WINTERSVILLE - Since 1999 the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission has honored 44 area residents for outstanding service to the community.
BHJ Executive Director John Brown, in opening this year's dinner Wednesday, said, "These honorees come in all shapes and sizes; however, the one common thread is a deep passion for the task, an overwhelming commitment of time, and most often, an unheard applause from their audience."
Brown said the dinner offers a chance to thank such individuals for their efforts, and the many who gathered at St. Florian Hall for the occasion showed their appreciation through standing ovations for each of this year's honorees.
HONORED FOR SERVICE — Receiving honors at the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission’s annual dinner for their service to the community were, from left, seated, Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham, former state Senator and World War II prisoner of war John Chernenko and Victor Greco, whose civic efforts include museums in Weirton and Hancock County. Behind them are BHJ Executive Director John Brown and Hancock County Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller, who served as master of ceremonies. -- Warren Scott
They were: John Chernenko of Wellsburg, recipient of the Bernie Kazienko Public Service Award; Thomas Graham of Toronto, who was presented BHJ's Special Recognition Award; and Victor Greco, who received BHJ's Volunteer Award.
While introducing Chernenko, past honoree Ruby Greathouse noted he has served his country and community in many ways. A World War II Army veteran, he fought at the Battle of the Bulge and was captured by the Germans at Mortain, France. He received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star and the Prisoner of War Medal for Heroic Conduct,
He served as a U.S. marshal under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and was the youngest marshal serving at the time of his appointment. In the 1980s and '90s, he was elected three times to the state Senate.
Greathouse noted Chernenko has strived to help all veterans through various capacities, including his leadership of the West Virginia Barbed Wire Chapter of Ex-POWs, American Prisoners of War Association and Brooke County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation board of directors, which named him Brooke County Veteran of the Year in 2009.
He also has chaired the Brooke County Democratic Party and served on the state Democratic Party's executive committee and been a member of the Wellsburg Elks, Wellsburg 4th of July Committee and Brooke County Committee on Aging, among many other groups.
In accepting the award, Chernenko said October has been a very good month for him, as it was also the month in which he proposed to his wife, Kathryn; John and Jacqueline Kennedy visited his home during Kennedy's presidential campaign; and received a citation from the government of Belgium for his military service.
He apologized for not speaking longer but confessed he was a bit shaken by the recognition.
Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci said Graham "is truly a dynamic individual." Mucci said many know Graham through his 10 years of service as Jefferson County Commissioner or his performance of the national anthem at various events.
But few know of his deep concern for the county's future and compassion for others, the mayor said.
Mucci noted Graham has served as recreation director and safety director for the city of Toronto, on the board of trustees of the Ohio County Commissioners Association and on boards for Toronto City Schools, Jefferson County Joint Vocational School, Jefferson County Behavioral Health, the Salvation Army, Historic Fort Steuben and Fourth Street Health Clinic. The clinic also has presented him an award for public service.
Currently BHJ's chairman, Graham holds a doctorate in sociology and is a professor and director of the sociology and social work program at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is on the editorial advisory board for analyzing textbooks for Collegiate Press, has published a book on the impact of students' evaluations of professors among many other writings and has been named to the Alpha Kappa Delta International Sociology Honor Society, Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society in Social Science and Who's Who in America.
Graham thanked his wife, Diane, and parents for their support over the years and BHJ's staff for their hard work on important projects.
"From the bottom of my heart, I thank you very much for this award," he said.
Hancock County Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller said because of Greco's cheerfulness, "He's one of those people who make you feel better after meeting them."
Swartmiller said while Greco was working at age 13, his hand was caught in a machine. The hand was disfigured and he lost fingers but not his thumb, which a doctor told him was the most important part of a hand.
Greco took that advice to heart and he used his thumb to hitch rides from his former home in Fairmont to West Virginia University and over the years, used it in delivering a special handshake and jubilant thumbs up when the moment merited it.
After moving to Weirton in 1951, he teamed with Louis Capito to form Weirton's first cable television company. In 1956 he joined the Weirton Rotary Club and has been its president, Rotarian of the Year, district governor and with his wife, Marjorie, hosted many foreign exchange students sponsored by Rotary.
In the 1980s Greco and others attempted to establish a museum for the local steel industry, which led to the establishment of the Hancock County Museum and Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center. Greco has served as president of the latter museum and collected for it many materials from Weirton Steel.
Swartzmiller said Victor and Marjorie have been "a great civic team," volunteering their time to St. Paul Catholic Church and many other causes. Victor was named Weirton's Citizen of the Year in 1983.
In accepting the award, Greco said, "When you do for others, you do for yourself."
He added that by working together, community members can improve life for everyone.
He closed by raising his thumb and telling attendees, "Remember- thumbs up!"
As master of ceremonies, Swartzmiller also commented on BHJ's decision to name the Public Service Award in honor of Kazienko, whose more than 25 years of public service in law enforcement and as Brooke County Commissioner, was cut short by cancer last year.
Swartzmiller said he misses Kazienko as both a friend and fellow public official.
"I think he would be honored and humbled by people naming this award for him," he said.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)