Tri-Citian of the Year to be revealed Saturday

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldApril 15, 2014 

Getting the Tri-Citian of the Year to show up to the annual banquet is no easy task. But each year since the top secret award was resurrected 35 years ago after taking a hiatus for nine years, the honoree has been coaxed into attending, with friends and family sometimes having to tell a few white lies.

Last year, attorney Allen Brecke was supposed to be out of town during the ceremony naming him Tri-Citian of the Year, but he changed plans when he was told a close friend was the winner.

Keeping the winner a secret until a description of their accomplishments is read is a key feature of the ceremony.

But it can give the organizers sleepless nights before the annual event, which is Saturday at Kennewick's Three Rivers Convention Center. The event kicks off at 6 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m.

It's the 35th year of the Tri-Citian of the Year banquet, even though the first award was given in 1962. The Tri-City Herald started the award, but it was discontinued after the ninth Tri-Citian of the Year was named in 1970. Whoever wins this year will be winner No. 43.

Rotarian Bill Waddingham came up with the idea to resurrect the award as part of a project to honor the 75th year of Rotary, said Coke Roth, a local attorney and wine connoisseur, who, as a close friend of Waddingham, was asked to help.

Rotarians Bob Young, Bob Iller, Clif LaHue and Ernie Boston also were recruited. Together, the six represented the Pasco-Kennewick and Richland rotary clubs, the only two in the Tri-Cities at the time.

The 1980 event was "a leap of faith" that worked, Roth said. It helped that the Herald got behind the award.

Glenn Lee, the Herald's publisher at the time and a "hardcore businessman," was nominated and chosen for the award that year.

Roth said organizers asked him to give the keynote address to make sure he was at the event. After the award was announced, Lee said," 'Gee, thanks a lot,' pulled out his speech and gave it," Roth recalled.

When it was Roth's turn to be Tri-Citian of the Year in 1987, Roth didn't have to be suckered into coming. "Every time there was a party, I was there," he joked.

But in all seriousness, he said, "It was really quite the honor to get, humbling, particularly when you look at all the stuff that other people do."

There are so many "silent servants" in the Tri-Cities whose accomplishments aren't seen until they are named Tri-Citian of the Year, Roth said. And sometimes, what is mentioned is really the tip of the iceberg.

"People really, really put their heart and soul into volunteering here," Roth said.

That makes choosing just one Tri-Citian a year a challenge. And some who deserved the award have died or moved away before the award could be given, Roth said.

This year, 10 nominations were received for the award. "Every single one of these people could have been Tri-Citian of the Year," said Barbara Johnson, a volunteer with the award's committee.

And that's not typical. In general, the committee tends to see up to seven nominations, with about a third of the nominations an obvious choice, said Johnson, who works as Columbia Center mall's general manager.

"Whatever work these people have done has been for the betterment of the entire Tri-Cities," she said.

The Tri-Citian of the Year is chosen by 15 volunteer judges, five each from Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, Johnson said. It's given to someone who follows the Rotary model of service above self, regardless of whether that person has been a Rotarian.

What started as a planned Rotary event has expanded to include other service clubs and volunteers. A core group of 10 have kept the award going each year.

Roth said part of the reason it's continued is that everyone is hoping there are more Tri-Citians of the Year out there who use their own resources to contribute to the Tri-Cities' present and future.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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