Finalists share gifts, talents for better community

Friday, September 28, 2018
With untold hours of dedication to the community between them, the inaugural set of 10 Difference Makers gather Thursday evening during a banquet in their honor Thursday evening. The 2018 Difference Makers finalists are (from left) Crystal Strotman, Dr. Robert Heavin, Shem Rees, Beth Krampe, Randy Neeley, Ruth Myers, Jackie Hoffa, Lee Stewart, Alan Zerkel and John Berry.
Banner Graphic/Eric Bernsee

More than 150 people attended the inaugural Putnam County Difference Makers Banquet Thursday evening, honoring 10 friends and neighbors whose efforts have made the community a better place to live.

But before the audience at Greencastle Christian Church rose as one to honor Ruth Myers as the first-ever Putnam County Difference Maker of the Year in the Banner Graphic-sponsored program, they got a little takes-one-to-know-one advice from another special community activist, Linda Merkel, executive director of the Putnam County Youth Development Commission.

“This evening we are honoring 10 volunteers who are special individuals that have chosen to use their gifts and talents to ensure others’ life situations may improve,” Merkel said.

Keynote speaker Linda Merkel addresses the Difference Makers banquet Thursday.
Photo by Shad Cox

If the 2018 finalists had been asked what it means to be a volunteer, Merkel said she’s “sure they would all agree the answer would be to hopefully make a difference.”

“The truth is,” Merkel continued, “everyone here this evening has the power to become a volunteer -- or difference maker.”

The 10 chosen finalists have put personal priorities aside, she said, “to stand up and do something.”

“They stood up and made some outstanding things happen in the lives of Putnam County citizens,” the guest speaker praised. “And because of their sacrifice and generosity, our community is filled with hope and promise.”

Merkel turned to famed Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi to help digest the efforts of the 10 Difference Maker finalists.

“Gandhi said, ‘the best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others,’” she noted, commending the honorees for losing themselves “in service to others and working as a group of committed citizens to change the Putnam County community.”

In addition to Ruth Myers, the Difference Maker of the Year finalists were John Berry of Cloverdale, Dr. Robert Heavin of Bainbridge, Jackie Hoffa of Cloverdale, Beth Krampe of Greencastle, Randy Neeley of Bainbridge, Shem Rees of Greencastle, Lee Stewart of Cloverdale, Crystal Strotman of Bainbridge and Alan Zerkel of Coatesville.

The common thread among their stories, Merkel said, is that the nominees ”continually give time, energy and compassion, not worrying if there is ever enough time to share.”

“You are difference makers and wonderful community representatives,” she suggested. “Your efforts and stories are inspiring and give hope to those who are sometime hopeless.”

But the story should not end there, Merkel stressed.

“Volunteers are a priceless commodity of which there never seems to be enough,” she said, urging those in the audience to follow the lead of the finalists and become community volunteers.

“Our community needs you,” Merkel said, “our children and our families need you. If everyone here would donate a small percentage of their time to improving the lives of those in need, imagine what we could accomplish. Our community would be filled with hope and promise of a brighter tomorrow. I guarantee if you become a difference maker, you will be amazed at how your life will be fulfilled.”

Volunteers, the speaker stressed, are heroes, and “the most underrated role models of our time.”

Banner Graphic Publisher Chris Pruett introduced the evening’s program, telling audience members at Greencastle Christian that they were there to “honor those who work behind the scenes and want no recognition for what they do,” yet are the backbone of many community projects and organizations.

The inaugural Putnam County Difference Maker program drew many more nominees than organizers expected, Pruett admitted.

“We had tons of qualified candidates,” he said. “There could easily be 20 candidates instead of 10 standing up here. It was an unbelievably tough decision just to narrow it to 10.

“All of our finalists touched many lives in the community,” Pruett continued, “and as you could tell when they were up here, all of them were pretty much uncomfortable” being in the spotlight.

Organizers didn’t know what kind of response to expect for the banquet, Pruett allowed, despite prior ventures involving sister newspapers in Linton and Brazil.

“We had 160 people sign up to be here tonight,” he added. “That says something about our community, and how everyone cares and is willing to step up.”

The Difference Maker program was presented in conjunction with community partners Prime Real Estate, Crown Equipment, Putnam County Hospital, the Putnam County Community Foundation, Paralegal Services, Hopwood Winery and the Greater Greencastle Chamber of Commerce, as well as a number of prize sponsors for both the winner and finalists.

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