Optimists honor Royal Oak, Berkley students for achievements

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published November 23, 2016

 Royal Oak Optimist Club President Dawne Ripinski congratulates Royal Oak High School award recipient Emily VanHaitsma during the 2016 Youth Appreciation Awards Breakfast Nov. 16. Optimist of the Year Paula Messner stands behind them.

Royal Oak Optimist Club President Dawne Ripinski congratulates Royal Oak High School award recipient Emily VanHaitsma during the 2016 Youth Appreciation Awards Breakfast Nov. 16. Optimist of the Year Paula Messner stands behind them.

Photo by Deb Jacques


ROYAL OAK — A group of students were recognized last week for their dedication to their schools and communities.

“They care where they grew up, and they care about their communities,” said Optimist Club member Ilene Harmon. “You don’t always see that in a high school student.”

Students from Shrine, Royal Oak and Berkley high schools were honored by the Royal Oak Optimist Club Nov. 16 during the organization’s 2016 Youth Appreciation Awards Breakfast at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oakland and Macomb Counties in Royal Oak.

Harmon said that the awards are given to four students from each building who are chosen by the school’s counseling staff.

“A lot of these kids were academically ahead of the game, but a lot of the times, it is not necessarily about that,” she said.

The Shrine High School students honored were Ellen Cook, Molly Wagner, Josef Mehall and Cameron Eckert.

“It’s just an honor, really,” Eckert said. “I got called down to the office one day, and you think, ‘Oh no, this must be bad,’ and I was told about the award, and it was just a great honor to receive it.

“We all do great things and it finally pays off.”

Optimist Rick Bremer spoke about Eckert and his academic and athletic accolades, including earning All-Catholic honors for baseball and being chosen as a finalist for the Dave Barber sportsmanship award in his hometown of Berkley. He also plays varsity hockey and football.

The Berkley High School students honored were Jolie Stocki, Jonathan Cher, Benjamin Glass and Michael Lyons.

Cher currently is taking advanced math in college.

“I am taking Calc 3 right now at Wayne State University because I wanted to pursue math at the higher level,” he said.

Cher is concertmaster of the school orchestra, where he is first-chair violin.

The Royal Oak High School students honored during the event included Patrick Fegan, Emma McNorton, Emily VanHaitsma and Mackenzie Blackwell.

Optimist Club Member Cas Swastek said that he has known Blackwell since she was a child.

He told a story that when Blackwell was a young child, he asked her how many holes are in her socks. He expected her to fall for the trick question and say none.

But he said that her response was, “One. How else do you think I get my feet in?”

“The point being that Mckenzie was so smart at 10 years or so that I could not get one over on her,” Swistak said. “Her … resume shows how great she is and what a great girl she is.”

In addition to all of her community service projects and academic accolades, Blackwell is the school mascot.

McNorton said she was thrilled to be recognized.

“I’m honored to even be chosen for this. There are so many other great people at my school and around us,” she said.

The entire group of honorees had long lists of accolades, including National Honor Society, Honor Roll, AP honors classes, varsity sports captaincies, triple-digit community service hours, theater, band and orchestra, Interact Club and taking international relief trips.

They have applied to colleges including the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Albion College, Grand Valley State University and the College of William and Mary.

Stocki scored in the top 1 percent nationally in the PSAT and SAT. She just completed her first interview with Harvard.
Many of the students also have jobs along with their academic and community service endeavors.

Optimist member Sam McKnight told a story about how he was talking to a friend about Mehall’s football accolades, and his friend added that Mehall might be a good football player, but he is really good at detailing cars.

Yes, the high school student is the owner of Josef’s Detailing.

“He has been an entrepreneur for the last three years at Josef’s Detailing, and I suspect he was probably an entrepreneur in other things before that, and that’s the direction of Josef’s future,” McKnight said.

McKnight said that when he asked the young man what type of business owner he would like to be, Mehall replied, “The kind that brings honesty and integrity and value to its community.”

During the recognition event, the students thanked their counselors and their parents.

McNorton thanked her parents for teaching her to be strong, motivated and caring.

“I couldn’t have asked for better parents,” she said.

Cher said he can’t thank his parents enough.

“They have given me everything,” he said.

Fegan said his mother got up to go to work the morning of the event at 4 a.m. and still managed to be there cheering him on.

All students received a $25 gift card, a plaque with the Optimist Creed and an award of recognition.

The Royal Oak Optimist Club also gives back to the community through activities like Salvation Army bell ringing, biannual cleanup of 11 Mile Road, Give-A-Christmas, the Safety on Wheels helmet program and cleaning Optimist Park.

To learn more, visit royaloakoptimists.org.