Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Award recipients lauded for service to community

by on April 11, 2014 10:50 AM

“It takes an army of volunteers to serve a community of needs.”

That’s according to Jonathan Mack, who was the keynote speaker at the Leader’s Circle of Indiana County Awards event Thursday at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.

More than 300 people — community leaders, volunteers, students and others — gathered in the complex’s Ed Fry Arena to recognize the area’s Athena, Female and Male Civic Leader award recipients.

Mark Bertig, of Renda Broadcasting, was the master of ceremonies for the event.

Every person in the room had one thing in common: “the gift to share time. … Everyone in this room juggles family, friends, work, spirit and health,” said Heidi Malin, past chairwoman of the Leader’s Circle, who opened the program.

Robin Gorman, chairwoman of this year’s event, said that community service is “about all of us.”

“We choose to live here, to work here and to proudly call this our home.”

Mack hoped to do four things during his keynote address: thank the nominees for their service, encourage everyone at the event to continue their participation in community service, caution them of the possibility of getting worn down and to inspire those at the event to participate in future service opportunities.

“True servants are not looking for credit or public recognition or their picture in the paper.

“Those things actually make most of them feel uncomfortable … their sole motivation for serving is that they passionately believe in the cause that they serve and they truly want to make a difference in Indiana County.

The Leader’s Circle promotes and recognizes acts of leadership, volunteerism and philanthropy, and hopes to serve as a model of a successful rural community.

“You are the life-changers of this community,” Mack said.

In a surprise turn of events at Thursday’s event, two Athena Awards were given to separate nominees, Kelly Polando and Rodney Ruddock. This is the first time that two awards nominees were honored in such a way.

The award had seven nominees: Kami Anderson, Bonni Dunlap, Polando, Carolyn Princes, Ruddock, Susan Wheatley and Steve Wolfe.

Athena Award recipients are selected for their professional excellence, community service and for assistance to women in their attainment of leadership skills. This was the 28th year that it has been awarded.

Male and Female Civic Award Finalists are nominated by Indiana County service clubs, organizations and businesses. Nominees for the male award were: Leonard Abrams (posthumously), Larry Catlos, Anthony Frazier, Dominic Paccapaniccia, William Stancombe, Rudy Steffish, Randy Thomas and Hal Wingard.

Finalist nominees for the Female Civic Award were: Vera Bonnet, Joy Fairbanks, Susan McClure, Jacqueline Overdorff, Yvonne B. Redd and Anne White.

“It’s been said time and time again that leadership is important within every setting across every context,” Gorman said.

There were no “losers” at the event.

“This is not the first or last generation of Indiana County Leadership,” Malin said.

Kelly L. Polando, Athena Award

Polando is involved with Business and Professional Women, the Indiana County Commission for Women, the Homer City Women’s Club, the Indiana County United Way, the Indiana County United Way, the Indiana Midday Rotary Club and the Women’s Business Networks. She is a founding member of ICCW and aids in the personal and professional development of women.

In 2011, she was selected as a “Woman Making a Difference” by the Pennsylvania Business Central and received BPW’s “Woman of the Year” award.

After receiving the Athena Award, Polando said that many women in her life have helped mold her into who she is today: “I am constantly amazed by the women in my life.”

Rodney Ruddock, Athena Award

Rodney Ruddock is the second male in Athena Award-history to be honored with the distinction. His wife, Ellen Ruddock, was the first-ever recipient of the Athena Award. When accepting the award, Ruddock said “my only Athena is my wife.”

Ruddock, as a military veteran, promoted the need for a veterans’ clinic in Indiana County. He was key in the decision to relocate a VA clinic, that will support soldiers and their families through deployment and demobilizations, in Indiana.

He has also held leadership roles as principal of Indiana Area Senior High School for 25 years and initiating the school’s Athena International program.

During his acceptance of the award, Ruddock emphasized the importance of “surrounding yourself with people who believe in doing the right thing.

“We have to be the mentors, we have to be the models of what is right.”

William Stancombe, male Civic Leader

Stancombe started giving back to the community in high school, first working part-time at the Fraternal Order of the Eagles on Philadelphia Street in Indiana, and then dressing up as Santa Claus visiting families that weren’t able to enjoy receiving gifts around Christmas.

He is a member of the Indiana County Humane Society Board of Directors, a member of the Indiana Lions Club educates children on bees with a 6-foot beehive he’s built.

“When you’re helping people, you don’t realize it right then,” Stancombe said. “It’s when you go home and start thinking about it that you truly recognize what you’ve done to help the community.”

Vera Bonnet, female Civic Leader

Though her civic service started long before her time in Indiana County, Bonnet has been active in the area since she moved here in 2001.

Locally, she has trained volunteers at the Alice Paul House, is involved in the Indiana County Potters’ Association, has served as president of the Democratic Women for two terms, is on the Environmental Issues Committee of the Indiana County League of Women Voters and will serve this year as chairwoman of the environmental committee.

Bonnet was named Woman of Business Distinction in 1996.

“My services were needed (in Indiana County) and I’m happy to fill that need in a community I love,” Bonnet said.

Rep. Sam Smith, IUP President's Medal of Distinction

Also at the event, the Indiana University President’s Medal of Distinction was awarded by University President Michael Driscoll. The honor is the highest non-degree award presented by IUP.

The award honors citizens of the state and region whose contributions in the area of professional achievement and the public service are of national significance.

This year’s President’s Medal of Distinction was awarded to Speaker of the House Rep. Sam Smith, who recently announced his retirement.

Driscoll said Smith “is a great example of how a person of strong character represents Pennsylvania.”

The President’s Medal of Distinction has been awarded since 1985.

Ellen Matis is the digital media coordinator and a staff writer at The Indiana Gazette. She is the person behind the Gazette's social media. A 2012 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Ellen has a degree in journalism and public relations. Follow her on Twitter, @EllenMatis, or email her at
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