MORRISON – When John Martin helps his friends and neighbors, he doesn’t ask for anything in return.
On Thursday night, the community he calls home gave him something anyway. They named him Citizen of the Year.
Martin picked up the honor – and some heartfelt thanks – at a banquet attended by about 100 people during the Morrison Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.
Even during a ceremony to honor him, Martin couldn’t help but keep on giving – this time, his thanks to other volunteers and to the town that encourages them to do their part.
Martin praised Morrison’s strong volunteer base, in contrast to other towns where, he said, they “don’t try to offer opportunities to expand the town with volunteering.”
Not so in Morrison.
Just one example? “There are more than 100 volunteers for CAPA (Children’s Art Preservation Association),” Martin said after picking up his award at the Morrison Institute of Technology.
Martin, 52, is the co-chairman of the association that sponsors the annual Paint the Town activity, which closes off downtown streets and opens them up to artists who turn 5-foot-by-5-foot squares into works of art. He and his wife, Brenda, have two grown children.
When not preparing for the art festival, Martin makes custom cabinets and owns A-Plus Self-Storage in Freeport and Morrison.
His helping hand also isn’t afraid to grab a shovel, a saw, or a handful of gutter goop. The letter nominating him for Citizen of the Year highlighted his efforts giving time to his fellow townsfolk, from shoveling neighbors’ driveways and sidewalks to trimming trees to cleaning gutters.
Three other nominees for the annual award – created to raise awareness of members’ contributions and activities – were LuEllen Lee, Jerry Lindsey and Joe Robbins.
The evening also featured presentations by Morrison Tech President Chris Scott, who mentioned a number of positive developments at the college in the past year.
“We were named to Forbes’ Top 30 Two-Year Trade Schools List,” Scott said.
The nonprofit engineering technology is moving ahead with plans for the Morrison Tech Innovation Center, an 8,000-square-foot facility that will serve students, regional businesses, entrepreneurs and artisans and house existing prototyping and 3D printing technology, as well as welding, woodworking, metalworking, casting, forging, and other equipment.
Scott said the plan is to move equipment into the building in late spring or early summer, with an August target date.
Last year also was good one for the chamber. Chamber coordinator Meredith Layne said the group added 13 new members, and two new board members – Karla Burn with Resthave Home and Myra Huizenga with Hair Headquarters.
Before Martin was announced as the Citizen of the Year, two local business people shared their Morrison success stories.
Mary Black, co-founder with her husband Bob of the Super Wash car wash chain, praised the city’s family-friendly environment and support of business.
“One of the things that made this business so wonderful for us is being able to raise it in a community we love,” Black said.
The Blacks started their business in July 1976, and raised their family in Morrison.
“Who says you can’t do business in a small town?” Black said.
Mike Vegter, owner of American Piping Group Inc. and its subsidiary, Vegter Steel Fabrication, talked about how he started out on a farm near Morrison, driving tractors at 8 years old.
“Work was never a bad thing to me,” Vegter said.
He took welding at Morrison High School and later became a traveling welder, eventually founding American Piping Group in 1995 and later buying out his business partner.
While the Great Recession threw the company some curves a few years back, it rebounded by 2013.
“Go ahead and dream. Dreams can come true,” Vegter said.
ABOUT THE OTHER NOMINEES
Also nominated for Morrison's Citizen of the Year award were:
• Jerry Lindsey, president of the Morrison Area Development Corp. and editor of the Whiteside News Sentinel. When not working, he volunteers as treasurer for both Emmanuel Reformed Church and Resthave Home.
• LuEllen Lee, a Morrison Athletic Boosters member and 4-H organizer. She helps orchestrate the Morrison Halloween Parade, and recently was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame.
• Joe Robbins, Morrison Junior High School principal. He volunteers with the Paint the Town celebration, the Morrison Rotary's Harvest Hammer race, coaches youth sports, and helps find resources and homes for homeless youth in the Morrison School District.