Toledoan James Taylor accepted his Jefferson Award Thursday at the Toledo Club in the same quiet way he volunteers at his church and works with a charity that helps the poor in Vietnam.
"I just do what I think is right," Mr. Taylor, 66, said after the awards breakfast.
He was among four Jefferson Award winners announced for 2012. Also recognized for their service to the community were homeless advocate Ken Leslie, former ONYX Executive Director Jimmy Gaines, and Maj. John Tharp of the Lucas County Sheriff's Office. A 75-member national board of selectors reviews the four winners and chooses one to represent the Toledo area at the Jefferson Awards in Washington in June.
The Students In Action program at Springfield High School also was selected from 24 area high schools to represent the region at the national awards ceremony. The program, which encourages community service among high school students, contributed to the more than 145,000 service hours logged by students from the 24 schools, said David Schlaudecker, executive director of Leadership Toledo.
The idea is to help young people become the kinds of adults as the ones chosen to receive Jefferson Awards.
"It's not the amount these people do. It's the amount they do over a long period of time, over many years in service to the community," said WTOL reporter Jonathan Walsh, who co-hosted the awards ceremony with Melissa Voetsch.
Mr. Tharp, 63, the unopposed candidate for Lucas County sheriff, was recognized for starting a deputy mentoring program that encourages sheriff's deputies to work with central-city children as mentors and tutors. He said he was floored to be nominated for the award and chosen as a finalist, much less to be one of the four winners.
He said he has gained much from working with young people.
"Seeing others being able to excel and do better with what little they've received from us, that means a lot," Major Tharp said. "If young people learn and get to the point where they can do for themselves, then they're able to do for others."
Mr. Gaines, 63, said he was honored to be in the company of so many who do so much.
"I was overwhelmed," he said. "Not only surprised, I was overwhelmed."
A longtime city of Toledo administrator, Mr. Gaines had served as executive director of the community development group ONYX, which works to improve housing in the central city and promote urban development.
Mr. Leslie, who started Toledo's Tent City, 1Matters, and a Veterans Matter initiative, was not in attendance but was introduced, as were the other winners, through a videotaped profile. Mr. Leslie said in his interview he knows eliminating homelessness means eliminating alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and other contributing factors. It's an impossible task but, he said, "You can end homelessness one individual at a time. Everyone matters."
Mr. Taylor, who is retired from Ford Motor Co., volunteers three days a week at the Hospitality Kitchen at his parish, Our Lady of Lourdes. In 2000, he and seven other Vietnam War veterans started a charity that blossomed into the DOVE Fund -- Development of Vietnam Endeavors. The DOVE Fund has raised about $2.5 million and built 43 schools, three medical clinics, and five clean water systems in Vietnam.
Mr. Taylor lost a good friend in Vietnam, was wounded in combat, and thought he would never want to return to Vietnam. He's now been back several times. "These people are the most loving people, friendly people," he said. "It's just unbelievable."
The Jefferson Awards are sponsored locally by The Blade, Buckeye CableSystem, and WTOL-TV Channel 11. Mr. Walsh said about 70 area residents were nominated this year, and a panel of judges pared the pool to 10 before selecting the four.
Other finalists were Chris Amato, Randy Barnes, Thomas Grzywinski, Lois Marie Mathis, Chrys Peterson, and Yehia "John" H. Shousher.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: email@example.com or 419-724-6129