By Joe Hoshaw, Jr.
Ever since the late 1960s, the annual City Awards Banquet has served as a special night for the people who make Trenton a special place.
The 47th installment, held last month at Chateau on the River inside Elizabeth Park, continued that long-standing tradition by according special recognition to a dozen residents who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to the community.
That included eight people honored by the Trenton Civic Commission, as well as the induction of four more members to the Trenton Sports Hall of Fame, which is overseen by the Trenton Recreation Commission.
The honorees included Police Officer of the Year Jeff Neese, Firefighter of the Year Jake Hermanson, Charlie Brown Award winner Aaron Segedi, Outstanding Woman Peggy Eaton, Outstanding Man Chad Clements, Outstanding Man and Woman John and Kathy Masserant and Outstanding Trentonite Jean Pendell.
The new Hall of Fame inductees were Lynn Herman, Hugh McLeish, Bob Wade and Joann Gonyea (See related article in Sports, Page 17-B).
This was the third consecutive year that the Commission has selected Chateau on the River to be the site of the event, due largely to the outstanding job done by Kosch Catering Solutions, which provide the food service at the building, and the fact that the facility, formerly known as the shelter building, is an ideal size for the banquet, which sees its attending vary from 150 to 200 from year to year. This year there were about 160 people in attendance.
Before the awards for humans were presented, a presentation was made to recognize the Trenton Trib’s Cutest Pet of the Year. That award went to a perky pooch named Pharaoh, the pet of Melissa Pruitt. Pharoah was the Trib’s Cutest Pet of the Month in January 2016, and topped all other pets of the month in voting conducted online and by mail in December.
Trenton’s top cop for 2016, Jeff Neese, told the crowd that he had wanted to be a police officer since the day he was born, and is very happy to have come to Trenton after working for another policy agency for nearly 15 years.
“It wasn’t very long after working with the men and women of this department that I knew that coming here was the best career decision that I had ever made,” Neese said. “We all come to work every day and night with one goal — to keep this city safe.”
Neese noted last year’s nationwide police fatality totals, which hit their highest levels in five years with 134 officers dying in the line of duty, including 64 as the result of gunfire and 24 that were killed in ambush-style attacks.
“ I can tell you as police officers, we are very aware of those terrible statistics, but the men and women of this department continue to show up every day and night with continued professionalism and without fear,” he said. “I am truly honored to be chosen as your Police Officer of the Year, but I can assure you I am very honored serving with the men and women of this department.”
Jake Hermanson, who has been a firefighter-paramedic with the Trenton Fire Department for the past four years, was described by Chief Dean Creech as someone who is the “complete package.”
“We want our firefighters to work to leave the community a better place than when they got here, and Jake is the perfect, perfect example of that — a model employee, just extremely high-character, with integrity and devotion to the job,” said Creech.
Hermanson said firefighters are different than other professionals because they are more like family than just coworkers. “I genuinely love what I do,” he said.
Public Safety Director James Nardone, who oversees both departments, offered his praise.
“They are the best of the best,” he said. “We are as good as we’ve ever been in police and fire.”
The Charlie Brown Award exists to honor someone who has made a lasting impact on Trenton children through recreation and athletics. It’s not named after the Peanuts character, but rather a now-deceased Trenton resident who was considered a champion for youth. Hedke Principal Vince Porreca, in presenting this year’s award to good friend Aaron Segedi, said the Trenton teacher and coach “fits that bill and more.”
Segedi primarily was nominated for his role in creating the annual Victory Day program, which allows cognitively and physically impaired youth to play football on the Trenton High School Field each year. But Porreca noted the numerous other ways Segedi had been a positive influence on youth, including in his role as a teacher at Arthurs Middle School, a football coach at the high school and a recreation league softball coach.
Segedi’s Victory Day program, started in Trenton in 2010, has spread to 38 schools around the country.
“These days impact thousands of students each year, not only with mental and physical challenge to participate, but those who serve as their mentors for the event,” Porreca said. “All of this because of an idea that Aaron had while battling and beating a variety of health concerns, including a liver transplant, and three separate cases of cancer.”
Segedi noted that the idea for the day stemmed from a discussion in the basement of varsity football Coach Bob Czarnecki’s home.
“I had no idea how many lives it would touch over the course of this,” Segedi said. “I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done here.”
This year’s Outstanding Woman award went to Peggy Eaton, a prolific community volunteer who has been a major factor in many of the events the Civic Commission sponsors, as well as the Trenton Summer Festival.
Chad Clements, a Trenton teacher and varsity hockey coach, was named Outstanding Man. Along with his teaching and coaching roles, Clements is also an active volunteer in youth-related efforts, most notably as advisor of the high school’s Interact Club.
Clements’ team had a game the evening of the banquet, so he was unable to attend the ceremony. In a video message he said he “was very honored” to be recognized.
The banquet also recognized an Outstanding Man and Woman this year by honoring community volunteers John and Kathy Masserant.
“Congratulations to all the award winners here tonight,” John Masserant said. “You make Trenton what it is — a great community to live in, work in, raise your kids in, (and) have them go to school there.”
The Outstanding Trentonite Award this year went to Jean Pendell, who plays a key role in the city’s Community Garden at the Cultural Center.
“I feel that we are so lucky in Trenton because we have these real gems around the city,” she said. “Our ice arena, our library; Elizabeth Park is beautiful, and our Cultural Center. So I hope through the year you will take advantage of some of the activities that we have that are offered to us all.”