Seniors honored for their generosity of time, spirit
In honor of Older Americans Month, 14 Lehigh County residents were honored during the 19th annual tribute to Unsung Heroes at Fellowship Community, Whitehall.
May 15 at the Lehigh County Office of Aging and Adult Services’
This tribute honors older adults in the Valley who have displayed exceptional generosity with their time and talents to enrich the lives of others in the community.
Some of the honorees at the tribute included Nancy J. Eckert, Barry L. Faust, Martha L. Reitz, William H. Wehr and Kay A. Yankoski.
Nancy J. Eckert
“As a retired Army nurse, Nancy J. Eckert of South Whitehall Township is active in the local Vietnam Veterans of America group in Bethlehem giving of her time monthly to assist in “Stand Up for Vets” events to benefit the homeless,” Judith Stanczak, deputy director with Lehigh County office of Aging and Adult Services’ said.
Working with the Leonardo Society in the Advancement Office of the DaVinci Science Center, Eckert helps others share their assets in the name of science education, she added.
Eckert serves on the Alumni Auxiliary Board of Cedar Crest College helping to promote alumni affairs and encourages the involvement of other alumni.
She also is involved in many activities at Nativity Lutheran Church, Allentown.
“She recruits and schedules readers for weekly worship services and serves on the Faith Formation Committee as a mentor and leader,” Stanczak stated. “She also serves on the Leadership Team for McKinley Elementary School as a liaison between the school and Nativity, where she learns the needs of the children at McKinley and then shares those needs with the church so that the congregation can help meet those needs.”
“Eckert goes about her volunteer efforts without accolades and without seeking praise. She remains an active vital member of our community,” Stanczak said. “Her involvement is not only impressive but also inspiring to anyone who can imagine the possibilities and benefits of helping others.”
Barry L. Faust
Marianne Werling, community services and support supervisor with the county office of aging spoke about BarryFaust of Orefield.
“Faust was a police officer for 29 years, starting with the Kutztown Police Department, where he spent four years, then South Whitehall Township, where he worked for 25 years,” she stated. “He also taught criminal justice at Lehigh Carbon Community College and Northampton Community College for 14 years.”
After retirement, Faust started participating in triathlons and competing for Team Blueline, which raises money and awareness for the families of law enforcement officers killed or seriously injured in the line of duty.
“After each race he crosses the finish line carrying the Team Blueline flag and does a cartwheel to honor one of the daughters of an officer killed in the line of duty, who taught him how to do a cartwheel when they first met,” Werling stated.
In August 2017, Faust was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which metastasized to his bones. Being courageous and inspiring, he continues to compete in events.
“Faust has inspired many other cancer patients by showing that he may have cancer, but that it does not stop him from doing things to enjoy life,” Werling said. “He is very generous, caring and thoughtful. Not only does he support the families of officers killed or seriously injured in the line of duty, but he also races for a cancer triathlon team to raise money and awareness for cancer victims.
“Faust also raises money and support for the Andy Derr Foundation for Kidney Cancer Research in the Lehigh Valley and is a Make-A-Wish volunteer who assists in granting wishes to critically ill children.
“During the summer months he can often be seen volunteering for Lehigh Valley Road Runners Club Kids run series, getting children involved.”
“I was honored to receive the award will all the other distinguished recipients,” Faust emailed The Press. “I hope I can be an inspiration to other seniors and cancer patients. Enjoy life it is a precious gift.”
Martha L. Reitz
Every Monday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Martha Reitz, Allentown, is seated at the front desk of Phoebe Terrace, Allentown.
Reitz started volunteering at the Terrace in 2011 as the front desk greeter after her father, the Rev. Phares Reitz, who had been a resident of the Terrace, passed away, Stanczak stated.
“Retired from the Allentown School District as a French teacher, Reitz became interested in assisting with crafts, educational activities, and in organizing special events,” Stanczak said. “Now known as “Martha Mondays” her events range from elaborate, full sensory experiences to intimate baking and craft activities.
“During the holiday season Reitz gathers craft-minded residents together to create personalized Christmas cards that are attached to poinsettias which are delivered to former Terrace residents who now reside in the skilled nursing community.”
Residents and staff still talk about her legendary performance”as Marilyn Monroe, with red lips and a platinum blond wig.
“Reitz has been known to walk the two miles from her house to the Terrace to make sure she sees her friends,” Stanczak stated. “Rain, sun, or snow, she arrives smiling and willing to do whatever it takes to bring sunshine to the residents.”
Over the years, Reitz has also volunteered to transport residents in the skilled nursing community to therapy and to assist with larger Phoebe community events.
Reitz is also active with Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity.
“Clearly Martha’s flair encompasses her ability to plan and execute a stellar event down to every detail, which makes her a gem in the Phoebe community,” Stanczak said.
William H. Wehr
Stanczak also spoke about William H. Wehr, formally of South Whitehall Township, now Whitehall, of accomplishments at the tribute.
She said the 2.5-acre Peace Garden at Jordan United Church of Christ, South Whitehall, is the result of Wehr seeing the mess which remained after harvesting a number of mature hardwood trees at the end of their long life.
‘As founder of the Peace Garden, Bill’s vision was to transform the area into a place where church members and friends, as well as the wider community, could enjoy the goodness of God’s creation on a hiking trail,” she stated. “He also had visions of people being able to rest on a bench and reflect on life, meditate next to a rock garden, rest on a swing, or enjoy hot dogs cooked at a fire pit.
