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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Willoughby Rotary Club set to honor Blue Coats

By Jim Collins Last week I brought to your attention the many reasons why Eric Barbe was chosen to receive this year’s Willoughby Area Distinguished Citizen Award. In this column, I will offer some comments about the other award presented each year at this time by the Willoughy Rotary Club — the Distinguished Civic Organization Award. The 2016 honoree is Lake County Blue Coats Inc., which coincidentally is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. Now, when you mention Blue Coats to most people, the reaction is an overwhelmingly positive one. And oh yes, they say, that is the organization that honors the Blue Coat of the year in February. That is true, but that is but a small part of what the organization does and stands for. First, the annual award, or awards, is now known as the Jorge Medina Distinguished Service Award in honor of the late thoracic surgeon who founded the local Blue Coats chapter on July 15, 1966. The founding group was mainly doctors, professional people and other interested citizens who wanted to establish an organization that would support our local safety forces — policemen and women and firefighters. The annual awards for valor — more than 100 of them have been given over the years — honor men and women who have risked their lives in the pursuit of their duties. The criteria is always, have they gone above and beyond the call of duty in their life-risking endeavors. And there have been plenty of heated debates at Blue Coats trustees meetings in the recreation room of the president, Dr. Ronald J. Taddeo, as to whether the acts of valor have indeed been “above and beyond,” or were the nominees simply doing what they get paid to do. By the way, there have been two heroic Medina Award winners who have been honored twice — Lake County Sheriff Dan Dunlap and Willoughby Fire Chief Al Zwegat. But Blue Coats does much more than hand out awards. It also provides substantial cash stipends to widows and orphans of safety personnel who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Those cash payments, of course, always come at a time when they are needed most. Thankfully, they have been few in number. And Blue Coats also has a generous scholarship program for children of members of our local safety forces. The scholarship program began in 1981, four are awarded each year, and they are now valued at $2,000 each. Dr. Medina, the founding president of Blue Coats, served in the office for many years. There was one other president, as I recall, who served for one year, and then Dr. Taddeo took the reins. He has been as fine a leader as any such organization could ever desire. He does virtually all of the planning and organizing and leaves no detail unattended. Right now he is busy planning the annual dinner meeting for Feb. 3 at LaMalfa Party Center in Mentor. That meeting is open to the public, as is membership in Blue Coats. Taddeo can provide details at 440-946-4067. The Rotary Club’s awards luncheon at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 25 at Pine Ridge Country Club is coming up soon, and if you are planning to attend you should do so quickly. Tickets are $20 per person and reservations can be made by calling Stephanie at Merhar’s Nationwide Insurance Agency in Willoughby, 440-946-2040. There is still time — but hurry. Here’s a little background on the selection process. Until 2005 these two awards were presented by the Willoughby Chamber of Commerce. At that point, the chamber decided to concentrate solely on business awards, dropping the citizen and civic organization awards. The Rotary Club stepped in and took over presentation of the two awards. From then on, I have been chairman of the awards selection committee. I was not new at the job, however, since I had been chairman of the chamber’s awards committee since about 1971. That year is only a guess, but as I look over the list of previous winners, I am pretty sure it is correct. I was allowed to choose my own awards committee for the Rotary Club, so joining forces with me in making the choices are Chief Bill Crosier, Dale Fellows, Jerry Merhar, Bob Riggin, Sue Roseum, Rick Stenger and John Tigue Jr., who is actually a member of the Willoughby Lions but who adds a valuable dimension to the committee because of his vast knowledge of the nominees and their backgrounds. He is also a former chamber Distinguished Citizen himself, as are several other members of the committee. So I am comfortable that the committee does an outstanding job of making selections, as evidenced by every one of the choices over the past 10 years.


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