Pastors Mary Jane and Gary Saunders honored for working to make BG better for everyone

Mary Jane and Gary Saunders with Becky Laabs watercolor


BG Independent News

On receiving the I Love BG Award with his wife, Pastor Mary Jane Saunders, Pastor Gary Saunders sounded what could have been the keynote for the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce’s Mid-Year Meeting and Awards Program.

“We’re better together,” he said.

And that in one way or another was a message that came through in all the award presentations.

Mary Jane Saunders with Ginny Stewart, center, and Marcia St. John.

Mary Jane Saunders with Ginny Stewart, center, and Marcy St. John.

Fitting for the award that she and her husband were receiving, Pastor Mary Jane Saunders said that when they first moved to Bowling Green to  assume the pulpit at First Presbyterian Church of Bowling Green, they “immediately fell in love with the community and wanted to become involved.”

“We were called by a church dedicated to justice and inclusion,” she said.  “This church has been supportive, not just supportive but encouraging. It’s because of First Presbyterian that we’ve been able to be active.”

Sheilah Crowley, last year’s I Love BG award winner, detailed that involvement in her introduction. They have been leaders in the BG Ministerial Association, the campaign to stop the repeal of the city’s non-discrimination ordinance, Not In Our Town, the city’s Human Relations Commission, the interfaith breakfast and the Presbytery of Maumee Valley.

Gary Saunders with Larry Weiss of "The Morning Show"on WBGU-FM.

Gary Saunders with Larry Weiss of “The Morning Show” on WBGU-FM.

Gary Saunders said that guiding “our life journey together” has been a belief that “diversity is an opportunity not a problem.”

“To the extent we can grasp that and live it out, we can all step forward together,” he said.

After the luncheon, held at Nazareth Hall in Grand Rapids, Mary Jane Saunders said it was the people who made the couple fall in love with Bowling Green. “There are people who share a vision of wanting the community to be better for everybody, and they’re willing to work for it, not just talk about it.”

Not In Our Town embodies that. “It’s a grassroots thing,” Gary Saunders said.  It bubbled up both on campus and in the community.  “It’s a vehicle to gather together and express what our best self is. That’s what Not In Our Town is all about.”

NIOT prompts community discussions of “the important issues we really need to talk about. Sometimes issues are tragic events, or issues swirling about like Black Lives Matter and Islamophobia. We need a place to talk about it. We have a long way to go, but we’re getting there.”

The Chamber also awarded its Outstanding Customer Service Award to Dr. Dave Ernsthausen and the Animal Hospital at West Ridge. Ernsthausen said that the work of the staff, some of whom have been with the practice since it opened in 1998, was the key to providing service.

The nomination, presented by Brian Roush, of Oasis Restaurant and Delivery, last year’s winner, read: “You can count on their compassionate professionals to treat your furry friend as their own and understand that your pet is more than an animal … he or she is part of your family.”

Before Roush announced the award, he advised the winner to enjoy the year in the spotlight as much as he has.

That time to shine for Oasis was extended for another year when it won the Small Business of the Year Award.

Also recognized was Drew Peterson, the chamber’s scholarship winner.

Peterson will attend Bowling Green State University in the fall to study business and marketing with an eye toward a career in the apparel industry.

Earlene Kilpatrick, the chamber’s executive director, said she hoped that next year two scholarships could be awarded.