35th Annual Citizen of the Year Award Nominees


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The Key Peninsula Lions Club invites all KP neighbors and friends to attend the 35th annual Key Peninsula Citizen of the Year Award celebration Saturday, March 30, 6 p.m., at the KP Civic Center.

For the last 35 years, the KP Lions Club has invited KP residents to nominate anyone who has made an extraordinary contribution to the KP to receive their highest honor. While the award is intended to recognize volunteers, it has also been bestowed upon professionals whose work went above and beyond the requirements of their paid position.

The reliably sold-out event is an evening of food and drink and a chance to mingle with community leaders and elected representatives ranging from local to federal levels. Tickets are available at Purdy Cost Less Pharmacy, Sunnycrest Nursery or from any Lions Club member for a donation of $25.

The keynote speaker this year is Jud Morris, president of the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. Morris retired at the end of December after 13 years as Pierce County community director at the Children’s Home Society of Washington and Key Peninsula Family Resource Center. He also received the Citizen of the Year Award in 2014.

“This award shows the importance of volunteerism, but that’s not all it does,” Morris said. “It’s a great example of the Key coming together to honor people, and it’s about how the KP works and how many good things there are about it. “The focus has changed I think because it’s impossible for anyone to have a very positive, lasting effect on the Key or anywhere unless they work a great deal longer and harder than their job hours; you have to be invested — embedded — you can’t just do your hours and go home,” he said.

Lions Club members vote by secret ballot to select the recipient shortly before the award ceremony. Anyone can send in a nomination, which are evaluated by the members before voting for three first, second and third choices. The winner is known only to one or two members until the name is announced at the ceremony.

“It’s an important award and an important night because you get to hear about the great things these (nominees) are doing and you get to meet them, maybe for the first time,” said Claudia Jones, Lions Club treasurer. “When you’re working at one thing, you don’t necessarily see what’s going on anywhere else, what other good is being done. At Citizen of the Year, you get that and you’re reminded how good we (on the KP) are at taking care of our own.”

Upon learning of her nomination, one of this year’s nominees said, “I guess that I am a team player, and it seems it is easy to play your best game with the team that lets you play. People on the Key invited me to play.”

James Allyn

James has been KP Civic Center caretaker since 2009. Going far beyond the call of his regular duties, such as updating the septic system, repairing the gym and repainting the exterior, he has helped to secure and administer over $260,000 in grants to support capital improvements, including a new wheelchair lift between the entryway level and the gym floor to be installed later this year. Nearly a native son, James attended the original Vaughn Elementary and graduated from Peninsula High School.

Robert Anderson

Bob is a dedicated facilitator of the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Awareness Coalition and serves as a director on the KP Community Council. He volunteers for local youth through the Midday Rotary Club of Gig Harbor and volunteered in support of the Peninsula School District bond. Bob also served as lieutenant governor of Iowa from 1983 to 1987—the first Democrat in Iowa history elected alongside a Republican governor. He lives in Gig Harbor and has a cabin near Taylor Bay.

Meghan Conant

Meghan serves as PTA president and classroom volunteer for Evergreen Elementary School. She is also a KP Cooperative Preschool officer and parent representative to the Peninsula School District. She has taken on many large projects to support both staff and students in the classroom and schoolwide, and ensures that parents are kept informed of school and district events, working tirelessly for the betterment of Evergreen. 

Jeff Essayan and Brody

Jeff and 4-year old golden retriever, Brody were the first therapy dog team chosen to participate in the pilot Tutors with Tails Reading Program at Minter Creek Elementary School. Sponsored by Communities In Schools of Peninsula and the Peninsula School District, this successful team helps kids who need a little extra academic and social-emotional support. Jeff and Brody also serve at St. Anthony Hospital, where they visit sick patients and offer them emotional support.

Richard “Mike” Fay

Mike is a “volunteer extraordinaire” at KP Community Services where he works in the food bank, at seniors’ lunch and in the office. He is also a mentor at Evergreen Elementary through Communities in Schools of Peninsula; a volunteer with the Longbranch Improvement Club, vice president of KP Citizens Against Crime, and once a year becomes Santa Claus for the KP Fire Department.

Robert Fisher

Robert has over 20 years of service to the KP as a fulltime firefighter/EMT who goes above and beyond his duties to take care of people. He routinely spends off-duty hours returning to calls where there are people in need to offer his assistance, such as making needed repairs in damaged homes or donating food and clothing. He is not only an asset to the KP but the embodiment of KPFD’s mission.

