The Heartland United Way hosted its annual meeting at Riverside Golf Club Wednesday, where they presented a handful of awards and recognized many others.
Two people were presented annual awards that honor distinguished community leadership and service. Ray O’Connor was presented the “Be the ONE Award” and Don Deitemeyer was presented the “LIVE UNITED” award.
Heartland United Way staff praised Deitemeyer’s efforts for the organization, whether it’s handcrafting items to be donated at fundraisers or bringing United Way staff homemade peach pie or Grandma’s cinnamon rolls after a busy event. Deitemeyer accepted the award with a standing ovation at the meeting.
“My wife Marilyn tells me I don’t know how to say ‘no,’” Deitemeyer said, adding that his wife is always supportive of his efforts and commitments. ”This award really does mean a lot to me because of my admiration for the United Way,” Deitemeyer said. “Karen, Bonnie, Carla, Cammie and all the gals over there, they do what they do year in and year out.” He said the staff set up a project that addresses a need, and they tackle it. “And they do it with love,” Deitemeyer said. He encouraged everyone to be a “yes man” and step up to the volunteer plate. “There’s really no pay, but the rewards are immeasurable,” Deitemeyer said.
O’Connor was introduced by Mayor Jeremy Jensen, who shared his own story of how O’Connor impacted his life. Jensen briefly told of his background and how when he was a boy, his mom and stepdad moved to Grand Island. Jensen said his stepdad found a job at Sears, while his mom took a job at Taco Del Sol. He said those jobs are what helped build the foundation for his life here. Taco Del Sol, it just so happens, was owned by the O’Connors, Jensen said. “Going all the way back in history 40 years ago, this man, in one way that he didn’t know, touched me then,” Jensen said. “I’ve had the privilege of being the mayor of this community for the last three plus years, and very frequently I get the opportunity to see things that are happening in Grand Island,” Jensen said. “And time and time again, there’s a family that is there helping make things happen. And time and time again, that family sits in meetings where nobody sees them, and lends their expertise, lends their time, lends their treasure to make our community so much better.”
Jensen mentioned Sam Foltz last tweet before his death. The tweet was a picture of Foltz running next to a boy, who looked up at him in admiration. Jensen paraphrased what Foltz wrote, as to always do good things because you never know who is watching. “Well Ray, I’m watching you,” Jensen said. “You and your family have become mentors not only to me, but also to this entire community.”
O’Connor was also greeted to the stage with a standing ovation. He expressed his gratitude for the honor of the “Be the ONE Award.” O’Connor said one of the most important things the Heartland United Way gives people is hope. A member of the Literacy Council of Grand Island, Ali, who spoke earlier at the meeting, was an example of that. Ali, who is from Sudan, said the Literacy Council gave him hope to learn English and to find his place in the community. Ali earned a college degree in Sudan and worked as an electrician. He hopes to do the same in the United States.
The Heartland United Way, O’Connor said, gives people those messages of hope to not give up." You will never be too old to know what you can become. That’s a powerful message to give,” O’Connor said. He also said the United Way is an agency that will “walk in when the rest of the world walks out.” “That is hope. That is a hope that we need in our society, that is a hope that we need in our community,” O’Connor said.