COLUMBIA CITY — Carrying on the tradition started by Clark “Doc” Waterfall and Bob Cornmesser, the Community Foundation held its 22nd annual Heart of Gold awards and annual meeting last week at the Eagles Nest in Columbia City.

Twenty-five were nominated for the award and all were recognized at the event, with three special honorees selected to gift $1,000 to organizations of their choice — Sharon Persons, of Columbia City; Russ Gilliom, of Churubusco; and Lori Starkey, of South Whitley.

Waterfall and Cornmesser thought about all the people in the community who look out for one another. Simple acts of kindness made Whitley County unique and a special place to call home.

Waterfall and Cornmesser approached the Community Foundation with the idea of recognizing the everyday heroes — this grew into the Heart of Gold awards, which honors special people with hearts of gold.

Each nominee received a medallion engraved by Mitch Winger.

Persons was nominated by six people: Julie Jensen-Kelley, Chris Meyers, Susan Meyers, Krista Pope, Amanda Rempe and Greg Hockemeyer.

“Sharon has done more for Whitley County than almost anyone I know,” Pope wrote in her nomination letter. “I can’t begin to list the lives of children and youth who she has served and loved.”

Persons spent 40 years as a caseworker for the Whitley County Department of Child Services.

“She went beyond what was required by her job and took children under her wing, providing emotional and monetary support long after they had grown out of the system,” Susan Meyers said.

Persons volunteered in numerous community organizations, such as the Domestic Violence Task Force, Drug Free Indiana and CASA.

“Sharon is the most caring, humble, thoughtful person that I know,” Jenson-Kelley said.

“Our community would be all the stronger if more people shared Sharon’s good-hearted nature and willingness to help others,” Chris Meyers wrote.

Hockemeyer wrote to Persons’ humble, selfless nature.

“She will, no doubt, be embarrassed and slightly agitated at any attention received as a result of this nomination,” Hockemeyer wrote. “Nevertheless, in celebrating those in Whitley County with a heart of gold, we would be remiss in our failure to recognize Sharon.”

Gilliom, the president of the Whitley County Historical Society, was nominated by Dani Tippman for his civic leadership in many avenues, including his commitment to preserving and teaching Whitley County history.

Gilliom is also the chairman of the Whitley County Board of Health, president of the 30th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Civil War re-enactors and a re-enactor at numerous events. He was also the Whitley County Bicentennial Coordinator.

“Russ is willing to share his time and lend an understanding ear to your troubles, often offering to pray for you and with you,” Tippman wrote in her nomination letter. “His faith leads him, but not in an overbearing way. He always has a laugh or joke ready for any situation and his heart leads his actions.”

Gilliom, a retired Churubusco dentist, also goes on mission trips to provide free dental work to those in need.

Starkey was nominated by Susan Mulligan. Starkey started a program called, One Community, in South Whitley, which provides meals for community members in need, from children to the elderly.

“She worked tirelessly to gather sponsors for these meals and to offer programs,” Mulligan wrote in her nomination letter.

One Community has continued to grow, now helping to sponsor South Whitley Community Preschool and youth league, and a Thanksgiving dinner.

“One must say that Lori has a heart of gold. She has always done these things through the goodness of her heart,” Mulligan said.

Others who were nominated were: Rex Carpenter, Frank Fry, Sharon Geiger, Larry Hall, Mary Keiser, Barbara and Patrick Kyler, Pat Loe, Konnie and George Lutz, Leaha and Piper Meinika, Judith Miller, Donna Mommens, Kathy Plew, Monica Reed, Patty Rosenberger, Jim Shaw, John Slabaugh, Linda Smith, Morgan Stevenson, Priscilla VanAllen, Lin Wilson, Margaret Wise and Hank Workman.

Read more about the Community Foundation’s annual meeting in an upcoming edition of IN|Whitley County.