Penny Gazabat

Director of the Key Peninsula Community Services in Home until her retirement in December, Penny has been dedicated to addressing hunger, homelessness and better health for Key Pen residents for more than a decade. In addition to her fulltime work running and revamping the community services center, Penny was a driving force behind the Key Free Clinic and the KP Partnership for a Healthy Community food insecurity committee. She has been dauntless in her work enhancing KP services for all. 

Bob and Barbara Green

The Greens are “get it done” people who have made a tremendous difference in the short five years they have lived full-time on the KP. Both have been involved in numerous activities, including the Longbranch Improvement Club, the Key Pen Parks Foundation, garden clubs and in starting a seniors’ kayak club. They have also served in various capacities at the Longbranch Foundation, raising funds for Evergreen Elementary scholarships.

Marcia Harris

Marcia is past president and current member of the Peninsula School District board of directors, founder of the Peninsula Schools Education Foundation, organizer of School Bus Connects free transportation for KP residents, and an active member of the KP Business Association and Gig Harbor Rotary clubs. She also serves on the KP Community Council, the KP Land Use Advisory Committee and on the board of KP Community Services, bringing needed services to south Key residents.

Dianna Home

A paralegal specializing in real estate law and a KP resident for 42 years, Dianna worked for the Peninsula School District for 22 years and served on the Site Council for three schools, working on budgets and schedules. She has been an Angel Guild volunteer for 20 plus years, including many as a board member. Dianna is in her fourth year on the Key Peninsula Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, raising funds for local park projects. 

Karen Jorgenson

Karen is the founder and director of Food Backpacks 4 Kids, a nonprofit that has provided backpacks full of food to children in need on the KP and in Gig Harbor for 10 years. The organization has over 60 volunteers and works with individuals, churches and service groups to bring recipes and food to families who may otherwise go without. She retires from her post in May 2019.

Lisa Larson

Lisa Larson is a tireless KP volunteer. She has coached girls basketball and helps with the logistics of the annual KP Farm Tour and the many activities of the KP Community Council. She also participated in the recent 2019 Point In Time homeless count for Pierce County.

Jerry Marsh

A Key Peninsula resident for over 70 years, Jerry has donated his expertise to the KP Fire Department for more than 30. He drives water tenders to about 90 percent of all house fires on the KP and responds to blocking traffic accidents in his own van customized for the purpose with appropriate safety equipment to free up firefighters and law enforcement. He also uses his Navy training to install radios and maintain electrical systems on the fire rigs. Jerry is the longest serving member volunteer or career member of the KP Fire Department.

Ted Olinger

Ted has been writing about community life in the KP News for a decade as both a freelancer and volunteer, and also in his award-winning book about the Key Peninsula. A longtime elementary school volunteer, he also served two years as executive editor of the KP News, transforming the format, content and fundraising, and launching a new website and online archive stretching back to 1976. Under his watch, the KP News won three statewide journalism awards for the first time in its 46-year history.

RoxAnne Simon

RoxAnne Simon has been an active volunteer with the Key Peninsula Community Council for the past three years and is currently serving as a youth council adviser. She is often seen at local events in her role as a Safe Streets community mobilization specialist. She is also secretary of the board of the Hope Recovery Center and a participant in KP homelessness counts and community cleanups.

Don Swensen

Don has served on the Pierce County Transportation Advisory Committee, as past president of the KP Community Council, currently chairs its land use advisory committee (KPAC). He and his wife Molly were also honored by the Longbranch Improvement Club for their support of its charitable missions. He and Molly also frequently host political and public information meetings at their wine shop, The Blend in Key Center, when they’re not otherwise entertaining the community.

Ed Taylor

Ed has been a stalwart supporter of the KP and its business community for decades. He has served on the KP Civic Center board and as editor of the KP News in the 1990s; he has served on boards for the KP Fair, the Key Pen Parks and volunteered for the KP Business Association. He lends his advice and expertise to startups and provides housing to displaced residents at his Westwynd Motel in Purdy. His ongoing selfless contributions are legendary.

Irene Torres

Irene has been a vital part of community life on the KP for over 20 years. She helped found and has served on the KP Community Council since 2012 and is its current secretary. She has volunteered for the KP News from 2003 to the present, working as a writer, editor, board member and past president. 

Carolyn Wiley

An award-winning artist and Longbranch fixture for two decades, Carolyn founded the Fiber Arts Festival in 2007, helped merge it with the KP Farm Tour, and has been helping to organize and finance both ever since. She was a board member for Friends of the Key Center Library, raising money for the library’s expansion in 2012, and helped organized events and fundraisers for the Longbranch Improvement Club. She is also a longtime, award-winning writer for the KP News.