by Sandy Wyman
On Saturday, October 22, Silas Wainwright VFW Post 6338 of Gouverneur honored Lyle Hotis with its 67th Good Citizenship of the Year Award.
Many supporters of this soon to be honored individual attended the function even as the weather pattern was not quite up to par.
Mr. Hotis and this reporter spoke on the fact of so much rain would have been a welcome feature over the dry summer as it was not the best for the growing of the giant pumpkins that he and many others are noted for achieving.
Leading in to the special occasion was the Invocation by VFW Post Chaplain Karl Beck followed by the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the poignant ceremony of the POW/MIA table that is set for one. “We call them brothers.”
Master of Ceremonies VFW Commander Dominick Simione then introduced special guests for the event that included Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, Department of NYS VFW Commander Dennis Sullivan and NYS VFW Auxiliary President Karen Dotson.
Also present was Gouverneur Chamber of Commerce President C.J. Fitzgerald, Gouverneur Village Mayor Ron McDougall andCommissioner of the NYS Tax Appeals Tribunal Dede Scozzafava.
Of note were some of the students of Mr. Hotis during his tenure of teaching that spanned over three decades at GHS. The children of Lucy (present) and the late Leonard Strate were the following: Tom Strate, Class of 1972, Jerry Strate, Class of 1974, Kelly Strate, Class of 1975 (present), Emmy Strate, Class of 1980 (present), Rick Strate, Class of 1980 and Peggy Strate, Class of 1994 (present).
After introduction, guest speaker Dale Streeter then took the podium.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the VFW for sponsoring this annual event that formally recognizes an individual in the Gouverneur area who exemplifies our concept of a 'good citizen.'
“Of course, that refers to an individual who participates in all aspects of community life with creative ideas, actions and volunteer work. Not because he is looking for any “claim to fame” but because he firmly believes that it’s the right thing to do.
“And I know that even though he is deeply humbled to be chosen for this honor, I am extremely pleased that the VFW has chosen Lyle Hotis as their Good Citizen of the Year for 2016.
“Now, Lyle, I’m sure that you are hoping that my little speech will end right here but I have so much more to say about you. And just remember- you were the one who requested that I should be the guest speaker for this evening’s festivities.
“I’d like to begin with a brief biographical background. Lyle was an agriculture teacher in the Gouverneur Central School District for 33 years, retiring in 1999. Lyle lives on the Scotch Settlement Road in Gouverneur with his wife, Ellen.
“They have two wonderful children, Betsy (who is here this evening) and Andrew who is married to his wife Michelle. They are also the proud grandparents of two grandchildren.
“Lyle has many interests and hobbies. Among them is taxidermy, and I’ll talk about that later. He also grows giant pumpkins, loves to hunt and fish, and spends quality time during the summer at his camp on Pleasant Lake.
“I would like to take a few minutes to let you know how Lyle was selected for this award.
“Each year the VFW invites members of the community to nominate a “good citizen” of the year for Gouverneur. For the past two or three years I have considered nominating Lyle for this award.
“But, as is the case with most of us, I never got around to it. This year I decided that it was time for me to finally get out of the recliner and nominate Lyle for this award.
“I wasn’t aware of any special forms or procedures to follow so I simply wrote a letter and sent it to the VFW for their consideration. Among the candidates nominated, Lyle was selected to receive this year’s award.
“Lyle, I know you have been anxious to know what was written in that letter so tonight I will read it for everyone to hear.
I believe it is simple, straightforward, and clearly describes your qualifications for our “good citizen” of the year.”
“To Whom It May Concern:
“It is with great pleasure and utmost sincerity that I would like to nominate Lyle Hotis to receive the VFW Good Citizenship Award for 2016. His dedication to our community clearly demonstrates the qualifying characteristics necessary for receipt of this award.
“Lyle has been an active member of the Gouverneur Kiwanis Club for seventeen years. During that time he has faithfully worked to serve the needs of youth and the needy in the Gouverneur Community.
