Celebrating good works

Seven Blair County women were honored for their good works at an annual tribute dinner Wednesday evening.

Mary Burgoon, Sue Whiteford Johnson, Vi Whiting, Christine A. Lysinger, Patricia A. Labriola, Jackie Clouser and Arianna De Reus were honored at the 2013 WISE Women of Blair County Tribute Honoree dinner.

Awards were given to Burgoon, 88, Hollidaysburg, for Lifetime Achievement; Johnson, 54, Bellwood, for Community Service Volunteer; Whiting, 70, Hollidaysburg, for Arts & Letters; Lysinger, 59, Altoona, for Nonprofit/Government; Labriola, 60, of Altoona, for Education; Clouser, 41, Hollidaysburg, for Business & Professional; and De Reus, 20, Hollidaysburg, for Rising Star.

In the last five years, WISE Women has given more than $90,000 in grants and scholarships, the evening’s emcee and Tribute Committee Chairwoman Diane Osgood said.

Attendance was at its highest this year with about 250 people and higher advertising support, she said.

“So it’s an extraordinarily successful event we feel this year, and we’re thrilled to have these women recognized,” she said of the “stellar group.”

In her acceptance speech, Burgoon talked about other people who could have easily stood in her place.

But her nephew, John Pendergrast, who gave a video tribute to his aunt, said she is the embodiment of the Bible scripture from Matthew about giving to those less fortunate.

The world contains talkers and doers, and Burgoon is both, and she does her good works “humbly” and “quietly,” he said.

Burgoon, who has helped others through several groups, including the Pennsylvania Prison Society and the settlement of Vietnamese families, said it was easy for her to give because she was blessed in her own life.

The good works of the other recipients were also recognized.

Among her many efforts, De Reus, a sophomore at Penn State’s University Park campus and a community environment and development major, has volunteered in such places as Panama, building latrines for a Kuna community and at Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, teaching art and English to children of rape survivors.

“Despite her youth … Arianna has already created a legacy of devotion to humanitarian causes,” Penn State Altoona Chancellor Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry said of De Reus’ program book biography.

Kate Shaffer, who nominated Whiting, said in her biography, “From decorating tables, to soliciting silent auction donations, distributing publicity posters and even making incredibly delicious peanut chocolate candy, Vi’s positive energy in volunteering her time and talent knows no boundaries.”

Whiting is the Altoona Symphony Orchestra board president and a Blair County Arts Foundation board member.

Clouser is founder and CEO of Kids First.

Amber Brick, New Steps program director, said in Clouser’s biography that she is a woman of integrity who believes in the greater good. She said, “there is no doubt Jackie’s contributions to Blair County are far reaching.”

William Abbott Jr. said in Johnson’s biography that her “commitment to serve has led the way for other women to do the same and moved them to get involved in meeting the needs of the community while responding to the call of civic obligation.”

Johnson, a volunteer at Bellwood-Antis community events, is involved in several groups including Bellwood-Antis Council of Churches. She also served on the Bellwood Borough Council for eight years.

Labriola, a retired teacher and co-founder of Project SOAR for the Altoona Area School District, “has taken every opportunity to help others realize that our students, the ‘citizens of tomorrow,’ need to be given every opportunity to be the ‘best they can be,'” Kathy O’Rourke, Project SOAR co-creator, said in her biography.

Lysinger is the director of the Blair County Assistance Office, Department of Public Welfare.

Flo Shuss, WISE Women board of directors secretary, said in Lysinger’s biography that she is “a quiet, steady force in helping those who are going through a very trying time with family, jobs and economics,” and Marie Cunningham said in Lysinger’s biography she has led the Department of Public Welfare “through often very difficult and trying transitions.”

Osgood knew several of the honorees, but it was important to learn of those “who have contributed so much to this community,” she said.