The Falls City Area Jaycees celebrated the community’s outstanding people of human service, donated a large sum of money to a substantial number of local organizations, and announced its officers for 2017 at the annual Distinguished Service Awards banquet Monday night, Jan. 16, at the Elks Club. Nearly 100 people attended the annual event.
Each year the highlight of the night is the presentation of the community awards. David Aitken was presented with the Robert J. Chab Community Service Award. Aitken has been employed by the City of Falls City for more than a decade and currently serves as Production Manager at the Power Plant, but after he punches the clock, it’s often right back to work — on a volunteer basis — for the married father of three. For more than 20 years, Aitken has provided active and steadfast leadership to both the FC Volunteer Ambulance Squad, as an Emergency Medical Technician, and the Rural Fire Dept. He is a past president of the Ambulance Squad and for the past nine years has served as the treasurer of the Rural Fire Dept. Furthermore, David can often be spotted peering through the vast windshield of a FC Sacred Heart school bus, steering some 14 tons of vehicle along the highways and byways of southeast Nebraska, northeast Kansas, northwest Missouri, southwest Iowa and occasionally beyond. “Sometimes, a day for him can include being on-call overnight for ambulance from midnight until 8 a.m., going to work for eight hours, and then spending his evening driving the school bus until 10,” the letter of nomination reads. “Just to get home and then do it all again.” Aitken is a living example of “what it means to give back to the community.”
Eleanor ‘Ele’ Last has been heard to utter the motto, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” and because she also walks the walk, she was a most worthy recipient of the Good Neighbor Award.
“I tell her to use the word ‘no’ when asked to help as she is getting older, but she doesn’t know the word “no,” Ele’s daughter, Lori (Last) Whitney, said. “She will always say yes, which is probably why she stays so active and ‘young.’ She has literally given the coat off her back to those in need. I remember when we were young, we had nothing much, but a family nearby had even less. She had us wrap up our extra things and take them to the family so they could have a Christmas.”
Ele is currently active in some 30 community groups or volunteer programs, including, but not limited to: Kids Eat, Back to School clothing and supply drives, Verdon Alumni Secretary, Humboldt Flower Show, Shubert American Legion, Community Medical Center volunteer, Shubert Library Board, FC Library & Arts Center volunteer, Richardson County Cancer Board, FC Tree Board, Election Board, summer reading program organizer at the Shubert Library, Falls City D.O.E.S., Barada Bells, and the list goes on and on. Believe it or not, there are some past activities that Ele has “retired” from, like Sunday School Teacher and 4-H. And another, Southeast Consolidated School, was sadly was forced into retirement by trending rural depopulation, in spite of the unfaltering efforts of champions like Ele. A famous 19th Century poet observed that it’s the “depth” of life, not the “length,” which truly matters; the Mustangs’ run was short, but because of the dedication from folks like Ele, they ran a strong, meaningful race. “If I could be as caring, as giving, as selfless, as my mother I would be mother is my hero for all she does and all she is.”
The 2016 Distinguished Service Award winner is mapping out a similar path of widespread service and dedication to touching as many lives as possible throughout her community. Angie Taft, mathematics teacher at FC Sacred Heart, is a young full-time working mother of four young Tafts (ages ranging from 8 to 1), yet somehow always keeps a hand free for another 40 children with last names she doesn’t share. Taft is teaching students long after the bell rings and does what she can to help her school-aged children’s teachers, too. She helps with the Irish speech team, coordinates, plans, directs and teaches summer Bible School at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church and was instrumental in setting up and starting the new community day care located at O’Connor Hall. She runs a small business, as well, because, well, she just doesn’t tire. Event chairperson Stefanie Wenz said the DSA was created specifically for difference-makers like Angie Taft. “Angie meets the criteria in every sense; the word ‘no’ is not in her vocabulary,” she said.
Another high school math teacher, Falls City High educator Jason Vitosh, was presented the Outstanding Educator Award. “For the past 10 years, I have been privileged to be involved in the selection process for the distinguished
service awards,” Wenz, once a student of Vitosh’s and now a co-worker at FCHS, said. “Picking one person for an honor that many might deserve has always been difficult, however, our outstanding educator’s qualifications this year stood above the rest. Being a teacher is a difficult job. It demands broad knowledge of subject matter, curriculum,
and standards. It requires enthusiasm, a caring attitude, and a love of learning,” she said. Vitosh “goes above and beyond in helping the students that he teaches, and former students rely on him for continued support in their college classes. He volunteers to lead and serve on school committees and is a continuous life-long learner.”
Vitosh has gained esteem from not only his fellow colleagues at FCHS and peers throughout southeast
Nebraska, he’s gained respect throughout the entire state and has even been published professionally in a national math magazine.
“It is exciting for me to be able to present this award tonight,” Wenz said.
Charlie Radatz, whose leadership was instrumental in getting a new bridge built over the Missouri River in Rulo and in making Southeast Community College officials recognize — and act on — Falls City’s need for labor training, was presented with the Community Leader Award. Substantial resources allocated to this area likely would not have been if not for the efforts of Radatz. He has been active as a board member of Falls City EDGE for the last eight years, serving as Chairman of a new investor campaign, and chaired the Tri-State Corridor Alliance that secured millions of federal dollars for the bridge project. Most recently, Radatz helped convince SCC officials to enhance availability of their offerings to people in and around Falls City and last month the college announced the purchase of land and its plans to build a learning center north of the Aquatic Center.
Codey Janssen, Director at Jonesbrook Estates, was named the Boss of the Year. “She has long exemplified a level
of commitment to make sure that Jonesbrook runs smoothly, as well as taking care of her husband, children and putting her family first,” the letter nominating Codey read. The mother of two – with a third soon on the way – is well-liked by staff and residents alike throughout the entire facility. “She treats the staff and residents just like they’re family. She personifies all that is right and stays connected to each and every person there.” The HOBY Awards, annually presented to a pair of local high school sophomores (one from FCHS and one from Sacred Heart) went to Ciara Catlin, of Sacred Heart, and Erin Brewer, of FCHS. At the end of the evening, the Jaycees
announced more than $4,000 in donations to the Splash Pad Fund, Falls City Rural and Volunteer Fire Departments and the Southeast Nebraska Communications Backpack Program. Ted Gildkerson was named the 2017 FC Area Jaycees President, taking over for outgoing President David Goff.