Jefferson City is a place where neighbors believe in helping neighbors, United Way of Central Missouri President Ann Bax told a gathering of supporters Friday. More than 315 people attended the organization's annual luncheon held at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.
Part business meeting and part awards ceremony, the event was an opportunity for supporters to celebrate last year's achievements and elect the governing body charged with overseeing next year's fundraising campaign.
Outgoing board chairman Dan Westhues said the 2013 campaign raised $1.75 million last year - $50,000 over its goal. Westhues will be followed by incoming board chairwoman Gaye Suggett, who oversees regulatory affairs at Ameren.
Westhues said the Capital City's strong tradition of charitable giving makes him proud, and he noted the "number of lives affected by the United Way is staggering."
Before leaving his post, Westhues wanted to impart three life lessons to listeners. He said his father always taught him that with privilege comes responsibility, which is why he's excited about new programming that encourages local teens to become active volunteers. He also said working at Central Bank under former President Bob Robuck taught him there's no such thing as a difference in class and that everyone can find themselves in need of aid from time to time. And finally he encouraged supporters to keep on helping because "the United Way's work is never done."
"We must be committed to improving the quality of life in Jefferson City," he said, a sentiment that met with applause from the room.
Bax noted: "His desire to change the world has really changed me ... it inspires us all."
United Way campaign co-chairs for 2013, Lori Massman and Andy Fechtel, delivered some levity to the proceedings as they announced numerous award winners in the audience.
"This is my last hurrah," Massman said. "I'm going to go out with a bang ... or more of a pop."
Because it was Fechtel's birthday, Massman serenaded her co-chair - Marilyn Monroe-style. For his part, Fechtel honored Massman with the "Golden Tissue Award."
"You can always count on her for a good cry," he said.
While other United Way colleagues were sympathetic to her emotional reactions, Massman said Fechtel didn't indulge her.
"Andy always said: "Suck it up,'" she told the crowd.
Bax said the odd couple contacted 459 businesses, 531 individuals and attended 136 meetings during the year-old charitable campaign. "They took it very seriously," she said.
Two "front line" volunteers - ones who work directly with the citizens in need of the aid - also were honored.
Jim Wilmeno, a volunteer for the Salvation Army Thrift Store, has contributed more than 35,000 volunteer hours through the years, and continues to give another 32 hours a week. One of his duties is overseeing the court-ordered community service workers who help at the thrift center. Wilmeno even got his commercial driver's license so he could help the agency.
"Many of the young men view him as their mentor and come back to visit him from time to time," Bax said.
Shauna Blanche was recognized for her distinguished service at the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital City. A girl who grew up on Chicago's south side, Blanche first came to Mid-Missouri to attend Lincoln University and stayed when Jefferson City became her home. Nine years ago, she started as a part-time program aide at the club and now serves as unit director.
In written remarks, Stephanie Johnson, the club's executive director, said Blanche "has an incredible gift of reaching kids in a deep, meaningful way ... the kids of the club are incredibly loyal to her. When they see her outside of club time, they run up to her, hugging her as if she is a local celebrity ... they absolutely love her!"
"Miss Shauna" - as she is known to the kids - appeared bowled-over by the praise.
"I'm shocked! Wow!" she said. "I really appreciate this ... I love what I do ... I just want to give a big thank you from me and my staff."
Here's a partial list of a few of the award winners announced Friday:
• Lynne Bateman with Mid America Bank received the Outstanding Campaign Coordinator Award for leading the bank during the years its employee participation increased more than 600 percent.
• Outstanding Pacesetter awards were presented to the manufacturing plant ALPLA and the car dealership Joe Machens Capital City Ford Lincoln.
• The United Way recognized five local businesses for their workplace employee campaigns, including: Central Bank and Central Technology Services; the Missouri State Employee Charitable Campaign; Ameren Missouri; Scholastic; and the Jefferson City Public Schools.
• The top six corporate donors were: Diamond Pet Foods, Speedline Technologies, Central Bank and Central Technology Services, Modine Manufacturing, Cargill and Osage Industries.