The banquet room of Evergreen Conference Center was packed with angels and their family and friends Sunday night for the 16th Annual Angels Amongst Us Awards Dinner. The angels were all nominated by people whose lives have been touched through their acts of kindness.
The annual event is sponsored by the Mountain Bear Fan Club, which provides thousands of stuffed bears to anyone in a traumatic situation. Angels Amongst Us winners are awarded with a bear decorated uniquely to their area of service.
Out of the 31 nominations, Colonel Bruce Derry, USMCR, Ret., was named the 2012 Man of the Year for his work with the Yosemite High School cadet corps. For the first time in the event's history, the 2012 Woman of the Year wished to remain anonymous and did not attend the event.
Derry was nominated for his involvement in the Mountain Area.
A retired Marine Corps colonel, Derry served his country for 33 years and now serves his local community in many capacities. He is a member of the Marine Corps League and acts as their scholarship chairman, organizing fundraisers and activities to raise money for scholarships. Derry is also a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars where he serves as quartermaster, handles funds and funding of projects, expenses and scholarships. He also assists with the annual Toys for Tots drive.
Derry is the military science instructor for the YHS cadet corps. Derry's nomination highlighted the many hours he devotes to training, discipline and education of students.
"The community has benefited again and again from the vast array of service projects, military and patriotic duties, and public appearances," the nomination said, adding his involvement with school field trips, training exercises, parades, flag detachments, his help with Caring Vets, the Sluice Box Derby and Ladies of the Lake activities, managing parking for the Coarsegold Rodeo, honor guards for all high school activities and community beautification.
"Bruce will show up with a gift of fire wood, an offer of truck/trailer/time to help you move, assist other high school clubs with their activities, provide security at high school games, help with planning and maintenance of the local Freedom Fests or provide any help needed at Our Lady of the Sierra," the nomination said. "His heart knows no limits and his vocabulary does not include 'too tired to help' or 'too busy.' He is an Angel Amongst Us."
Derry said it was a tremendous honor to be named man of the year.
"I'm only able to do that because of the great love and support and kindness of the community and the many people I'm involved with in the many community services we have," Derry said. "They all provide a tremendous opportunity for us to walk in and ask for their donations and interest."
Derry says his work with the cadet corps all boils down to the students. He also thanked Ellen Peterson for earning all the requirements to become commandant of cadets because without her certification, YHS wouldn't have the cadet corps that he gives so much time to.
"It (cadet corps) provides a home away from home and family for the kids," Derry said. "They're out doing fund-raisers and service work for the community and that's my motivation to try to help out where I can. I just feel very honored and humbled that the organization chose me."
However Derry said none of this would be possible without his wife of 38 years, Carol.
"I want to thank my family and especially my wife for giving me the opportunity to work with kids and provide me time away from home to work with the cadet corps," Derry said. "She is definitely a key to my existence and has always supported me in my activities. Without her support, I wouldn't have the energy to do what I do."
Diane Boland and the Coarsegold Historic Village were recognized as the 2012 Business of the Year. Boland is known for organizing the annual Memorial and Labor Day peddler's fairs as well as the annual Tarantula Awareness Festival.
"Diane has created a true community center in the Historic Coarsegold Village," her nomination stated. "She works tirelessly to keep the Coarsegold area on the map working with the chamber and other local groups. She has supported non-profits to help them grow and make positive contributions to our community. Diane is a wonderful person who is creative, innovative and kind. Her love of Coarsegold shows through her energy and efforts on a daily basis."
Upon receiving her bear award, Boland said it all came down to one thing -- fighting for something you believe in.
The 2012 Couples of the Year are Terry and Sue McKinney and William and Barbara Whitehead. Both couples help haul produce every week to four food bank locations for all the elderly, needy and handicapped people of the area.
The 2012 Groups of the Year are Viola Carr and Kathy Thornburg of the North Fork Boosters and manager Laura Graham and groundskeeper Cito Baeza for their dedication to the Oakhurst Community Center.
Marjorie Jackson, who died in October, was named Heavenly Angel. She was a founding member of the Coarsegold Historical Society and was said to have been a "catalyst for its success," according to her nomination.
Also recognized were:
Paula Beresford for her diligence in finding homes for animals whose families can no longer take care of them.
Attorney Greg Chappel who has continually supported the community through many activities.
Lahna Crabtree, director of Heartland Opportunity Center.
Mary Lou Finley who is devoted to the Golden Chair Theater where she has acted and danced and has served as spokesperson for the theater.
Judi Hussain works at the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau but put her life "on hold" to help out her neighbor when there was no one to watch their pets or house.
Father Gordon Kamai is the Officiant of Christ Church -- Anglican and also serves on the board of the Little Church on the Hill.
Donna Lalev is currently the assistant director at ECCO and gives to help others in the community.
Monika Moulin is a Yosemite Unified School District trustee and supports many events at the high school.
Lee Spurgeon who has volunteered for the Eastern Madera County SPCA for many years and served on the board since 2003. She also volunteers for the Elks and Ladies of the Elks and is a member of the Sierra Guild.
Marlene Thomas, National Vice President of Good Bears of the World and who is in charge of all local chapters.
Kerri West is nominated for for all the sacrifices she has made for her young daughter over the past six years.
Brian Wilkinson, editor of the Sierra Star for his continued support of the community over the years.