By Will Broaddus
Heroes can emerge through a sudden act of courage or over time, in an accumulation of good deeds. The entire range of heroism is represented in this year's 10th annual Heroes Breakfast, hosted by the Northeast Chapter of the American Red Cross.
From those who have made an example of steady, selfless contribution to their fellow citizens to one man who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving others, this year's group of heroes is proof that the best in human nature is alive and well.
This year's 11 honorees are being feted today at the annual breakfast at the CoCo Key Hotel in Danvers. Here's a look at who they are and what they've done.
Beverly Rotary Club
Construction of the gazebo on Beverly Common and restoration of the Carriage House at Lynch Park have benefited from Beverly Rotary's commitment to improving public facilities. Club support has also gone to education, helping provide Beverly High School with a scoreboard and a new turf field. The club regularly sponsors the high school band, awards student scholarships and provides exchange opportunities. Every year, Rotary provides books to third-graders throughout Beverly.
Rotary has supported community services, sponsoring a safety campaign for the Police Department and raising money for a Red Cross emergency response vehicle and a refrigerated food delivery truck for Beverly Bootstraps. They also secured a bus for the Beverly Children's Learning Center.
In addition to their collective contributions, club members have given generously of their time to community service, whether serving as board members or painting facilities for local organizations.
Hard times are especially tough on seniors. But thanks to the leadership of Director Roseann Robillard, those served by the Newburyport Council on Aging are luckier than most. Whether using her own car to provide transportation or addressing problems as they arise at any hour of the day, every day of the week, there's nothing routine about Robillard's commitment.
Not satisfied with extending herself at work, Robillard volunteers as secretary for the Lawrence district of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and she spent six years as president of the charity's chapter at Immaculate Conception in Newburyport. She still volunteers at the church on weekends, running Sunday morning coffee socials and serving in a group that helps the needy. Recently, Robillard provided emergency clothing and shelter from her own pocket to a homeless woman, brought to the church by police, until a place for her was found at a Haverhill shelter.
For 40 years, Miles Herter has been a driving force behind programs to prevent drug abuse. He has served as a trustee for FCD (Freedom from Chemical Dependency) Educational Services since 1981, helping it expand from assisting families of alcoholics to educating youths on how to avoid substance abuse. Herter led a 2002 capital campaign that raised $1 million for FCD, allowing the nonprofit to acquire permanent facilities in Newton.
Herter, a Manchester resident, has also served on the board of CAB Health and Recovery Services, a Danvers-based nonprofit that works with men, women and adolescents to treat and prevent substance abuse. Among many efforts on CAB's behalf, Herter led its 1996 capital campaign, which allowed them to build a detoxification center. Northeast Health System and CAB Health & Recovery Services recently established an endowed fund in his name, "Go Miles for the Kids," to support adolescent addiction treatment services.
Rick Doucette has been mentoring teenagers in Gloucester and Cape Ann for 28 years. As executive director of the Cape Ann YMCA teen and camping services, he leads activities that challenge and entertain the young. But his concern for their well-being extends to counseling teens with a range of problems, from homelessness to a simple lack of direction.
Doucette also inspires the young to give back by directing the Gloucester Teen Leaders club, which involves them in programs such as the Open Door Food Pantry. The YMCA's Clean Team, which Doucette helped found, enlists teens in a cleanup program during the summer. He has also taken young volunteers to New Orleans to help build houses for flood victims.
In addition, as a member of the Gloucester Rotary, Doucette served as co-president of Gloucester's Pride Stride, a five-mile walk that raises funds for nonprofit organizations in the arts and civic affairs.
Rockport High School junior Erin Pratt is an athletic 16-year-old who plays softball in the spring and does cheerleading in the winter. She also volunteers as a Sunday School teacher in her church and worked as a lifeguard at the YMCA and, last summer, at Bass Rocks Beach Club in Gloucester. It was in this position that Pratt demonstrated enormous courage.
On Friday, Sept. 2, with few people at the pool, Erin noticed a woman in distress at Good Harbor Beach, across the street from the club. The surf was rough, and the woman was clinging to a rock to resist the pull of a riptide, out of sight of the beach lifeguards. Pratt ran across the street, entered the water and pulled the woman — who was crying for help — back to shore. At that point, she noticed two children on a boogie board who were also struggling against the riptide. Pratt swam back out and pulled them to safety, as well.
