This is my favorite column of the year.
This is when I get to write about a subject near and dear to my heart.
We are talking about the 2016 Distinguished Citizen and Distinguished Service Awards for the Willoughby area, presented by the Willoughby Rotary Club.
The winners this year (a little drum roll here, please) are Eric Barbe and the Lake County Blue Coats, Inc.
Our committee of eight selected them overwhelmingly as being greatly deserving. The awards will be presented at a luncheon meeting Jan. 25, at Pine Ridge Country Club in Wickliffe.
Please note the location — Pine Ridge. Some faulty information was sent out online last week. My advice is, don’t believe everything you read online. But I digress.
The meeting is open to the public. Tickets are $20 each, same as in previous years, and we ask you to make your reservations in advance so we can get an accurate head count.
Members of the Rotary Club will be there en masse, but many people will want to attend who are not Rotarians, and we welcome them.
Those folks should call the Merhar Nationwide Insurance Agency at 440-946-2040 and ask for Stephanie. Reservations in advance are necessary to avoid a line at the door.
Please just have your check (or a $20 bill) in hand when you arrive.
If you are not already aware of it, the food at Pine Ridge is spectacular. Every meal served is gourmet quality. But please be there by 11:30 a.m. so we can dispense with the luncheon and get on with the program so you can leave by 1 p.m.
Eric Barbe runs the once family-owned business, Euclid Precision Grinding, in Willoughby. He bought out his parents many years ago. He is not only a smart and capable businessman, but he gives so much of his time to community activities that frankly I don’t know how he does it.
He is a past president of the Chamber of Commerce, has chaired many Valentine’s Day meetings for the Rotary Club (he is the only chairman I am aware of since the programs began) and serves on some key committee assignments for the Fine Arts Association.
His community service is no accident. What Eric does is done willingly and with enthusiasm. Anyone who gets up as early in the morning as he does for a Fine Arts committee meeting must enjoy the work.
He served on the development committee but has been moved up to a committee that will make even more use of his talents and abilities.
But he does most of his volunteer work for the city. He was appointed the three-member Civil Service Commission several years when Bob Riggin moved to Willoughby Hills and thus had to resign.
And he has served as chairman since Dan Hart permanently moved to Florida.
So if you wonder why Willoughby has such outstanding safety forces, you can thank Eric and his two fellow Civil Service members. They hire them — or at least, they recommend them to Mayor Dave Anderson.
Before he was Civil Service chairman, he served six years on the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Eric formerly served as president of the Heart of Willoughby and is on the business advisory committee for the Willoughby-Eastlake Schools.
He has served for 12 years on the Lake County Work Force Investment Board, serving as past president and executive committee member.
You can see how he just naturally gravitates to these boards and organizations that perform such vital public services.
As a digression, I would like to tell you two things about Eric’s father-in-law, John Pogacnik. I have known John for a long time.
No. 1, he hits a tennis ball harder than any player I have played against. No. 2, if I am ever in an alley fight, I want him on my side.
I seriously doubt if he ever indulges in such foolish endeavors, but you get my point. If you ever knew him or saw him, you would know what I mean.
Next week I will tell you the second half of the story, about the Lake County Bluecoats and the Distinguished Civic Organization award.
Stay tuned — it is an equally compelling topic, as well as an award richly deserved.