The Panther Valley Irish-American Association continued a tradition it has upheld for the past 63 years on Wednesday night, celebrating its Irish heritage with families and friends at a banquet held in The Grand Ballroom of Kelly's Irish Pub, Lansford.

Tom McCarroll Sr., Tamaqua, was the guest of honor, receiving the Shamrock Award from association President William O'Gurek Jr., Summit Hill.

The association, started back in 1948, celebrates its ancestry every year on St. Patrick's Day. McCarroll became the 50th person to receive the Shamrock Award, which was first presented at the 1962 banquet to the late Col. Frank McCartney of Lansford, who then was head of the Pennsylvania State Police.

The association recognized the 57-year-old's longtime involvement in the Tamaqua community, including athletic concerns and the fire service. It also extolled the cancer survivor's ongoing role in raising funds for the Carbon-Tamaqua Unit of the American Cancer Society since he was diagnosed with the illness in 1999.

In his welcoming remarks, O'Gurek said the night was a time "to join us in our excitement about another year of celebrating our Irish heritage and culture. Each year, we gather together to honor and celebrate those who have gone before us, our relatives and ancestors who worked hard for their families, their hometowns and their country."

In presenting the award to McCarroll, O'Gurek said, "He's had hurdles he had to clear in his life. The Shamrock Award is a way for us in the community to say thank you to Tommy for all of the hard work he has done on behalf of his community ... hopefully, tonight is an enjoyable evening for you and your family and we at the PVIAA are proud to have you as our 'Irishman of the Year.'"

Saying he was surprised to receive the award, McCarroll noted, "One thing I learned over the years is to always expect the unexpected."

He went on to say how he battled cancer for 11 years, saying it was "only possible with the support of family and friends."

McCarroll added, "Any awards or accolades in your life are nice, but they are only nice if you have someone to share them with. That's where my Luck of the Irish kicks in. I have great friends. I can always count on my wonderful family ... They are the best."

Guest speaker

The guest speaker was Rep. Jerry Knowles of Tamaqua, who first paid tribute to former Shamrock Award winner and Pa. Speaker of the House Keith R. McCall of Summit Hill. Knowles thanked McCall for overseeing his swearing-in ceremony in the House nine months ago, saying it "was the nicest swearing-in program that anyone had," and also heaped praise on McCall for his service to the 122nd Legislative District and the people of Pennsylvania.

In his message, the state representative said his "mother and father would be very proud; they would say I finally made it to the big time." He said his parents always stressed, "The important things in our lives as Irishmen are faith, family, country and our heritage."

Knowles recalled the excitement and pride his parents had when Irish-Catholic John F. Kennedy was elected President of the U.S., and then, how sad they were when JFK was killed, stressing the pride they as Irish Catholics had in their own people.

"This is what was important to them, so I'm sure they would be very proud tonight to hear their son speak at an affair such as this," he said.

Speaking about McCarroll, Knowles said, "I have known Tommy as long as I can remember. He is a guy who everyone knows will do what he could for people." He praised McCarroll for being a volunteer coach, firefighter and fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

"He shows up at the telethon every year with a check for $2,000-$3,000," Knowles pointed out. "He has given us tens of thousands of dollars that he raised through the East End Fire Company each year."

Using the letters in McCarroll's name, Knowles continued, "T.O.M., a tough ordinary man … who grew up to be such a great guy who helped so many people."

The speaker closed with the Irish saying, "May those who love us, love us, and for those who don't love us, may God turn their hearts, and if He doesn't turn their hearts, may He turn their ankle, so we'll know them by their limping."

About the honoree

Since his days as a three-sport athlete at Tamaqua Area High School, McCarroll has always been involved in athletics, as well as the Tamaqua fire service.

At TAHS, he was a member of the Blue Raiders' 1970 Hughie McGeehan League baseball champions, graduating that year, as well as two years later from Thaddeus Stevens Trade School.

He coached in the Tamaqua Little League for 26 years (1973-99), in the Tamaqua Knee-Hi program, and is a former assistant baseball coach at Tamaqua and Marian high schools.

McCarroll is a former president of the Tamaqua Softball League, and played the sport from the time he got out of school until three years ago.

He is a member of the East End Fire Company, Tamaqua, where he heads the House Committee. He also belongs to the West Penn Rod and Gun Club, Tamaqua American Legion, Schuylkill County Notre Dame Club and St. Jerome Catholic Church, Tamaqua.

The honoree is also a former president of the Anthracite Notre Dame Club and PVIAA; former vice president of the Tamaqua Pool League and the East End Fire Company; and a past president of Local 1808, United Garment Workers.

Through the East End Fire Company, he has been involved in helping to raise thousands of dollars for ACS. In fact, in 2008, the unit presented McCarroll the "Cancer Fighters Award" for raising and bringing cancer awareness to the forefront.

After not working for more than 10 years because of the illness, McCarroll only recently returned to work at Majestic Fire Apparel, Lehighton.

He is a son of Rose Marie (Tracy) McCarroll of Tamaqua and the late John McCarroll, and is married to the former Michelle Rother, daughter of Joan Rother of Tamaqua and the late Frank Rother.

Tom is one of 10 children. His siblings include: Jerome, Clem, Mark and Sharon Goho, all of Tamaqua; Rose, wife of Paul Warner, Linda, wife of Steve Naylor, and Frank, all of West Penn Township; Jim of Cresco; and John, deceased.

In addition to sons Tom of Mahoning Valley, Tim, at home, and Dustin, serving with the Air Force in Germany; he has a daughter Kristen, at home; and two stepsons, Rick Kunkel in California and Adam Kunkel of Beaver Meadows.

In addition to O'Gurek, 2010 officers of the association are Daniel McAndrew, Summit Hill, first vice president; Tim Hoben, Coaldale, second vice president; Tim Kurchak, Lansford, third vice president; John Tracy, Tamaqua, secretary; Robert Ames, Coaldale, treasurer; and Tim Sweeney, Coaldale, sergeant-at-arms.

The honoree's son Tom served as master of ceremonies. McCarroll also received Senate and House proclamations from McCall and Knowles. Entertainment was provided by folk guitarists and singers Pat and Shane McGeehan.

The Revs. Ken Medve and James Burdess asked the invocation and benediction, respectively.