Surprise is no surprise at Kennewick celebration

Few know, going into the Kennewick Man and Woman of the Year event, who the winners will be.

But invariably as the names are called, the audience nods quietly to itself, and person after person thinks, "Of course. I should have known."

That was the case Monday night as a room crammed full of people -- most of them eligible for the honor on their own accord -- heard Shannon Novakovich and Tom McMillin named.

These are two of the Tri-Cities' hardest workers and most selfless people.

They're both modest, too, and generous with their time and resources.

Novakovich is on a roll. As president of the Benton Franklin Humane Society, she led the campaign to raise $1.8 million to build a no-kill animal shelter in Kennewick.

Her other honors are many and so are her causes.

She doesn't even have to be a member of an organization to help out. Many worthy efforts and organizations have benefited from printing provided by Esprit Graphic Communications, the family business Shannon helps run with her husband, Skip.

"This is really a surprise. I want to thank my husband who prods me on and my crew who makes it possible," she said.

But she and McMillin probably were the only ones surprised by Monday's announcements.

Decked out in a dark suit and sporting on his lapel one of the colorful metal and enameled circles he had struck off for friends of the Veterans Memorial in Columbia Park, he made his way to the platform at the Tri-City Convention Center when he was called.

His first words also came as no surprise.

They were a wish that his late wife, Joyce, could be there on the stage with him. Joyce did much of the design work on the memorial and was Tom's steady partner in getting it built.

The memorial project was the concept of Tom and Joyce, who envisioned it as a monument in recognition of all the men and women who served in the Armed Forces.

Tom, a Korea veteran Seabee, managed McMillin Brothers Constructors.

He was quick to praise, by name, others in the audience who had through donations of time, money and equipment, made the dream of the memorial into a reality.

The three granite columns that constitute the memorial were originally brought to Hanford for a project that was eventually abandoned.

We said the room was filled with people deserving of the honors bestowed, but that does not make McMillin or Novakovich any less so.

Actually, it makes them even more special.

Monday night was their night.

And it was a good one.