“He has always been there to work with the club’s service projects such as the annual Food Drive, Riverside Cemetery Clean Up, and most recently, the Wildcat Backpack Program. In fact, Lyle should be credited with the conception of the cemetery clean up project with the Kiwanis Club’s sponsorship and participation.
“He can always be counted on to help with all Kiwanis functions including the fundraising activities that are vital to the success of all service clubs.
“As a retired agriculture teacher from the Gouverneur Central School District Lyle continues to promote the FFA program at the school. He serves on the Agricultural Advisory Board and participates in the many activities that make the agriculture program so successful at Gouverneur.
“Lyle also serves as president of the Gouverneur Fair Association and for many, many years has worked as a fair board member and now as president to improve our county fair.
“Great improvements have been made in recent years to the buildings and grounds, general facilities, and the quality of the grandstand entertainment offerings.
“Lyle has been the driving force behind these changes that make our fair special. He has worked unselfishly to make the Gouverneur community proud of our county fair.
“Lyle is always looking for a new social activity to offer our community. Just a few years ago he conceived the idea for a fall celebration at the fairgrounds that everyone knows as the Pumpkin Fest.
“The great success of this event is a testament to Lyle’s efforts to provide unique experiences for Gouverneur and the surrounding area. It has grown every year since it’s inception and is now regarded as one of those fall events that should not be missed.
“Lyle serves Gouverneur in so many ways. His service and volunteer efforts are done for the good of the community and in his quiet and unassuming way he gets things done. He is one of those few, but truly genuine, public servants. His efforts over the years have made and will continue to make Gouverneur a place we are proud to call home.
“It should be noted that there are so many more things I should have discussed in this letter of nomination. Let me share some of these with you:
“He has been a Kiwanis member since 1999.
“He is a past President of the Gouverneur Kiwanis Club.
He worked with the Kiwanis “child safety seats” program.
“He has worked on the Kiwanis sponsored Riverside Cemetery Clean up day for 11 years.
“He currently serves on the Kiwanis Wildcat Backpack Program committee.
“He has continued to serve on the FFA Advisory Board as treasurer since 1999.
“He serves as a judge at county FFA contests.
“He served on the County Fair Board of Directors even before his retirement.
“He became the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds of the county fair about five years ago.
“He became President of the Gouverneur Fair Association four years ago.
“He gives workshops on growing Giant pumpkins- especially for 4-H members.
“He was a 4-H leader for at least 10 years.
“He worked for seven years with the Senior Lunch Program at the Methodist Church.
“He is a member of the First United Methodist Church of Gouverneur.
“He has served several times as a member of the church board and the Staff-Parish Relations Committee.
“He taught hunter safety and trapper training classes for several years.
“He presents community programs on wildlife information.
“He presents informational programs on garden and flower information.
“And I might add… he loves desserts and hates Vienna sausages… just a little tidbit of information.
“So you can clearly see that Lyle does so much for this community without any desire for monetary compensation. For him it’s just 'the right thing to do.' Thanks, Lyle!
“On a less serious note, I’d like to share with you some of my memories of the past 40 or so years as Lyle’s friend. Most of you are aware of Lyle’s taxidermy hobby. I was interested to learn more about it and visited Lyle’s studio one day.
“I was amazed at the mounted mammals, game heads and birds in his display. I told him that I would really like to learn the craft. In typical Lyle fashion he replied 'Well, shoot something and bring it over and I’ll show you how to mount it.' That’s how my taxidermy business began. Thanks, Lyle!
“This is the part, Lyle, when you can laugh at me. I have a difficult time with birds. So I always visit Lyle’s studio when I want to mount a bird.
“One day we decided to each mount a ruffed grouse. He would help me if I had difficulty. Difficulty!
“It took me about 20 minutes to skin that stupid bird and by the time I was finished I had a pile of loose feathers all over the workbench.
“In the meantime, Lyle quickly and efficiently skinned his grouse in about five minutes and patiently waited for me to catch up. When I finally finished my task I looked up and noticed Lyle standing beside me with a big grin on his face.
