Citizen of the Year Luncheon

The youngest Unsung Hero Ryan Raper, 5, meets Sue Neill, 93, the oldest honoree, at The Facts’ Citizen of the Year luncheon Tuesday at the Dow Academic Center in Lake Jackson.

Anyone who can sit through The Facts’ annual Citizen of the Year luncheon and not feel inspired is either dead inside or just doesn’t know what being part of a community is about.

We spent more than 90 minutes Tuesday recognizing 13 people who dedicate themselves to making where we live better. The people aren’t randomly selected by us, but nominated by people who see their work that almost always takes place away from the spotlight and believe they deserve some recognition.

Invariably, the honorees don’t think their actions should be praised in public. That’s not why they do it, other people really are the ones who deserve it or both those reasons often are cited by humble recipients.

“I feel very unworthy,” said Sharon McKey, who earned an Unsung Hero honor. “Because there are a lot of really super-duper people out there that deserve it that have never been nominated.”

McKey actually is so super-duper we have honored her twice — Tuesday and back in 2005. During the 15 years in between, McKey just kept giving her time and passion for helping others, making her two-time recognition very deserving.

Scott Leopold of West Columbia is another two-time recipient, this time elevated to Citizen of the Year. His deeds wore cover but certainly not unnoticed. The retired owner of Scott’s Barbecue used to hand free meals out the restaurant’s back door to people who were hungry but couldn’t pay. That represents the everyday acts of kindness for which he is known.

“I have no doubt God hand-picked Pops for this family and this community,” said his son, Chance. “He has touched the lives of so many and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

This year’s event included a pair of milestones, with 5-year-old Ryan Raper the youngest Unsung Hero in our 23 years of presenting the award, and Sue Neill the most senior at 93. Ryan already gives her spare time to helping care for homeless animals, while Neill and Linda Winder are former teachers who were the forces behind the Angleton School History Center.

Other people selected this year include Kay Millsap, who led the organization of “A Night in the Spotlight,” a prom for special needs children and ensures people see the specialness, not the need. Michael Bailey and Dortha Pekar both are history lovers who have been known to dress up to help tell stories of the area’s past. Angie Colbert fostered about 40 children in her own home and didn’t think she had done enough, so opened the Kidz Harbor shelter.

Our honorees work to prevent suicide among military veterans, helped rebuild homes after Harvey and build relationships among police officers, nurture children to learn and be good people, rescue small critters that are unwelcome at most animal shelters and a widow who reminds people to always, “Show Up. Give a Flip. Repeat.”

There are countless communities around our country that are anything but. They are places where people just share a zip code and couldn’t tell you the name of the person living next door.

The people to whom we presented plaques Tuesday are those that make a community by bringing people together, making their lives better through deeds big and small, and always have a smile and a hug to share — whether they’ve known the person forever or just met them.

Telling their stories is why we live by the mantra “Community News Matters.” We don’t see that mission as a job but a privilege.

Take some time Sunday to open up our tribute section to these 13 great spirits that make Brazoria County better.

Michael Morris is managing editor of The Facts. Contact him at 979-237-014 or michael.morris@thefacts.com, or follow him on Twitter @factsmichael1.

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