Pilots honor public servants

Published 10:14 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Pilot Club of Suffolk recognized people who exemplified community service this week.

The club held its annual civic awards ceremony on Monday at YMCA Camp Arrowhead. Nine people who serve the community in emergency response, community service and special education capacities received certificates for their outstanding dedication and commitment.

More than 50 of the honorees’ coworkers, friends and family attended, along with Pilot Club members and city representatives. Each member was nominated by his or her own organization for the award.

Email newsletter signup

“This is a way of honoring those that don’t get a lot of recognition,” Virginia District Governor Elect and Pilot Club of Suffolk member Suzanne Langston said.

Lt. John Thrush, Detective Rachelann Cain and senior firefighter Leslie Lemasters were nominated for their commitment to safety and security in the city.

Deputy Fire Chief James Dickens said Thrush was known for his willingness “to assist and develop the skills of other firefighters and paramedics,” and Lemasters shows the same dedication as a member of Engine 51.

“I’ve known Les his whole career,” Dickens said. “He’s a fine example of what the department has to offer.”

Like other honorees, Lemasters was emotional and grateful for the recognition.

“I’m really humbled for this award,” he said.

Western Tidewater Free Clinic volunteer Mary Lee Willis and Suffolk Literacy Council tutor Don Wittenauer were awarded for community service.

Willis helps coordinate clinic services for more than 60 patients monthly.

Suffolk Literary Council tutor coordinator Jessica Reitz said Wittenauer was nominated, because he embodies the idea of treating his adult pupils as “partners in education.”

“It’s so organic for him,” she said. “Of his seven students, four of them got jobs after he tutored them.”

These students have no high school diplomas or GEDS, and some of them still struggle with math and reading. Wittenauer said the biggest struggle in teaching them is instilling confidence.

“They have no self-confidence,” he said. “You spend a lot of time encouraging them. Once you get them encouraged and excited, the learning is easy.”

Booker T. Washington Elementary School teacher Anna Zander and Nansemond Parkway Elementary School teacher Suzanne Cardwell were honored for teaching children with disabilities.

Like Wittenauer, Zander said it’s a challenge to get the students to believe in themselves.

“The biggest challenge is making them feel that they can achieve what any of the other students can,” Zander said.

She said her favorite part of her job is the “Aha!” moments, “when you work very hard and you finally find a way to teach that child.”

Suffolk Public Schools bus driver Christine Bradshaw and bus aide Faith Holliman were both awarded for their respective years making sure children with disabilities got between home and school safely.

Bradshaw has been driving for 20 years. She starts her workdays at 5:45 a.m. to drive Lakeland High School and Mack Benn Elementary School students.

“She has a heart for this,” special education supervisor Julie Masters said. “The kids know her and feel comfortable with her and know everything is going to be OK.”

Suffolk City Councilman Tim Johnson attended the ceremony with colleagues and Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett. He said these honorees prove Suffolk is a community that works well together.

“You can’t give these people enough kudos for what they do,” he said.

Bennett said these honorees show what the city of Suffolk offers.

“We do the best we can to make sure our city is better each and every day,” he said.