When the bombs rained on Belfast in World War II, trucks filled with children left homeless by the attacks would appear in the less-damaged neighborhoods the next day.

When the bombs rained on Belfast in World War II, trucks filled with children left homeless by the attacks would appear in the less-damaged neighborhoods the next day.

Northland resident George "Ray" Empson, 79, recalls how every family there in the Northern Ireland of his boyhood, including his own, would take in as many of the children from the trucks as they could find room for, until their relatives came for them.

"You couldn't say, 'No, I can't do it,' you just had to do it," Empson said last week.

Eschewing "No, I can't do it" has remained, ever since, a part of George Empson's world view. He calls it a "family tradition."

"I guess volunteering starts really young with people if they're going to do it," Empson said.

The 79-year-old retired service station owner was nominated for a Jefferson Award by friend and fellow Lions Club member Neil J. Andrew, a former Westerville resident who now lives in Lancaster.

Named after the second president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, because the board of directors at the national level for the program felt he "best reflected the spirit of excellence in America," the awards are presented locally by WBNS-10TV, Nationwide Insurance and ThisWeek Community Newspapers. They are intended to "recognize individuals who do extraordinary things in their communities without expecting a reward," according to the program's website.

"For over 30 years, he's been involved in community service," Andrew said of Empson. "The last 15 have been the most productive in terms of the breadth and depth. He's just done amazing things."

In nominating his fellow Lion for the Jefferson Award, Andrew wrote:

"George Empson has spent more than 30 years mentoring young people and supporting youth services and activities. He's volunteered with Junior Achievement and has provided leadership for at-risk youth and potential high school dropouts. He's worked with Special Olympics, organizing and supervising the competitions at Ohio Stadium. He's a reading program tutor; a volunteer with Camp Echoing Hills, a special needs camp for disabled and mentally challenged youngsters. He's been involved with the Ohio Lions Club, Pilot Dogs, Honor Flight and the Memorial Golf Tournament. His supporters say that, over the years, George Empson has directly impacted more than 200 benefactors and indirectly impacted thousands."

Empson, who says he only joined the Lions Club because they met less often than the Kiwanis Club, came to the United States when he was 20 years old, at the behest of a GI-war bride's older sister.

"She got a little homesick, so one by one, she dragged us over here," he said.

The immigrant Empsons settled in Columbus, most in the Northland area. George Empson has been there ever since.

"I haven't strayed away," he said.

Back in Belfast, Empson had apprenticed to the machinist trade, but his lack of citizenship and eligibility for the draft prevented him from finding such work in this country, so he went to work at his brother-in-law's service station on Cleveland Avenue. After two years in the military, Empson returned to his old job, and then opened two different gas stations of his own in the North Linden area.

"I tried to pride myself on the best service I could give," he said.

He eventually sold the second station to a young man who had come to work for him when he was 14.

"I couldn't get rid of him, so I sold him the business," Empson said.

Invited to join the Kiwanis Club but unwilling to commit to weekly meetings, Empson did agree in 1970 to see if the Lions Club might be a fit. Of the 100 members in his club when he joined, Empson said roughly half were regular customers of his at the Sohio station.

"I just got busy involved in volunteering with the Lions Club," Empson said.

Which led him, over the ensuing years, to Special Olympics and to chairmanship of the Lions Club committee that organizes volunteer litter cleanup crews for the Memorial Golf Tournament and to Pilot Dogs and, still later, to raising funds for the Honor Flight, which provides World War II veterans with transportation to the memorial in Washington, D.C., that honors their service.

"I've done a lot of volunteering all my life," said Empson, who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer but remains upbeat in his outlook.

"He's a very, very worthy recipient of this award," Andrew said. "It's very long overdue, in fact."

Not so, according to the nominee.

"I'm sure there are plenty of people more deserving," Empson said. "I'll be happy to see someone else win it."