Each year, Heartland Family Service honors parents and children in Omaha and southwest Iowa who have worked hard to create and maintain strong families and make contributions to their communities at its Salute to Families events. They will be held at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs tonight and at the Happy Hollow Club in Omaha on Nov. 15.
The events are a lead-in to National Family Week, which is celebrated during Thanksgiving week.
The honored families are not called winners. Instead they are presented as representatives of the best of the metro area’s many successful and giving families. The honor is designed to encourage all families, to let them know they have support and that their efforts in the community have not gone unnoticed.
Honorees are selected in four categories: Commitment to Family, Challenged and Successful, Community Service and Leadership.
Heartland Family Service accepts nominations for the Salute to Family recognition from the public. They will be accepted through May 1 for the 2013 salute.
A separate honor — the third annual Family Advocate Award — will be given to Bob Rodgers Jr. for his many years of working with area youth.
One of his projects was organizing the annual Big Wheels Derby in north Omaha with the help of his motorcycle club, Ebony Wheels, and family members.
The event, which is based on Rodgers’ idea that competition stimulates growth, is held at Miller Park the fourth Sunday in July. This year, its 30th anniversary, it drew about 300 children participants, their families and an audience of 1,500. There was entertainment and free food along with the race.
Family participation is encouraged, and every child who races receives a trophy. Participants have included mayors, police officers, firefighters and community leaders. Bicycle shops offer free inspections and repairs. In 2013, Rodgers hopes to be able to provide bike helmets for free.
Rodgers welcomes sponsors but mainly has supported the event with his own money.
He worked as a security guard at Omaha Technical High School — where he met his wife, Gloria — until it closed. He retired from Greyhound Bus Lines.
In addition to the Big Wheels event, he has been involved in Toys for Tots, Little League football and Juneteenth celebrations. Rodgers calls himself “the ambassador of fun,” and believes that once you get children’s attention, you can teach them the lessons of life.
COMMITMENT TO FAMILY (OMAHA)
For more than 30 years, Pat Borrink has offered home child care, including care for children with special needs. As a single parent with six children, she made the decision to become a foster parent. Over the years, dozens of children passed through her care and she adopted six of them. She also made Kathy Hoy, a 35-year-old woman with Down syndrome, part of the family after Kathy’s mother died. Borrink has given the adopted children the resources and services they need for complex medical and psychological challenges, and she has taught all her children to be honest, to carry themselves with dignity and to respect others. They are involved in church, sports, Special Olympics and Scouting.
Community Service (Omaha)
Betty and Bob Dorr are social activists and their extensive community service supports the gay, lesbain, bisexual and transgender community. Betty is a retired teacher who worked for the Omaha and District 66 schools. Bob retired from The World-Herald where he was an editor and reporter. They taught their three sons — Dave, Rick and Mike — respect and personal responsibility, were involved at their church and took part in school events and Scouting. When their youngest son, Mike, told them he was gay, the couple joined PFLAG Omaha (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), eventually strengthening their efforts to volunteer and work with other families to find acceptance. Their decade of activism has led to snubbing, berating and arrest (for Betty). “Don’t lose a relationship with your child or sibling because you don’t agree with his or her sexual orientation,” Bob Dorr said. “Open your heart and listen.”
Challenged and Successful (Omaha)
Kelli and Jerry Joseph demonstrate that faith and support from family help overcome even the most discouraging challenges. They had a good, stable life with daughters Kelsey and Nicole, attending church and participating in sports, music and school activities. Then Kelli, who successfully managed her type 1 juvenile diabetes, learned she had thyroid cancer, and Jerry lost his managerial job. A favorite family member died suddenly and Jerry, who had found a part-time job, fell and injured his back. His insurance would not cover the needed surgery, so he had to work in pain for several months. But they have come through all of the setbacks and all are now healthy and happy. Stability and peace have come from the support of friends and family and their own strong family bond.
Instead of a single family this year, Omaha leadership families from the past are being honored: Helen Cherniack, 1981; Mary and William Fitzgerald, 1982; Margre and Charles Durham, 1983; Patricia and Dale TeKolste, 1984; Gen. George Lee Butler and Dorene Butler, 1992; Carmen and John Gottschalk, 1993; Danny and Marty Colladay, 1994; Suzanne and Walter Scott, 1995; Gail and Mike Yanney, 1996; Jeanne and Tom Skutt, 1997; Cheryl Wild and Steve Wild, 1998; Dee and Edward Owen, 1999; Sharon Marvin Griffin and Samuel Marvin, 2000; Mary and Dick Holland, 2001; Carol and Rick Russell, 2002; Cookie and Jerry Hoberman, 2003; Janice and Robert A. Falk, 2004; Fern and Harry Watanabe, 2005; Rhonda and Howard Hawks, 2006; Berniece and Bill Grewcock, 2007; Florence and Charles Lakin, 2008; Jodie and Bill Mackintosh, 2009; Gail and Scott Robertson, 2010; and Lorry and John Gomez, 2011.
Commitment to Family (Iowa)
High school sweethearts Bruce and Ruby Bentley have been married 46 years and have five children — Brian, Marla, Barbie, Jana and Rebecca — and 16 grandchildren. The 27 members of their close-knit, extended family live within a seven-mile radius of the couple’s homestead. The family owns and operates a custom cattle-feeding business in Macedonia in addition to a farming operation. They are involved in community and school activities. Ruby is involved with the Macedonia Historical Preservation Society, American Red Cross, Pottawattamie County Conservation Board and numerous committees. Bruce has served on the Carson-Macedonia School Board and participates in the Riverside Pride and Booster Clubs.
Community Service (Iowa)
Bill and Sharon Ballenger have made giving to their community and church a way of life, and have instilled the same attitude and service in their children — Carrie and Jeff — and grandchildren. Bill spent 47 years at Ballenger Automotive, a family-owned business in Council Bluffs. He has served on the City Council, Planning Commission, Citizen/Police Advisory Board, Chamber of Commerce and CB Community Education Foundation. He was mayor in 1983, served in the U.S. Army Reserve and was a member or leader of numerous area organizations. Sharon is a retired guidance counselor and licensed mental health therapist. She also is actively involved in their church, the Council Bluffs Service League and Community Health Center. The Ballengers organized the Central/Western Iowa Honor Flights and West Texas Honor Flights to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Challenged and Successful (Iowa)
Tim Johnson has been ill with severe intestinal failure for nine years, and his wife, Darla, and children — Trent, Todd, Tyler and Tara — and grandsons have met the challenges of his illness with prayer, hope and love. Life-threatening infections, a small bowel transplant and its complications, which required more surgery, extended hospital stays and other emergencies have tested them all. Tim is doing much better and the family now provides goody baskets to transplant patients and their families, especially during holidays. Darla runs an in-home child care business. All family members make an effort to be there for each other and have Sunday dinner together every week.
Liz and Scott Doll believe in giving back to their community, and their leadership is visible in various church, school and community organizations. The couple are raising three sons — George, Gus and Charlie — and have inspired them to hold the same values. The family business, Doll Distributing, is the largest of its kind in Iowa. They have been involved in the development of Iowa Western Community College, the CB Industrial Foundation, the Alegent Charitable Council, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands and Boy Scouts. They also take part in local, state and national politics.
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