By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The best of Wood County was honored on Sunday. Farmers who help educate city folks about agriculture. Pastors who build bridges, not walls. And a retired teacher who is still committed to learning, even if that means going to a “Godzilla” movie.
Wood County commissioners Doris Herringshaw and Ted Bowlus led off the 2017 Spirit of Wood County Awards in the courthouse atrium. Following is the list of people recognized in each category:
- Agricultural leadership: Cathy Newlove Wenig, Gordon Wenig, Paul Herringshaw and Lesley Riker.
- Liberty through law/human freedom: Dan Van Vorhis.
- Self-government: Tim W. Brown.
- Education for Civic Responsibility: Mary Kuhlman.
- Religion and liberty: Revs. Mary Jane and Gary Saunders.
- Industrial/economic development: Barbara Rothrock.
- Lyle R. Fletcher Good Citizenship Award: Gwen Andrix and Amy Holland.
“This is one of those things that Wood County does especially well,” said State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, about the recognition of community service by citizens.
The agricultural leadership award was presented by Earlene Kilpatrick, executive director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce. For the last 12 years of the BG Leadership program, the Wenigs, Herringshaw and Riker have welcomed city business people on their farms.
The day is a “real and powerful opportunity to educate citizens,” Kilpatrick said. “And we end up smelling like a farm at the end of the day.”
“What an amazing experience for each class,” to learn about Wood County’s leading industry, she said.
Initially the farm day consisted of simple drive-by tours. But now the participants visit ag co-ops, learn about soil content management and seed purchasing, and see a high-tech dairy operation and show pigs.
“They educate us on the true cost of farming in the bountiful and not so bountiful seasons,” Kilpatrick said. “They aren’t afraid to answer questions honestly.”
And often the city business people experience an “aha moment,” when the connection is made between their livelihoods and farming.
In accepting the award, Cathy Newlove Wenig said one of their goals was to dispel the myths surrounding farming. “We just tried to do what we could to promote agriculture.”
The liberty through law and human freedom award was presented by Bowling Green attorney Diane Huffman. She first met Van Vorhis years ago when he was a juvenile court probation officer. He now works for the Ohio Adult Parole System, and is on loan to the FBI Violent Crimes Division.
“We’re just lucky to have him here,” Huffman said.
Though he normally stays out of the limelight, Van Vorhis is president of the Fraternal Order of Police, coordinates the Special Olympics Torch Run, and the Cops for Kids Program.
He was recently named Ohio Parole Officer of the Year.
“We can be proud of him,” Huffman said of Van Vorhis.
While accepting his award, Van Vorhis said he believes in “keeping Northwest Ohio safe.”
The self government award was presented by Judy Ennis to Brown, who was unable to be present to accept. Brown spent most of his adult life in government, first as a legislative aide to Congressman Paul Gillmor, then as Wood County commissioner, then as a state representative.
“We know what he has meant to Wood County,” Ennis said.
Brown told Ennis that he was the Republican party’s “sacrificial lamb” one year in the election against long-time Democratic commissioner Alvie Perkins. Brown lost, but went on to be appointed to the office later, and formed a close working relationship with Perkins.
Brown, who served four terms as commissioner believed in serving the public, not politics, she said.
Later after being elected as state representative, Ennis recalled Brown telling her, “Columbus is not Wood County.” He then took the office of president of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments. “I can do more for the citizens of Wood County in this role,” he said. “I can do things that really matter,” like infrastructure, water and transportation projects.
The education for civic responsibility award was presented to Kuhlman by Jane Kohlenberg, the Pemberville library director, and fellow teacher and Eastwood school board member Sherri Sheffler.
Both Gardner and Bowlus, former students of Kuhlman’s, were on their best behavior for the presentation, with Gardner hoping for a better grade in math, and Bowlus concentrating on not making any grammatical errors.
Kuhlman taught English and math at Eastwood, and served on the Pemberville library board. “She was truly interested in the people’s education,” through the library, Kohlenberg said. She ran the book discussion group for 20 years, and remains very active in the group.
As a mentor to many international students at BGSU, Kuhlman still stays in touch with several of them. And she fights injustice in the world through Amnesty International, Kohlenberg said.
But above all, Kuhlman is a teacher. “Mary is first and foremost an educator,” Sheffler said.
When asked for a show of hands in the audience of the people who were her students, several hands shot up.
“You’re not even safe after you graduate,” Sheffler said. “She still tries to teach you things.” Kuhlman always has a book or movie to recommend. That means Sheffler has had to sit through Michael Moore movies with Kuhlman.
Kuhlman is not just teaching – she frequently challenges herself, Sheffler said. “Mary’s still a very, very active learner.” And that means she has to sit through movies like “Godzilla” and “X Men” with Sheffler. She drew the line at the Minions.
The religion and liberty award was presented by Marcy St. John, a member of First Presbyterian Church, where the Saunders are co-pastors.
“They work tirelessly to widen the circle and bring more to the table,” St. John said.
When the Saunders first came to Bowling Green, one of the first actions was to put a rainbow flag on the church sign with the words, “Christ Welcomes All Here.”
“There are no limits to who can participate,” St. John said.
Under the Saunders guidance, the church membership make migrant camp visits, host programs for alcoholics and narcotics anonymous, and provided a home for LaConexion and an alternative high school.
Their support of diversity extends into the community, with Mary Jane Saunders acting as chair of the Bowling Green Human Relations Commission, and Gary Saunders as a leader of Not In Our Town.
“They work behind the scenes and in the public eye,” building bridges, not walls, St. John said.
Gary Saunders said they were fortunate to move to a church that shared their vision. “We have loved this community since we got here,” Mary Jane Saunders said.
The industrial and economic development award was presented by Joyce Mueller to Rothrock, who owned and operated the Calico, Sage & Thyme store for many years in Bowling Green. Rothrock created a “relaxing and friendly atmosphere” in the store, despite all the challenges she must have experienced starting her own business, Mueller said.
Rothrock went beyond her store in helping other businesses and the community, by working as a Downtown BG officer, plus helping with the Black Swamp Herb Society, the Black Swamp Arts Festival, ArtWalk, the library, and the Wood County Historical Center.
Mayor Dick Edwards recently described Rothrock as a “visionary business leader and owner” who has shown “true grit.”
As she accepted the award, Rothrock said she was representing the small business owners in Wood County – the people who hire local workers, buy local goods, and support community fundraisers.
“We must make a positive impact on Wood County’s economy,” she said. “Buy local and help maintain the uniqueness of our wonderful community.”
The good citizenship award was presented by Mike Zickar, who noted that the award was intended for someone whose contributions had gone unrecognized. That is a “crystal description” of the Brown Bag Food Project, operated by Andrix and Holland.
“There is a lot of pain and a lot of suffering,” in Wood County as in other places, Zickar said. Nearly 15 percent of Wood County residents suffer from food insecurity, which means they lack reliable sources of nutritious food.
“These problems are really significant,” Zickar said.
The Brown Bag Food Project provides one week of food to anyone who asks – with no need for documentation. “There are so many people slipping through the cracks,” that this program can catch, he said.
The project also delivers food to homes, which can be vital.
“They literally started in their own garage,” and now have a storefront, Zickar said. “They really care about serving.”
Zickar encouraged those in the audience to do the same. “Keep donating to the worthy causes, and roll up your sleeves like they do.”