The Peabody Learning Academy, the only mall-based school in New England, was at first just an empty space at the Northshore Mall. In 2010, however, it was transformed into an alternative school for struggling high school students. It has taken the tireless efforts of director Seith Bedard to turn the academy into a place where lives can be transformed.
Working as much more than an administrator, Bedard also serves his students as a guidance counselor, therapist, nurse, bus driver and substitute teacher. Whether he is consulting with parents on student progress or working to develop support in the community, securing financial aid and contacts at local colleges, Bedard's schedule knows no limits.
In addition to working on behalf of his students, Bedard makes sure they give back to the community and gets academy students involved in volunteer work at Haven From Hunger and Habitat for Humanity.
First Responder Hero
Since 2006, John Gardner has made a daily habit of helping people in distress. Transitioning from a desk job at Sun Microsystems to an EMT paramedic, Gardner has worked for Atlantic Cataldo Ambulance Services, where he specializes in providing advanced life support.
Gardner's commitment to those in need isn't limited to his workday role. On Oct. 15, while off-duty and relaxing at home in Lynn, Gardner heard a crash on the Lynnway and ran outside. Two vehicles had collided, leaving one in flames and the other spewing smoke. With no concern for his own safety, Gardner raced to the smoking car to give assistance and medical aid to an injured passenger. Working with police as they arrived and with another, unidentified man, Gardner helped move the victim to a safer location. Kevin Coppinger, chief of the Lynn Police Department, wrote a letter commending Gardner and describing his actions that day as heroic.
Fallen Hero Tribute
Firefighter James Rice
Firefighters and police officers have to live with the knowledge that any day on the job, they may be called upon to lay down their lives for others. For James Rice, an 11-year veteran of the Peabody Fire Department, that day was Dec. 23, 2011. Somehow caught between the first and second floors of a blazing house on Hancock Street in Peabody, he was apparently overcome with toxic fumes and collapsed. Although quickly rescued by colleagues, he never recovered.
Rice, 42, was raised in Peabody and played football at St. John's Prep in Danvers, where he also made lifelong friends. He earned a degree in marketing from Bentley College and worked in banking for a time, before switching careers to become a firefighter. When he was not at work, he attended his children's soccer, basketball, softball and flag football games. He routinely walked his kids to school after returning home from the station, then later could be found standing under a tree, waiting for them to come home. Rice leaves his wife of 17 years, Amy, and their three children, Alyssa, 12, Katelyn, 9, and Ryan, 7.
Since serving as the commonwealth's lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey has been active in the international arena. In 2008, she helped establish a partnership linking U.S. lawyers and judges with counterparts in Afghanistan to help advance the rule of law in that country.
With the International Republican Institute, she has helped train 60 female members of parliament in Afghanistan. And as a trustee of American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, she is raising funds for 100 scholarships for Afghan girls to study law and business and to learn English in a secure environment.
At home, Healey co-chairs Political Parity, a bipartisan effort to help elect more women to high-level offices. She also serves as chairwoman of the Governor's Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and is a founder of the Massachusetts Interagency Council on Homelessness. Healey also serves as vice chairman of the National Center on Family Homelessness.
Richard Wylie, president of Endicott College, has been devoted to the quality of life in Beverly. Not only has he committed to support the city with $500,000 in lieu of taxes, but Wylie helped institute Endicott's Gull dining card, enabling students to eat at venues downtown, where they spend an estimated $328,000 a year.
Wylie has also made Endicott's resources available to Beverly citizens. The college's Center for the Arts hosts the Beverly Community Arts Exhibit each year. Classes at Endicott have conducted focus groups that contributed to Downtown 2020, a development program promoted by Beverly Main Streets. Design classes have provided conceptual drawings to show how proposed changes could improve the look of downtown Beverly. And in addition to his role as college president, Wiley sits on the boards of a number of nonprofit agencies.
As an award-winning journalist, Susan Wornick has highlighted the plight of people in need and of innocent victims. She has also contributed her personal time to causes that have an impact on the North Shore.
In addition to serving on the board of Rosie's Place, a Boston shelter for homeless women, she works with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless and Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly. She has volunteered to raise awareness and funds for national causes, such as breast cancer research, and more local needs, such as troubled teenagers and children at risk in Massachusetts. Wornick has also been a great supporter of the Red Cross, hosting many of its annual Heroes ceremonies.