BY LISA WARREN
The 2012 Blanche W. Grady Community Service Award was presented Thursday evening to Jerlee Ottinger, a Greeneville woman who has devoted her life to serving others -- both in Greene County itself and through missionary outreach work in Haiti.
Ottinger was surprised with the honor, which was announced and presented by local business leader and philanthropist Scott M. Niswonger, who, together with his wife, Nikki, is the benefactor of the annual award.
The Blanche Grady Award was established in 1996 by Niswonger, his wife, and his mother, the late Sharon Niswonger, who died in 2011, to recognize the "unsung heroes" in the community and the work that they provide to others.
The award was named in particular honor of Niswonger family friend, Blanche W. Grady, a long-time local educator and community volunteer, who died last month.
The Niswonger family provides financial support to the awards program in order to allow honorees an opportunity to develop or fund a health-related program to aid the local community.
These programs are facilitated through the Laughlin Health Care Foundation.
A major special emphasis of the 16th Annual Grady Award banquet Thursday night at the General Morgan Inn was a reminiscence and reflection on the character, personality, and good works of both Blanche Grady and Sharon Niswonger by Dick Parrack, who knew both women well over a period of many years.
Parrack's presentation also included a review of many of the good works that have resulted from the Grady awards since it was established.
A Power Point presentation on highlights of the work accomplished through the awards was also part of the evening.
The Power Point had been developed by Kristie Bruning, administrative assistant to Laughlin Health Care Foundation Executive Director Betty Weemes, who oversaw the event.
One of the premiere programs of the Grady Service Award is an annual vision and dental clinic that has provided more than $500,000 in volunteer care to local needy individuals from local dentists and eye care professionals since the clinic was initiated in 1999.
In addition to Parrack's presentation, Terry Bellamy, a member of the Laughlin Health Care Foundation board and a former Grady Award winner, read a resolution in honor of both women that had been adopted by the Foundation board.
'SHE RUSHES TO HELP'
In presenting the 2012 award, Niswonger praised Ottinger's many accomplishments and good deeds, saying that "when she sees a need, she rushes to help."
Reading from Ottinger's nomination letter by her friend, Peggy Thomas, Niswonger described her as a person who is always willing to lend a helping hand to others in ways both large and small.
In addition to providing on-going mission work in Haiti, Ottinger also strives to help those in need right here at home in Greene County, he said.
"If she knows a child who doesn't have shoes or has some other need, she takes care of the situation, without telling others," Niswonger said.
"If she is on a trip with students and learns that someone is short on funds, she will always go to the teacher in charge and provide support.
AID TO DISPLACED YOUTHS
"Sometimes Jerlee takes small children into her home, two and three at a time, and keeps them for days while their parents are dealing with health and emotional issues," he added.
"She has stepped out-of-the-box and supported displaced youth in her home, providing food, shelter, clothing, spending money, and transportation," Niswonger continued.
"For years she has cooked lunch on Sunday and these young people knew they could come to her for a meal, without a special invitation and be more than welcome. This has given many a floundering youth an anchor in growing up as they dealt with life situations," he said.
"No matter where or how the need presents itself, Jerlee is there with her own quiet, unassuming manner. Striving to meet the need no matter what kind of inconvenience it might present to her schedule," Niswonger added.
He also singled our her involvement in relief work, including many days of cooking, for those affected by the April 2011 tornadoes that struck southern Greene County.
As a member of Greeneville's First Church of God, Ottinger has taught children's classes in Sunday school, is active in women's church work, attends local and national church programs.
She helped create and organize the First Church of God's Christian retreat area, the Locust Springs complex, located in northern Greene County.
MISSION ROLE IN HAITI
One of her biggest passions, however, continues to be her mission work in Haiti, Niswonger continued.
"Having a great interest and love for the people and the children of Haiti, she has worked tirelessly year-round for over a dozen years to create a church-supported orphanage and school," he said.
"She gathers food, clothing, and monies for the children. She directs building and repair projects in Haiti.
"She solicits funds and materials for building churches, equipping pastors, and providing clothing, food, Christmas presents for children, and encouraging others locally and beyond to travel along with her to Haiti work camps where the people are taught about the love of God and improvements to daily life that are made through the work of Americans who care," Niswonger said.
Her pastor, the Rev. Gerald Rudd, calls Ottinger a special person who has the biggest heart of anyone he knows.
He said, "I would venture to say that she does something for someone else just about every day."
As Ottinger was welcomed to the podium by Niswonger following the award announcement, she said humbly, "I feel as if he has been talking about someone else.
"I don't feel I deserve it, but you can know that I appreciate it," she said.
Ottinger asked those in attendance to continue to pray for her and for those she helps to serve.
"I think you can never give more than you receive," Ottinger added.
Previous recipients of the Grady Award include:
* the late Adelle Haynes (1997);
* the late Della Malone (1998);
* Terry Bellamy (1999);
* the late Tyre Culbertson (2000);
* Bruce St. Laurent (2001);
* Fannie R. Henderson (2002);
* the late Ann Huntsman (2003);
* Richard McKinney and his son, Richie McKinney (2004);
* Barbara Barner and the late Frances Taylor (2005);
* Sandra Ricker (2006);
* Fran Ricker Gregory (2007);
* Bettie Copp (2008);
* Caroline and Rob Russell (2009);
* Tony Williams Jr. (2010), and
* the Rev. Frankie Isley (2011).
Several of the previous winners were present and were acknowledged and applauded. Rev. Isley gave the invocation.
The masters of ceremonies for the evening were Larry Coughlin and Tom Gregory, co-chairmen of the Laughlin Health Care Foundation.
Weemes expressed appreciation to the Niswonger family for their support of the award and what it has achieved in the community over the years, and presented a gift to them on behalf of the Foundation.