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Publisher's Column for Sunday, June 28

Ten inspiring stories, ten extraordinary people

(Sunday, June 28) We all have too few opportunities to be inspired. All too often we witness the failings and shortcomings of mankind.

For example, the newspaper you are reading today probably has dozens of stories about tragic events, natural disasters and people making mistakes or doing harm to others. To be sure, there will be stories about someone's accomplishments and successes but they will be fewer in number.

For most of us, our day-to-day lives are less than dramatic. A good many people around us are busy just doing what we are doing -- working and living and trying to get by.

As for our national leaders, they may be competent but they often disappoint. Most of us would be hard-pressed to list 10 political leaders that inspire us to live better lives.

And let's face it, we have all been let down by people that we thought were our friends. When a personal crisis pops up we sometimes find ourselves more alone than we would like.

Maybe that is why I'm so proud of the Exponent and Telegram Citizen of the Year Program. The second annual banquet to recognize those honored by the program was held a couple of weeks ago and it was truly inspirational.

Just to refresh your memory, the two newspapers at the beginning of each year ask readers to nominate people from North Central West Virginia to be honored as Citizen of the Year. The criteria for the nominees is that they must contribute to making the lives of others better. Nearly 200 people have been nominated over the past two years.

The newspapers announce the honorees in the annual Progress Edition in late March. It is the largest single issue of the Sunday Exponent-Telegram published each year.

In 1997 we honored Myrtle Bisping as the first-ever Exponent and Telegram Citizen of the Year. We also recognized 11 other nominees as runners up for their special contributions to the communities where they live.

This year it was Elaine Lucente who received the top award. The runners-up were Donna Albright, Peggy Berry, Richard Brissey, William Courtney, Jack Gorby (posthumously), Danny Harbert, Janice McMurdo, David Riffle and Roy Donald Smith.

The newspaper gives each honoree a plaque. Donations totaling $1,900 to charities designated by the honorees were announced at the banquet.

I had the honor of introducing each honoree and recounting the reasons why they were being recognized by the judges. Ten times I was inspired that evening when I read each honoree's contributions to improving the lives of others in the communities where they lived.

These weren't rich people who gave away thousands of dollars. Thank goodness there are rich people who are willing to give away their money because they can make a real difference. But these were people just like you and me who give something far more valuable. They give their time and energies by volunteering to help people in need or people in pain.

With each reading of the selfless work of these fine people I got more choked up. By the time I got to the ninth person on the list I broke down and cried. This was while standing at a podium with a room full of some 45 people at the Pete Dye Golf Club.

I was embarrassed that evening but now after a little time to reflect I'm not embarrassed at all. That morning while preparing for the banquet, I had re-read all the stories about the honorees that appeared in the March Progress Edition. One particularly moved me. Tears came to my eyes while reading the story about Danny Harbert, a coal miner, volunteering as a clown to spend time entertaining terminally-ill children in area hospitals. I found myself praying thanks to God for keeping my three young children healthy.

I was already emotional and feeling a little inadequate from reading the contributions of the first eight honorees. When I got to the introduction of Danny Harbert I knew I was in trouble. I couldn't help but feel the pain of the parents and children that Harbert so selflessly tries to help in his own way.

All of those honored are from a special breed of people. They don't do what they do for recognition. An example of this is Elaine Lucente, the 1998 Citizen of the Year. She came to my office to ask that we cancel the banquet and just give extra money to the charities.

But I refused to do that because I think it is important that such people get public recognition. And I think others get inspired by gathering in a room with such people who give so much of themselves.

Last year Myrtle Bisping said she felt many of the other honorees deserved the Citizen of the Year honor more than herself. Elaine Lucente said the same thing this year.

I can imagine how humbling it must be to be recognized with the highest honor while standing in such tall timber. There is no doubt each finalist was deserving.

But I look at all of them as more than good people who do good works. They are symbols of what is the best in each of us. We are all capable of doing what they do. The difference is that they do it.

Terry Horne is the publisher of the Exponent and Telegram. His column appears every Sunday.