Optimists celebrate community’s ‘unsung heroes’

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 7, 2013

In its search for “champions,” the Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores is honoring community members and students who exemplify the qualities found in a “champion” — talent, courage and tenacity.

Six citizens and more than a dozen students are being recognized at the 15th annual Champions Banquet May 8 at Blossom Heath Inn. Optimist board member and secretary Kathy Rayner said the board selects about a half-dozen citizens to be recognized each year. She said they are the “unsung heroes” of the community.

“When some of these are nominated, I never knew what … they have done,” she said. “It’s just amazing, and when you start talking to more people, the other people out there, it’s like, ‘We’ve got to remember them for next year.’

“They don’t let other people know what they do.”

The Optimists’ mission, Rayner said, is to make a positive difference in the lives of youth and the community. Those being honored at the banquet do just that, she said.

Miss Michigan — who is the former Miss St. Clair Shores — Angela Venditti is being honored for her work with CARE of Southeastern Michigan to combat teen drug abuse. Patricia and Raymond Blashill are being recognized for their many hours of service volunteering with the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team (MCREST), the Angel Food Ministry and Habitat for Humanity. The club selected Danny Walker Jr., the owner of the Boat Works Bar and Grill, for his generous donations to the community, including $19,000 raised for the families of Lake Shore students killed by a drunken driver in 2009.

Randy Pullin, of the Shorewood Kiwanis, is being thanked for his volunteer hours with the Kiwanis, the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, the St. Clair Shores Cops for Kids Program and the Goodfellows. And Vincent Marino is being recognized for his work creating the Parkinson’s Kids Fun Run to raise awareness of the disease.

Optimist President Debbie DePape said those being honored have gone “above and beyond for the community.”

Walker, for instance, has helped many student organizations and schools raise money through fundraisers at his restaurants, she said, and Raymond Blashill has worked for decades with Habitat for Humanity.

“That’s the type of person that we’re looking for,” DePape said. “It’s usually somebody people have never heard of.

“This is one time of year when we can share the good things people are doing and also recognize students.”

To that end, the evening is also a time for the club to give away eight $2,000 Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores Scholarships, as well as Sportsmanship and “Only the Best” awards to high school students, and a new honor this year, the Youth Leadership award, for a student in grade 6-12.

DePape said the scholarships go to students who have turned their lives around.

“We’re not giving scholarships to the students who are already at the top of their class,” she said. “We’ve had kids that, they’re actually the first generation of a family to graduate high school.”

The students being honored, she said, overcame academic or family problems and are still graduating on time.

“We don’t give it for the grades,” Rayner said. “We just want to give them a little extra boost (to say), ‘We’re applauding you. Just keep going.’”