“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”
That’s how Brockville Citizen of the Year Adrian Geraghty summed up the importance of the people who give back to their community, as they were celebrated Thursday night at the Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce Awards of Excellence gala.
The former city police chief reflected on moving to Canada from Ireland in the mid-1960s (not, as some of his fans joked earlier, right after the Potato Famine), the welcome he received from the community and the desire it stirred in him to give back.
Geraghty recalled working at Black and Decker, wanting a change, then answering an ad in The Recorder and Times seeking applicants for a police officer’s position.
A long interview with then police chief Les Sterritt ensued, followed by a distinguished policing career.
Geraghty’s volunteering activities include 27 years coaching soccer, alongside the sadly missed Pat Beasley. He also chaired the Care & Share Golf Tourney, served two terms on Brockville General Hospital’s community advisory board, and currently chairs both the Career Services of Brockville board and the advisory board of St. Lawrence College’s police foundations program. He has also been involved with the Tall Ships Festival.
“I am truly honoured to be with so many great people,” said Geraghty, referring to past Citizens of the Year.
The 60th annual Awards of Excellence event at the Memorial Centre hall matched the galas of previous years, packing the room with some 270 people to celebrate local volunteers, organizations and businesses.
Geraghty’s speech closed the night, but other highlights included the final five reveals.
After multiple years as a nominee, 1000 Islands and Seaway Cruises won this year’s Tourism Award, prompting owner Captain Andy Neeteson to joke about the multiple misses.
“I was holding out for the Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Neeteson.
“Every year I would prepare a speech, and lucky for you, every year it gets shorter.”
Neeteson told the crowd Brockville has not yet achieved the vision he has had for tourism, but things have improved.
“We’ve certainly made great strides in that direction,” he said.
Neeteson said there is a positive attitude toward tourism in the community; he added tourism is more than one business or attraction.
“It’s an atmosphere, attitude and energy that says: ‘Welcome.’”
Daltco Electric is this year’s Business of the Year, while Continuum Dental is Small Business of the Year.
The Ben TeKamp Award, given to a new business or an older business that has reinvented itself, went to Peak Performance Training and Nutrition, while Jeff Severson, one of the main organizers of the annual Brockville Winter Classic, won the Community Excellence Award.
Severson thanked his mother, Brockville business owner and former city councillor Louise Severson, for her example.
He was among the participants who lamented the impending closure of Procter&Gamble, and thanked the company for the “absolutely stunning” pavilion it is contributing to Rotary Park.
Next year’s Winter Classic will be the “biggest and best yet,” Severson promised.
The evening also celebrated the award winners who, like Geraghty, were previously announced.
The Brockville Rowing Club, which this year marked its 125th anniversary, won the chamber of commerce’s President’s Award, while Katie Pagnello is the 2019 Young Professional of the Year.
Pagnello recalled her own initial reluctance to get involved in volunteer organizations, and urged such organizations not to be afraid to “nudge” young professionals who are hesitant to raise their hands at first.
Cynthia Sparring, whose long resume spans a 35-year career helping people with disabilities find employment, is Brockville’s Business Person of the Year.
Sparring, who is the executive director of Career Services of Brockville, said the loss of Procter&Gamble and legislative changes to service delivery in her field are both challenges for the coming year. But on the positive side, Career Services has added new customers.
“I feel very blessed,” she said.
“I do believe our greatest strength is the stories of the people who we’ve helped over the years.”