“Although many others have invested much time and energy in designing, installing, and maintaining the Peace Garden, Wehr’s leadership, determination, and persistence is what brought the dream to reality.
“Bill is a man of quiet faith, which has guided his life and actions on behalf of others, as well as his concern for issues of social justice,” Stanczak stated. “His deep roots in our community and family name led him to publicly advocate for the preservation of Wehr’s Dam. He gathered signatures of hundreds of citizens who agreed with his position and was often quoted in the newspaper.”
Stanczak said Wehr was the diving coach at Parkland High School, and was the first special education teacher there.
Wehr was Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit 21’s special education supervisor before his retirement.
“He has a heart of compassion and led the way in allowing special needs students to be mainstreamed in school classrooms,” Stanczak said. “In his retirement years, this has carried over into his passion for equal opportunities and access for all people.”
She said Wehr has contributed much to our community over the years, including taking food donations from Jordan UCC to the pantry at Jordan Lutheran.
“Bill was also a church volunteer in Biloxi, MS after Hurricane Katrina, helping to rebuild homes,” Stanczak stated. “He did the design and painting of Jordan UCC’s outdoor Labyrinth which is used for spiritual growth among the members and friends as well as community members.”
Kay A. Yankoski
Karen Kent, advisory council member with aging and adultservices spoke about the accomplishments of Kay A. Yankoski of South Whitehall.
Kent said Yankoski began donating hand-knitted scarves and hats in 2014 for clients served through Lehigh County Office of Children and Youth Services.
“The beautiful pieces of work Kay creates with donated yarn are astonishing,” Kent said. “She turns those plain balls of yarn into wonderful, eye-appealing hats. She is now also making preemie hats for Lily’s Hope Foundation.”
In addition to her knitting talent, Yankoski is a word nut who loves word games, Scrabble, writing and anything to do with words.
She had articles published in Dog World, American Lithuanian publications and Diocese of Arlington newspaper.
“OCYS could never thank Kay enough for the love and warmth she provided to many, many children and youth over the years,” Kent stated. “Perhaps this award will present her with some of the honor they all feel in having such a wonderful, talented volunteer who genuinely cares about those within our community who are not as fortunate.
“She is truly an unsung hero for Lehigh County Children and Youth, the local hospitals and all the people she encounters in her many adventures whether it be personal, professional, volunteering or just within our community.”
William E. Palmer
Kent, also spoke about the accomplishments of William E. Palmer of Emmaus.
Palmer, of Emmaus, was nominated for his work with the Rotary. He has held multiple Rotary District and Zone positions, and served as Rotary District Governor from 2010-11.
During that year $216,000 of new funds were raised for Rotary’s worldwide projects.
Additionally, $94,200 was raised to help eradicate polio. He also actively supported his wife, Yvette, when she became Rotary District Governor for 2002-03.
Palmer serves with the Allentown West Rotary Club as weekly bulletin editor, and the 45 Club, the five-county Rotary District as its district finance chair, district secretary and editor of the District Governor’s monthly newsletter.
This volunteer time exceeds 45 hours each month.
For over a decade, Palmer managed the contracts and site operations for more than 40 training days for thousands of new Rotarians and also served on the faculty as a facilitator.
In 2011, Palmer’s wife died and, in her memory, he funds a scholarship program though the Lehigh Carbon Community College Foundation for women with interrupted studies.
Over the last seven years, thanks to Palmer, 29 women who have had their college studies interrupted have received scholarships totaling over $25,000 to help them complete their degrees.
He also is a regular and generous donor to many Rotary International Funds, as well as the numerous projects of the Allentown West Rotary Club.
Palmer’s outlook is positive and all-encompassing. As evidenced by his many business and volunteer accomplishments, he seeks to include rather than exclude.
He strives to find positive, effective solutions that create a true win-win for everyone. He has shown a constant and prodigious level of professional and volunteer achievement that few could match, let alone exceed.
Melinda K. Bonanni
“Blankets of Love” is a relatively new ministry of Jordan United Church of Christ in South Whitehall.
Melinda Bonanni of Emmaus was working in home care when one of her clients received the gift of a blanket the client’s granddaughter made.
Bonanni was so moved by the grandmother’s response that she was inspired to find a way to provide blankets to those who not only could use the warmth, but more importantly, needed to feel the love as well. What started as a gift to a family member, a twin-size handmade blanket, has become a significant outreach program, beginning with those in need in the South Mountain area of Allentown near her home.
The blanket program complements Jordan UCC’s “Prayers and Squares Prayer Quilt Ministry.”
The program has grown to involve numerous other “Woobie Warriors” as Bonanni likes to call the blanket makers who purchase the material for about $25 per Woobie. The Warriors make the cuts and tie the knots, bless the blankets with their prayers, and distribute them to those in need.
Each blanket is a work of art, because of the God-given talent Bonanni has received and shares with others. She is a good steward of every dollar contributed to support the Woobie-making, even saving the corner squares which are cut off to be used for another project. Each weighted blanket provides lots of comfort to those who receive it, a valuable gift of tangible textile and intangible love. As Bonanni likes to note, we are doing this “for the least of our brothers and sisters,” to reference Jesus’ own words, “and in so doing, may be entertaining angels unaware.”
Bonanni is the church’s own Woobie Queen, inspiring other members and friends to participate in this project. Woobies have been given to shut-ins, hospice patients, a family sheltered in the church, the Family Promise guests, and Valley Youth House serving homeless teens. Bonanni’s dream is to expand this ministry to other churches and community organizations, possibly founding a Lehigh Valley Chapter to make an even larger community impact.