Nov. 12—"Tonight we are honoring a true American hero," LTC John Turner, retired, U.S. Army, said at the start of the 2023 Lawrence County veteran of the Year Ceremony at Ohio University Southern on Wednesday.
Of this year's recipient, Aaron Collins, Turner said he was the epitome of a "servant leader," what the entire focus of the award is about.
"A servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of the community they belong to," Turner explained. " And Aaron clearly exemplifies what a servant leader is."
Collins, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, earning the AF Achievement and Outstanding Unit medals, as well as the AF Overseas Long Tour ribbon, among other.
He has served in the Ironton Fire Department since 2004 and is active in his community in a number of programs, most notably his work coaching youth in soccer, T-ball and baseball., while working to maintain playing fields in the region.
Collins helped Ironton High School field and outfit their first soccer team.
Through the fire department, he has organized blood drives and works as a volunteer in other capacities.
Dr. Debbie Marinski, the interim dean for Ohio University Southern said Collins "has gone above and beyond his service to our nation and our community."
"It gives me peace and pride knowing we have men and women like Aaron sacrificing for us and protecting us," she said.
Accepting the award from Turner, who chairs the committee behind the ceremony, Collins was humble.
"Although it has my name, there were many people behind the sces who helped give me the opportunity to achieve this," he said, thanking his parent and family for their help in the youth sports efforts, as well the crew members from the fire department who were present for the event.
After he received the award from the committee, Collins was recongnized by representatives of statewide officials, such as Gov. Mike DeWine, U.S. Sen. JD Vance, U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, Ohio Speaker of the House Jason Stephens and Ohio Sec. of State Frank LaRose.
Locally, he was honored by the Lawrence County Commissioners, of which DeAnna Holliday and Mike Finley were on hand.
Holliday read a proclamation from the commissioners.
"Through his service, Aaron continues to exemplify the core values of the U.S. Air Force," she said of his volunteer work.
Ironton Mayor Sam Cramblit II was initially scheduled to speak on behalf of the city, but was called away to an emergency meeting of the Lawrence County Board of Elections regarding the Nov. 20-21 runoff election.
Representing him was Brent PYles.
"He wishes you well and thanks you for your service," Pyles said.
Pyles also represented the Col. William C. Lambert Museum and Archives and presented Collins with an award from them.
Collins was also presented with a quilt from Kim Keffer and Miki Crawford, of Material Hugs Quilting Guild, as part of the Quilts of Honor program.
The anthem for the ceremony was performed by Demi Sands.
Special awards were given to Coal Grove Giovanni's and The Ironton Tribune for their support of the Veteran of the Year program.
The Lawrence County Veteran of the Year award was created in 2018, with nominations coming from the community, which are submitted beginning in summer.
Past recipients are:
2022 — Tom Elbert Williams
2021 — Dean Palmer
2020 — Martin Jackson
2019 — Mathew Jenkins