Seven Southern Maryland Residents Honored for Service to Others

LA PLATA, Md. (April 30, 2008)—Seven southern Maryland residents were honored with awards during the first Human Spirit and Enduring Spirit awards ceremony, held today in Hughesville.

Sue DelaCruz of Waldorf, Megan Shaw of Lusby, and Helen Wernecke of Leonardtown each received a Human Spirit Award for their efforts in saving the lives of others.

Sue DelaCruz, vice principal of Benjamin Stoddert Middle School, was honored for helping to save the lives of Lee Ann Lawson, of Mechanicsville, and her 2-month-old son in December 2006. Lawson lost control of her car and ended up in Post Office Lake in Waldorf. The vehicle was floating away from the shore and starting to sink within minutes. DelaCruz was able to swim out to the vehicle and take the infant from the mother inside the sinking vehicle before other rescuers were able to arrive. No one was injured.

Dowell Elementary School third-grader Shaw was recognized for saving the life of a fellow student and friend who had fallen through thin ice in a creek near Solomons. After the boy fell into the water, he became pinned against the pier. Shaw was able to grab his arm and keep his head above water as she called for help, which ultimately came in time to ensure a happy ending.

Wernecke donated one of her two kidneys to a fellow church member in-need, Michael Pipkin. Pipkin reportedly was having a difficult time finding a suitable donor before Wernecke stepped up to help.

John Bloom of Indian Head, Dick Gregory of La Plata, Wardell Swann of Hughesville, and Mike Whitson of Mechanicsville were honored with Enduring Spirit Awards for their ongoing efforts to assist others in need and for their service to their communities.

Swann, due to an infection, lost both of his legs and nine of his fingers. He was recognized for his perseverance and positive outlook in spite of his physical misfortune.

Whitson was honored for 22 years of intense community service. Over the years he served on numerous county commissions. He also served in many non-profit organizations such as Sotterley Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission, Board of Directors for Alternatives for Youth and Families, Maryland State Transportation Authority, and Chopticon High School Band Boosters.

A group of Southern Maryland citizens have collaborated to present the awards, which will be presented on an annual basis.

The committee is composed of Karen Acton, group president and publisher of Southern Maryland Newspapers; Brad Gottfried, president of the College of Southern Maryland; Joe Slater, president and chief executive officer of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO); Wayne Clark, executive director of the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland, and the three current or past United Way presidents, Kelly Chambers, Dottie Harper and Ellen Servetnick.

Gottfried noted that the awards are a "grass roots" effort fostered by the individuals, not the organizations for which they work. Gottfried had started a similar program when he was the president of the Sussex County Community College in New Jersey.

Gottfried said the incentive for starting the awards was the realization that there are many local citizens who deserve to be honored for their outstanding accomplishments, yet were overlooked by the established awards and recognition programs.

In addition to focusing the spotlight on local citizens who have done remarkable things, Gottfried said the awards also allow people who were helped by the honoree to have a chance to tell their side of the story and express their appreciation.

"Individuals who have been affected typically have no way of saying thanks," said Gottfried.

Previous awards ceremonies in New Jersey proved to be very emotional experiences. Speaking of one ceremony, Gottfried noted, "We had to put boxes of tissues around the auditorium because it was a moving event."

The ceremony was held in the SMECO headquarters auditorium, 15035 Burnt Store Road, Hughesville. According to Gottfried, SMECO is the only corporate sponsor for the awards this year.

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