State Rep. Jerry Knowles was the toast of the town on Thursday night in Lansford, where the Panther Valley Irish-American Association officially dubbed him as "Irishman of the Year."
He was presented with the annual Shamrock Award during the 64th Annual Banquet held at The Grand Ballroom of Kelly's Irish Pub, Lansford.
Knowles, who was elected to the General Assembly in 2009 and previously held the positions of Tamaqua councilman and mayor and Schuylkill County Commissioner, was praised not only for his public service, but for numerous voluntary roles he has held throughout the community, most especially as a master of ceremonies for the annual telethons of the Carbon-Tamaqua Unit of the American Cancer Society.
In fact, the guest speaker for the evening, Joe Krushinsky, who has been the co-emcee of the telethon with Knowles for numerous years, and is currently the chief development officer for Maryland Public Television, extolled the guest of honor's "behind the scenes" contributions to the region, as opposed to his public life.
"I can't tell you how much I appreciate this," said the assemblyman after Daniel McAndrew of Summit Hill, PVIAA president, presented him the award, a walnut plaque that bears the status of St. Patrick. "I want to thank the association from the bottom of my heart. This is something I'll never forget."
In presenting the award, McAndrew pointed out the PVIAA "is proud and honored to recognize a great man for his contributions" to the area.
Krushinsky, meanwhile, spoke eloquently about Knowles' public career in elective office, as well as a stint in which Knowles served as special projects director for then state Rep. David Argall, his predecessor.
"Those (positions) are all very nice," the speaker suggested, but he later turned to Knowles' involvement in the community as a former businessman, fireman and cancer society volunteer.
"You learn the measure of a man not by his public career, but you learn about him based on what he does when no one can see, or when no one is watching," he said.
Krushinsky provided stories about Knowles' demeanor in supporting people in difficult times or in stressful situations, adding,
"The status of your honoree is not what he does in public life, but the way he is worthy (of receiving the Shamrock Award) is the way he does things when no one is watching," he said.
A son of the late James and Emily (Ward) Knowles of Tamaqua, both of Irish heritage, the state representative took the time to thank his family, most especially his wife, the former Lorraine David of McAdoo, and the couple's two sons, Shane and Patrick.
He spoke proudly about growing up in an Irish Catholic household in Tamaqua, in which family and friends often lived in the same house in crowded conditions, saying the situation lent itself to "togetherness."
Knowles said, "My mom and dad would be so proud. We were lucky to have the parents we did. It would have been nice if they could be here, but I'm sure they are watching in Heaven. They were proud of all of the Knowles kids."
The guest of honor took time to acknowledge elected officials who attended, volunteers for the cancer society and most especially four priests who attended the event, the Revs. William Linkchorst, Kenneth Medve, James Bechtel and James Burdess, the latter two having asked the invocation and pronounced the benediction, respectively. Citing the challenging tasks before priests today, Knowles said their jobs "are the toughest" of all.
Taking turns at the podium presenting Knowles awards were Sen. Argall, Rep. Doyle Heffley and Robert Ames, who presented the honoree an award from the Schuylkill County Board of Commissioners.
The master of ceremonies was Billy O'Gurek Jr. of Summit Hill, the PVIAA's immediate past president. O'Gurek said Knowles has "been the same good person" through decades of different positions, both public and private.
The master of ceremonies also heaped praise on the host and hostess of the night, Barney and Kelly Sheridan, owners of Kelly's Irish Pub. Citing their recent fifth anniversary in business, O'Gurek said, "They have been great for Lansford, great for our community, and we want to thank them and wish them well."
Entertainment for the evening was presented before dinner and during the program by the father-son folk duo of Pat and Shane McGeehan of Summit Hill.
In addition to McAndrew, serving as 2011 officers of the association are Tim Hoben, Coaldale, first vice president; Tim Kurchak, Lansford, second vice president; Tommy McCarroll, Mahoning Township, third vice president; John Tracy, Tamaqua, secretary; Ames, Coaldale, treasurer; and Tim Sweeney, Coaldale, sergeant-at-arms.