A "roasted" and "toasted" Gene Binder – the Panther Valley Irish-American Association's Citizen of the Year for 2012 – was the guest of honor during the association's 65th Annual Dinner Program held last Saturday in The Grand Ballroom of Kelly's Irish Pub in Lansford.
Binder, who was cited for his civic and community involvement, primarily as a Catholic Youth Organization basketball coach for nearly four decades, received the Shamrock Award from PVIAA President Tim Hoben.
"This is first and foremost about family and friends," Binder told the audience of more than 200. "If you focus on family and friends, and on helping others, happiness will find you. That's what has happened to me, happiness has come my way in many ways, and it really impacts your life. I have been blessed for so many years."
The association has held its annual banquet on St. Patty's Day since its inception in 1948, and has presented the Shamrock Award since 1962.
"When I look at the prior recipients, it's an awesome group," said Binder, owner of the Binder Insurance Agency, Nesquehoning. "It hits you because it's a great group of guys (and women). It means you are on the same level as them, and that's a great feeling."
Along with his involvement in youth athletics, Binder has also helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for others, through his efforts with the Marian Dinner Dance Committee, Thomas J. McCall Memorial Scholarship Foundation and the Summit Hill Lions Club.
"The loyalty of Gene reaches out in many directions, from his family to his community and his country. He has had a great impact on all of us," Hoben said.
After a "roast" headed by three speakers – District Judge Edward lewis of Jim Thorpe; Suzan Graf of United Securities, an insurance underwriter with whom Binder has worked for years; and Kevin Binder, the recipient's brother – Binder received a plaque, bearing the statue of St. Patrick, to a standing ovation.
Former Speaker of the House, Keith R. McCall, was the toastmaster for the evening.
"Tonight is a celebration of Irish culture and heritage, by those born in Ireland, and those who wish they were," McCall said. "The Irish have been an incredible influence on this country. On St. Patrick's Day, we learn from the Irish to never give up, and we share their hope and desire for a better tomorrow."
Binder was showered with gifts and congratulatory messages from several people and organizations. Sen. John Yudichak, who represents parts of Carbon County in the Pa. Senate, presented the honoree a proclamation he sponsored in that chamber, as did Rep. Doyle Heffley, the assemblyman from the 122nd Legislative District, who brought well-wishes from the Pa. House.
Commissioners Tom Gerhard and William O'Gurek presented a proclamation adopted by the county board, while O'Gurek read a congratulatory letter from U.S. Sen. Robert Casey.
Chris Henritzy, representing the Catholic Youth Organization on both the District 5 (Carbon-East Schuylkill) and Allentown Diocese levels, presented Binder awards from both groups, including one from Bishop John Barres.
Entertainment for the evening was presented by the Irish folk duo of Pat McGeehan and his son Shane.
The Rev. Francis Schoenauer, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Nesquehoning, asked the invocation while the benediction was pronounced by the Rev. James Burdess, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Summit Hill.
Binder, a son of the late Eugene and Kathleen Binder of Jim Thorpe, is one of six siblings. His immediate family includes Jim, Michael, Dennis, Kevin and Kathy.
The honoree will be wed this year to his fiancee, the former Karen Scaran of Lansford.