Honoring the people who embody what it means to serve Saturday night was no less meaningful for being behind schedule.
Firefighter of the Year Keldy Matthews, Police Officer of the Year Keith Fouts and Citizen of the Year Mickey Thurman were recognized for their 2013 awards at a banquet at the Aberdeen Elks Lodge.
The banquet is typically held the same year as the awards, but the tradition nearly faltered until caring volunteers from both sides of Myrtle Street stepped up, Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney explained during the event.
”The Daily World has sponsored this banquet every year since 1969,” Durney said. “Last year, during budget cuts that everybody has been faced with, we didn’t happen to have a banquet. So the Elks stepped in, both the Aberdeen and the Hoquiam Elks, to help The Daily World so we’re honoring the 2013 honorees tonight. … When you talk about volunteerism, the Elks have been in the middle of it for over a hundred years.”
Grays Harbor Fire District 10 Chief Keldy Matthews has spent the past 36 years volunteering to protect his native Wishkah Valley. He was honored for the 2013 award for his distinguished service as a volunteer and as the district’s second-ever chief.
The award is given each year in honor of Cosmopolis volunteer firefighter Denny York, who died after an industrial accident at the Weyerhaeuser pulp mill in 1986.
District 10 Assistant Chief Mike Pauley nominated Matthews and shared a few memories Saturday.
On one call, Pauley said, “the only thing I see is the chief standing at the corner of the house, and he’s full bunkers, helmet, gear, everything.
Next thing I see is a helmet in the air — one of the rookie volunteers decided to pull on the hose that was wrapped around the chief’s feet.
“The volunteer did not think he was going to be asked back. But because of Keldy’s caring personality, I think it was a month later, Keldy came up and gave him a big hug.”
Pauley noted Matthews would rather “read the paper than be in it.”
“He wasn’t given a choice this time,” he said. “With his dedication and leadership in the fire district, we have gained many volunteers, lots of the training that is involved in it, and the love of the community that he has has spread to the rest of the fire hall.”
Matthews is known throughout the county for his dedication to his district and his community. He can most often be found at the fire hall, often working to maintain the district’s vehicles himself. He took over as chief in 2006 after founding Chief Bill Knannlein retired.
“I wish I could explain my feelings when I found out” about the award, Matthews said. “I really had no idea until I got a phone call on a Saturday morning from last year’s Firefighter of the Year Frank Scherer congratulating me. It was a shock — I hadn’t read the paper yet.”
He said the award was especially meaningful because he knew York.
“It is an honor to be among those who are listed on that paper for Denny,” Matthews said, his voice catching with emotion.
Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott had no hesitation in paying retired Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Keith Fouts the highest compliment a police officer gives another.
“I’d like to introduce you to a cop’s cop,” Scott said Saturday.
For his distinguished career and exceptional dedication to law enforcement, Fouts received the 2013 Police Officer of the Year award. It is presented each year in honor of Hoquiam Police Department Officer Donald Burke, who was shot and killed by bank robbers while on duty in 1980.
Fouts did just about everything in his 24 years with the Sheriff’s Office. As a K-9 handler, he and his partner, Tor, had more than 120 capture arrests and an exceptionally high rate of success. They were honored with a meritorious service award. Statewide, Fouts’ contributions to improving K-9 training are still felt today.
While he was Drug Task Force supervisor, he was involved in 915 investigations and 612 arrests.
“Most importantly, the Drug Task Force during that time seized $3.7 million in assets from drug dealers, $1.2 million of which was forfeited,” Scott said. “Additionally, they took more than $46 million worth of drugs off the street in Western Washington.”
Fouts also served in specialty units like the dive team and Special Response Team, worked as a firearms instructor, and helped in the critical incident management team, being there for his brother and sister law enforcement officers involved in traumatic events.
“Keith’s dedication to law enforcement truly is without compare,” Scott said. “He was someone who was there for each and every one of us, and whenever something happened I always felt a lot more comfortable knowing Keith was there helping get things resolved.”
Despite his ample praise, or because of it, Scott couldn’t avoid a little ribbing of his friend, mostly relating to his stature.
“We really did buy booster seats to give out to kids, they were not for Keith,” Scott joked.
Fouts thanked his family, particularly his wife Peggy for “all the long hours and putting up with the dog that shed a lot and smelled a lot,” and his parents, “my two best trainers.”
His nephew is currently training to become a deputy.
“You don’t do this job by yourself, it’s a team,” Fouts said. “We’re all family members, we’re all brothers and sisters.”
He noted he and his fellow honorees were feeling uncomfortable receiving awards in memory of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I didn’t know Donald Burke. He was murdered — and he was murdered, call it what it is — nine years before I got hired. But, my nephew knows, you come into the department, you learn that story,” he continued. “We’re all uncomfortable with this because we know the people who really stuck it out there and gave it all. And to be put in the same sentence as those individuals, it just doesn’t feel right.”
Those who have only discovered the 7th St. Theater in the past decade might be surprised to know the state it was in before volunteers, led largely by Mickey Thurman, went to work on it.
“We had plaster falling from the ceiling, we had plywood attached to the ceiling to keep plaster from falling on to the audience,” 7th St. Theater Board President Ray Kahler said. “The carpet and upholstery on the seats were held together with duct tape.”
It was 2003 when Kahler and Thurman first met and began forming the board.
“At that time we didn’t have enough money in the bank for postage to send out a fundraising letter … but Mickey saw the potential,” Kahler said.
For her years of hard work and dedication on Grays Harbor, Thurman is the 2013 Citizen of the Year.
Since the board formed, the theater has been beautifully renovated, now sporting a ceiling mural with tiny stars that show through the painted sky, freshly upholstered seats, a candlestick sign and a commercial-grade popcorn machine — all reflecting Thurman’s meticulous research to ensure all the upgrades reflect the original theater.
Now, it hosts events, a popular movie series and projects like a compilation of 1920s newsreels, which Thurman also helped organize.
“Mickey has been the driving force that made that happen,” Kahler said. “It’s hard to overstate just how much Mickey has done for the theater. … She keeps her positive attitude in the face of situations that would make most people want to give up.”
Thurman also volunteered with the Hoquiam High School Band, when her daughter Alissa was in school, and still works with the Hoquiam Business Association.
“Mickey has taken her drive and her passion and put them in the service of our community,” Kahler said. “We’re very lucky to have her in our community.”
Thurman praised Kahler and encouraged others to volunteer when they can.
“I never really planned on volunteering, I always thought volunteering was doing things like walking around picking up litter,” she said. “But there’s so much more to it. … You learn so much and you get to meet so many people all the time, and it’s a lot of fun. I really enjoy what I do.”
Brionna Friedrich: 360-537-3933, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DW_Brionna