceeds within our committee, I find out a lot of things that I would never have guessed about them, and then my impression grows as I write their life stories for the paper.
The “Citizens of the Year Dinner” originated with a committee from the Brockway Borough Council and has continued on for about 40 years with Marilyn Becker as the first woman mostly as a result of her work with the Brockway Ambulance Service. She doesn’t ride the ambulance any more, or even dispatch it on calls; but she does still provide organ music at the Presbyterian Church on most Sunday mornings. A lot of people have slipped away without recognition. There have been a lot of memorable teachers, coaches, preachers, and community leaders – all candidates for honor. Thirteen of the past male recipients and sixteen of the woman are still around. Many of them will be in attendance on Saturday night.
This year of honor and recognition is just about over for the honorees from last January: Cheryl Anderson DeSantis and Bob Preston. Preston was chosen for his volunteer work with conservation, the American Legion and at St. Tobias Church. DeSantis continues to be very involved with the programs of the Moorhead United Methodist Church and more than 30 many years directing student and teacher traffic in the office of the Brockway Elementary School. Cheryl had inherited a seat on the committee when her mother Shirley Anderson retired from active participation because of health problems.
After a number of years working with the committee, Cheryl just happened to have an out-of-town doctor’s appointment when the planning session for last year was held; so she was left somewhat in the dark. And we were careful to keep it that way since the rest of us had decided it would be her turn for honor. I’m not sure what other committee members told her later but, when I was questioned while setting tables the morning of the dinner, I turned to my poor memory and declared that I couldn’t recall which woman was being honored. Later Cheryl commented that, “I did think it was really odd that Jim Grant didn’t remember ... and that Rev. Baxter was equally in the dark, too!”
Each January as the time draws nearer, we watch the weather forecast and worry although we acknowledge that we have no control over snow or ice, nor over winds and cold temperatures. Every year some people have suggested that we schedule this dinner and program in the wrong season. In the fall of 2004, the committee decided to wait until warm weather in the spring of 2005 ... but it never happened and there were no recipients because we couldn’t find a time that would work to do it. The conclusion was that a January winter evening works best since there isn’t anything else we can do.
Who will be honored this coming weekend? Which families are in major turmoil as they struggle to talk among themselves but still keep the secret? Tickets are still available for Saturday night at the Brockway Borough Building or the Ferraro Law Offices. It you don’t go, when you read the reports in next week’s Tri-County Sunday newspaper, many of you will say, “I SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!”