Story by Lisa Rice
Warwickians who have touched the community in various and important ways and who portray a “We Serve” attitude were honored at the Warwick Lions Club Robert J. Uplinger Awards Ceremony held on Thurs., Apr. 5 at The Landmark Inn in Warwick NY. Receiving the Distinguished Service Award were George “Mr. Warwick” Arnott, the Ahearn Family, and Shirley Puett. This year’s recipient of the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award was 2016 Distinguished Service Awardee Roger Smith.
Uplinger Distinguished Service Award
Each year, winners of this honor are local citizens (Lions Club members and non-members) who provide exemplary service to the community served by the local Lions chapter. Individuals considered for this award are judged on character, ideals, purpose, and service.
Ahearn Family-Brian Ahearn Children’s Fund
“In August of 1998, Jeff and Kathy faced a parent’s worst nightmare; they lost a child, Brian Ahearn, age 14, from brain cancer,” said Jerry Gallagher, who presented the Uplinger Award to Jeff and Kathy Ahearn representing the Brian Ahearn Children’s Fund (BACF).
“At about that very same time, the Warwick Little League was planning for their annual golf outing. The committee decided to give their proceeds to the Ahearns. Jeff said absolutely not. He said that the people of Warwick had already given him so much that he wanted to give them something back. He had another idea. He wanted to start a fund which would help families who might find themselves in similar situations. The BACF was born. Brian remains the spirit behind the fund,” said Gallagher.
In addition to providing assistance to families with ill children, as well as orphaned and homeless children, the Brian Ahearn Children’s Fund (BACF) awards two annual college scholarships to Warwick Valley High School students who overcame hardship and diversity. Jeff and Kathy Ahearn also received proclamations from Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard, Town Councilman James Gerstner and Orange County Legislator Paul Ruszkiewicz.
“I want to thank the Lions and committee for honoring us,” commented Jeff Ahearn. “I don’t feel I deserve it; Kathy feels the same way. We have a lot of people behind us.”
The BACF annual Golf Outing will be held Fri., May 25. So far the organization has raised over one million dollars.
Shirley Puett – Backpack Snack Attack
“You have changed people’s lives. You have helped so many children. I can’t thank you enough,” said Mayor Newhard as he presented a Village proclamation to Shirley Puett, creator of the Backpack Snack Attack program. The program provides healthy, nutritional snacks to children in all of the public schools in Warwick, Florida and Greenwood Lake. The snacks are taken home in Backpacks on Friday to ensure that children have food over the weekend when there is no school-provided breakfast and lunch.
“It’s unfortunate that we have hungry children,” said Ruszkiewicz, who along with Gerstner, also presented Puett with proclamations.
Puett’s longtime friend and colleague, Lenny Singer, asked for audience participation to help convince Shirley Puett how worthy she is of receiving the award and recognition. In the form of questions he provided the following information:
It was Shirley who brought the Backpack Snack Attack program to Pine Island in 2009 and provided 69 children with food the first year.
The program is housed in the Warwick Reformed Church and has no administrative costs. It is run completely by volunteers from the church and community. The Backpack Snack Attack program now serves 300 children per week, all paid through donations and fundraising.
“Shirley reminds us in her quiet way of the big picture,” Singer said. “We continue to provide food to hungry children 40 weeks a school year and that’s what Backpack Snack Attack and Shirley are all about.”
“The first group that we contacted was the Lions Club,” recalled Puett. “The Lions were right there saying yes, we will support you.”
Mr. Warwick – George Arnott
“I’ve known George all my life,” said Mayor Newhard. “And I knew him originally, when I was young and when he was a police officer. As you grow up in a community, you grow to know the people that surround you. In the past year and a half I have grown to know George in a much more rich way and in a more complex way. And as a servant to our community, more than an elected official, I think. And he truly deserves the name Mr. Warwick because he embodies what is good about our community.”
Newhard presented Arnott with a proclamation from the Village and introduced him for his Uplinger Award.
“Do you remember two years ago – we couldn’t say Sesquicentennial, and now it rolls off the tongue,” Jim Gerstner commented, referring to Arnott’s part in the celebration last year. He commended Arnott for being involved in the Warwick Police Department, Bicycle Safety, Driver’s Education, and the Warwick Sesquicentennial celebration before presenting him with a proclamation on behalf of the Town of Warwick.
Newhard later presented Arnott with his Lion’s Club award, asking, how do you celebrate 150 years of a community? He said that Arnott came to the first number of Sesquicentennial Committee meetings and participated. He was the chair of the time capsule committee and the ambassador who brought the mayor and mayoress from Warwick England.
“He’s quite a gentleman and quite a man. I learned what it takes to make a community better and stronger and I thank him for it,” concluded Newhard.
Arnott thanked all the people who assisted him in his Sesquicentennial work, including those seated at his table. “I congratulate the winners: Roger, the Ahearns, Shirley, and myself. Thank you very much.”
Melvin Jones Fellowship Award
Named in honor of the founder of the Lion’s Club International, the Melvin Jones Fellowship is the highest honor and is given in recognition of a commitment to humanitarian work. This year’s recipient was Roger Smith. Smith received proclamations by Mayor Newhard and Councilman Gerstner, who stated that Smith “improved the lives of countless people in the community and has given selflessly.”
“I think you’re a prime example of all the good work that the Lions Club does,” said Legislator Ruszkiewicz.
Fellow Lion Doug Stage, who organized the awards dinner and emceed the ceremony, stated that he “drew the long straw” and was the one who would introduce the honoree. He explained that this, the highest honor in the Lion’s Club, is provided to someone who exhibits commitment to humanitarian qualities, such as generosity, compassion and concern for the less fortunate.
Stage then described how Smith became a member of the Lions, recalling how fellow Lion Stuart Durland asked if Stage thought his brother-in-law might be able to join the Jaycees, which they were part of at the time. He then described Smith as always offering to help out, calling him a dynamo who often says “I’ll be there.” He stated that President John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” described Smith.
“Thank you for all you do for our community, Roger Smith,” concluded Stage as he presented the award.
“Growing up, my parents used to always keep us busy,” said Smith. “We played sports, got involved in different groups that helped our community.”
He told a story of how he wanted to help the community when he moved to Warwick and was inspired to join the Lions by Walter “Wally” Friedlaender during a conversation over cigars. He found himself asking, “They really do all that stuff?” At the end of the conversation Smith asked himself – “WWWD – what would Wally do?” He got an application and got involved.
“There are not many projects that I’m not involved with, but that’s not what it’s all about. The honorees are here because they believe in a cause and love the results of what comes out of that cause. I am here for the same reason,” said Smith.
To learn more about the Warwick Lions Club, visit www.warwicklionsclub.org.