Humanitarians of the Year honored |

Humanitarians of the Year honored

Post Independent Staff

A roomful of reluctant heroes – and their families, friends and supporters – gathered Monday evening at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs to receive something they rarely do: well-earned praise and public recognition for their outstanding humanitarian work.

At 225 attendants, the capacity crowd was one of the largest in the 14 year history of the Humanitarian Service Awards, sponsored by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and the Garfield County Human Services Commission. The event honored over 30 local people who give their time and energy to educational, health-related or human service organizations.

It’s not easy for these unsung humanitarians to receive praise for their good deeds. As each individual went to the podium to receive a framed certificate, it was clear these citizens volunteer or work for human service organizations, not to receive accolades, but simply because they want to be of service.

No one was more chagrined than the evening’s top award winner, Bruce Christensen. Beginning in 1979, as director of Mountain Valley Developmental Services, he has taken a small preschool for developmentally disabled children and made it into a four-county organization serving more than 380 people.

In fact, one of Christensen colleagues stated he nominated Christensen partly to see how he’d handle a little public recognition.

“Because of his modesty, he didn’t know if he’d be very good at it,” said co-host Heather McGregor, Post Independent managing editor, with a smile.

Christensen, although indeed modest, said he was “truly honored” by the award.

“I go to a job I’ve been going to for 24 years and I still enjoy it every day,” Christensen said.

Individuals were nominated by their colleagues, friends, and even spouses in two cases. They were divided into several groups: youth volunteers, senior volunteers, group, adult volunteers and staff.

Natalie Bassett, senior class president of the Glenwood Springs High School, couldn’t stop smiling after she won the youth volunteer award.

“I’m very honored,” she said, thanking her parents and her mentor Carolyn Hardin for their support.

Louise Mooney received the award for senior volunteer and received the first standing ovation of the evening. She has a long history of helping those in need, from her Peace Corps work in the Philippines 20 years ago to her ongoing work with children, literacy, the Frontier Historical Museum, and even taking a friend with failing eyesight grocery shopping.

“My work with children is great kick for me,” said Mooney, who will be soon celebrate her 83rd birthday, “and taking my friend shopping gives us the chance to visit. Literacy Outreach is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon, and my work at the Frontier Historical Museum lets me meet interesting people and eat. That’s why it feels really strange accepting compliments for things that make me happy. I’m glad I’m still able to give back to my community.”

There were 11 volunteers in the adult category, and although the evening was upbeat, the room got quiet when McGregor read the nomination for the late Jeff Hiltner. Hiltner, who suffered from mental illness in the last few months of his life, committed suicide in late December after organizing a cleanup campaign in Glenwood Springs.

The audience applauded his memory.

Judy Huston was completely dazed when her name was announced as the adult volunteer. A teacher for 31 years, she now volunteers for Project STAR, an after-school program at Sopris Elementary.

“This is a tremendous surprise,” she said. “I’m speechless. There are so many volunteers who are deserving. And this is the icing on the cake. I get a reward every time I go to the school and work with those kids and see my teacher friends.”

It took awhile for Judy Blakeslee to make it to the podium after McGregor announced she had won the staff humanitarian award. Hugging and kissing nearly everyone in her path, Blakeslee is well-known for her kind heart in her role at a tough job: the Garfield County civil deputy.

“I love you all so much,” was all Blakeslee could really say, looking out into the audience.

Three specialty awards were also handed out. Jack Hazelhurst, who volunteers for everything from Parachute’s Fourth of July fireworks to coordinating the building of the Parachute rest area information cabin, received the good neighbor award. He was characteristically modest.

“I thought I was just going to have dinner with my son,” he said about being surprised to find himself at the awards ceremony. “Other people here work just as hard as I do.”

CMC language teacher Michael Reyelts of Rifle received the peacemaker award for his English-Spanish translation work during the Michael Stagner murders and subsequent trial.

“I am honored to be recognized with the caliber of people working in this community,” he said. “I’m honored to be on the same page.”

And two staff members – Carolyn Hardin of Family Resource Centers and Julie Olson of Advocate Safehouse, shared the above and beyond award, playfully fighting over who worked with the better staff.

“I have a wonderful staff,” Hardin said.

“Not to take anything away from Carolyn, but I’m going to have to say I have the best staff,” Olson countered with a smile, once again showing the modesty of these local humanitarian heroes.

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