Mauch Chunk Trust Company honored four outstanding volunteers at the 12th annual Community Heroes Award Banquet Wednesday at the Mahoning Valley Country Club.
Patrick H. Reilly, president and CEO of Mauch Chunk Trust Company who presented the awards, welcomed the present and 34 past heroes to the banquet, stating that the Community Heroes program was begun by Mauch Chunk Trust Company to honor people for their commitment and dedication to their communities. He hopes that the Community Heroes program encourages more people to become involved in their community in the future.
A selection committee narrowed the field from a list of 50 nominees to the four honorees – George H. Duell Jr. of Palmerton, Otto Barbush of Weatherly, Geraldine "Geri" Haas of Lehighton and Wayne Wentz of Franklin Township.
After his retirement, Duell looked for ways to give back to his community and his country and stepped up his volunteer efforts. Having served in the armed forces, from which he retired as an Army Colonel, he worked with veterans and their families.
In 2002, Duell accepted the volunteer position of Pennsylvania State Chairman for the Department of Defense's Employee Support of the Guard and Reserves (ESGR). This organization works to preserve jobs of all Reserve and National Guard members who are called to active duty so that when they come home from duty, they still have employment.
Duell has also volunteered as a speaker for many veterans' events, and assisted with many other veteran-related projects. He also took part in the "Walk in Our Shoes" project, which provided nearly 12,000 shoes for needy people in the United States and overseas.
Duell began his acceptance speech by thanking Mauch Chunk Trust for recognizing volunteers and his wife, Peggy, for supporting his efforts.
"The spirit of volunteerism is important," said Duell.
Duell said his best reward came when he was able to encourage a veteran to seek help.
"The man said I helped save his life," Duell said.
A volunteer for 60 years, Barbush often gives free haircuts to the needy, and has been involved in Weatherly Community Chest, taught "55 Alive Driving Course for AARP," Hazelton Red Cross, Weatherly Ambulance, American Cancer Society and Weatherly Little League, and various church activities.
Barbush, a cancer survivor, started a cancer support group to encourage others. He admitted being a "worker not a talker," but did share his thoughts on how important it was to support cancer patients through their treatment.
Haas has also been volunteering for most of her life, including a 50-year involvement in Girl Scouting, Meals on Wheels, Lehighton Festival, Red Cross Bloodmobile, and has been a grand marshal of the Lehighton Halloween Parade.
Haas said that she loves to volunteer and even wanted to help serve the food when Mauch Chunk Bank honored the recipients at a luncheon.
"I'm flabbergasted to be honored," she said.
Wentz, a volunteer for 35 years, began his volunteering career as a Cub Scout. Along with the many hours spent as president of the Franklin Township Little League, which serves as many as 500 children per season, he has also recently busied himself with the "Free Summer Lunch Program" at Zion United Church of Christ, which helps needy children.
He has also recently been involved in various veterans' programs and helped coordinate annual baseball games to benefit sick children.
Wentz said that his entire family was at the banquet and recognized his wife, Sharon, as being a great supporter.
"Thank you for providing this program," said Wentz. "This was quite an honor to receive this award."
Each of the honorees was presented a plaque and the opportunity to have $100 donated to a charity of their choice. Duell selected the Palmerton Area Veterans Memorial, Barbush gave his donation to the Carbon County/Tamaqua and Hazleton Units of the American Cancer Society, Haas selected Child Evangelism of Carbon and Lehigh counties, and Wentz donated his $100 to the March of Dimes.