Kiwanian Matt Ryerson, United Way president and CEO, acted as master of ceremonies for the night.
“One of our greatest members, Harlan White, was an extraordinary Kiwanian, but more importantly, Harlan was an extraordinary citizen of this community,” Ryerson said. “We lost Harlan a few years ago. He is in a much better place and we continue to celebrate him and celebrate his memory and the work he did in our community ...”
The club has honored White’s memory through an annual luncheon. One award was given each year for the citizen of the year. Chris Newton, club president, said the decision was made to add to the number of awards. Each award was designed to highlight a particular attribute White displayed throughout his life.
The awards include: the Youth Leadership award, the Service to Youth award, the Patriotism award, the Horizon award, the “Golden Rule” award, the President’s Community Hero award, the Humanitarian of the Year award and the Harlan White Citizen of the Year award.
Newton presented a picture of the man the award is named after.
“Harlan would be proud of this winner. He would be absolutely giddy. Any of us who had an opportunity to sit down with Harlan would recognize he was such an inquisitive person. He always wanted to know how you were or about your business or your family or things you’ve experienced. All those types of things you probably don’t make time for anymore. He wanted to know about you,” Newton said. “... Harlan was always quiet when he went about his business, but on the election commission he stood by what is right is right, and what is wrong is wrong.”
Continued Newton, “... Harlan was a unique individual. Some of our younger members who did not get a chance to meet Harlan — you just don’t know what you missed.”
According to the award description, the Citizen of the Year must represent the core values of who White was. They must have civic involvement, promote patriotism and citizenship, have a firm foundation of faith and represent high business and professional standards.
Judge Andrew Bennett was chosen as this year’s Harlan White Citizen of the Year award winner.
The person who nominated him said, “He is an institution within the legal community in Bradley County and southeast Tennessee ... He used wisdom, firmness and compassion. He can explain the law with simplicity and dispensed justice without fear or favor ...”
Bennett accepted the award to a standing ovation before saying he did not know why he was getting the award. In his words, “I appreciate it very much. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done.”
Almost all of the award winners were surprised at the recognition.
Each presenter explained the award before going into a short biography of the recipient. The presentations ended with the recipient’s name and much applause. More than once, the award winners’ faces froze as they realized they were being honored.
John Dixon’s son grabbed his arm and excitedly whispered, “That’s you,” as Dixon’s biography was read for the Service to Youth award.
Dixon’s acts of service include years of coaching middle, high school and youth sports, acting as a motivational speaker and serving in Hospice Care.
Suzanne Wood, Cleveland State Community College associate professor, also received the Service to Youth award. Wood was recognized for her work with children and Dr. Seuss Day. More than 700 hardback books were given out to community children at this year’s annual event.
Brenda Lawson, local philanthropist and businesswoman, turned the recognition back on her employees. When she received the Humanitarian of the Year award, Lawson said, “This is for them (employees).”
Meeri Shin, Youth Leadership award recipient, was at her high school graduation during the dinner. She made a video thanking the Kiwanis Club for their support through scholarships and her Walker Valley High School’s Key Club.
Teresa Curvin, active community volunteer, audibly gasped when she was recognized for the “Golden Rule” award.
“I thank you guys so much, I had no idea,” Curvin said. “I just want to say, the reason I do what I do is because it is very important for me to be the hands and feet of God.”
Oscar Kelly, recipient of the Patriotism award, was recognized as, “a genuine role model. He has served our country honorably in the military and throughout his entire life. Service is a calling and he is truly an unsung hero to our community.”
He shared a few words about White during his acceptance speech.
“I really appreciate this award. Personally, Harlan was one of the greatest, best friends I have ever had,” Kelly said. I worked for Harlan for 11 years ... One thing people ask me is why did you stay such friends with Harlan? And I told them, because we never talked politics ...”
The Caring Place’s director, Reba Terry, was recognized for her community efforts with the nonprofit organization. She gave her thanks for the President’s Community Hero award and told the audience her involvement with TCP is a “God thing.”
United Way’s Jaynese Wadell was also recognized as the evening’s Horizon award recipient for her work with the Imagination Library. The person who nominated Wadell said, “Jaynese is a firm believer and a great model at such a young age. She has a profound impact on the people around her and represents the saying, ‘Preach Scripture, use words when necessary.’”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and state Rep. Eric Watson were also present for the event.