Northland Community Council
Awards banquet honored those who serve
Two men dedicated to the safety of Northland residents were honored at a banquet last week.
The Northland Community Council's Police Officer of the Year was too shy to offer remarks beyond a quick thank-you, and the Firefighter of the Year was out of town training others.
But both firefighter Scott Benjamin and officer Timothy Keller did have praise heaped upon them at the NCC's annual awards banquet, held at Villa Milano.
Capt. Rick Biancone of the Division of Fire accepted the award on behalf of Benjamin, a veteran of 16 years with the department. Capt. Dennis Dreisbach nominated the Sunbury resident for the honor.
Benjamin has responded not only to local emergencies but to the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City as well as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. He is an "outstanding paramedic" and an "elite firefighter," according to Biancone, who added that the Northland area is lucky to have him.
When Keller declined comment after NCC Vice President Gerry O'Neill gave him the Officer of the Year award, his supervisor had plenty to say.
Sgt. Bruce Whittaker, who nominated Keller for the honor, described the 18-year-veteran of the force, 17 of them serving in the Northland area, as the "epitome of what you would call a community police officer."
"He's the first one to volunteer for anything," Whittaker said. "He never complains and he will always be there for you."
The President's Awards were handed out by the vice president this year.
O'Neill subbed for Emmanuel V. Remy, who was somewhat busy elsewhere: His wife gave birth to the couple's third child, a daughter, earlier that evening.
Dave Paul, Remy's immediate predecessor as NCC president, was the first of three to receive a President's Award. Paul, who was president of the council for six years, is now chairman of the development committee.
Next up was Sandy LaFollette, who served as treasurer last year and is in her second stint as chairwoman of the Independence Day Parade Committee. In remarks Remy prepared in advance of the event, he noted that after retiring from her job, LaFollette expanded her community volunteer efforts, "which many took advantage of."
"She did whatever was put in front of her, and she did it very well," O'Neill said, reading from Remy's notes.
In accepting the award, LaFollette noted that the "unsung heroes" in the Northland community are the husbands, wives and family members of the people who give so much of their time to volunteer efforts.
The third President's Award recipient was Albany Park resident Bob Thurman, one-time development committee chairman who devotes much of his time to advocacy on behalf of military veterans and of amputees.
"I am humbled by how you feel about me," Thurman said. "I'm just trying to give back and pay it forward."
Community dinners, packed monthly meetings, a wide range of activities and a strategic response plan earned the Salem Civic Association a second straight Association of the Year Award.
The Minerva Park Villager was named community publication of the year.
The Event of the Year went to Forest Park's 50th anniversary celebration.
Forest Park, whose residents hire private security to supplement crime-prevention efforts in the neighborhood, was also awarded Block Watch of the Year.