“Of course, he was holding up a single feather that had fallen out of his bird, but in spite of my feelings of inadequacy he assured me that the mount would still look ok after a careful grooming. And it did. Thanks, Lyle!
“But, I feel it necessary to let the audience know that Lyle sometimes takes on jobs that are too big to handle. It seems that Lyle once did a shoulder mount of a large bull elk only to discover that he couldn’t get it out of his studio.
“That’s right, ladies and gentlemen… It was too big to go up the stairs and out the door! I have so many stories and so little time. But, seriously, folks, I feel I have been blessed to have Lyle as my mentor all these years. Thanks, Lyle!
“Lyle introduced me to ice fishing many years ago. Unfortunately, jigging for perch is my only forte. Lyle catches the Northern Pike. We help each other with home, camp, and garage improvement projects and when we work together it doesn’t seem like work at all. Do sheetrock and OSB boards ring a bell, Lyle?
“Then there was the Amish furniture you helped us transport in your livestock trailer. Yes, everything thing we’ve done has been first class! And we are always willing to help each other when we are “in a bind.”
“Lyle, remember that time I tried to cross Beaver Creek with my new four-wheeler when the water was low and I got stuck? Lyle came, we walked to the creek and Lyle calmly reminded me that my new machine was equipped with four-wheel drive. So I put it in four-wheel drive. Dummy me! Problem solved!
“Thanks, Lyle, for laughing at me for only a few minutes.
“Well, enough of my meandering tales of days gone by.
“I want to again thank the VFW for sponsoring this event and all that you do to for our community. And it is only appropriate that all of us in attendance here tonight thank your members and all veterans for your service to our country.
“Lyle, congratulations on this much-deserved award. You are a cherished and well-respected friend to me and many others in the audience tonight.
“It was my honor and privilege to speak on your behalf this evening. You decided many years ago to live, work, and raise a family in this small North Country town.
“You have also chosen to serve this community in so many ways. So for the last time this evening I will simply say… Thanks, Lyle!”
After much applause and laughter along the way, the time was nigh for the award.
VFW Post Commander Dominick Simione and VFW Auxiliary President Melissa Simione then presented Lyle Hotis with the 67th annual Good Citizenship of the Year award.
Honoree Mr. Hotis made the following comments that included thanking the VFW for the honor and never expected that he would be nominated while he had attended many ceremonies like this through the years at the VFW.
He went on to add that he has always been gratefulfor the friendship of Dale and after he received the call from Commander Simione that he had been chosen, his first reaction was not to accept.
After thinking about it during the conversation, he began to realize that he might regret the decision not to accept.
“I guess you got me,” stated Mr. Hotis and went on to add that one of the reasons that he and wife Ellen have been involved in community service over theyears is that they both feel that they owe a lot to the Gouverneur area.
“I have lived in other places, however, I have been here for 50 years.
“Gouverneur is our home and for 33 of those years I was supported by the agricultural community and cherished friends, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that and that feeling is a constant today.”
He went on to add that his involvement for the fair, Kiwanis, the cemetery clean-up and the Ag board is made possible by the support of these and other endeavors through the years has been made possible by this caring community.
Department of NY VFW State Commander Dennis Sullivan when asked to speak stated that he is most happy to be in Gouverneur each and every year for this event and remarked that the sheetrock clause was most appropriate as he is not in any way talented enough for home improvements of any kind.
He went on to add that the VFW has many programs that benefit communities as a whole and was very glad to hear of your accomplishments, Mr. Hotis.
Department of NY VFW Auxiliary President Karen Dotson:
“Good evening State Commander Sullivan, Post Commander Simione, Past State Commanders, Past Department Presidents, comrades, auxiliary members and guests.
“It is my honor to be here this evening to share this wonderful meal, celebrate our patriotism with the Good Citizenship Award, and I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to each of the veterans (our heroes) that are present this evening and thank you for your service to our country.
“To Mr. Hotis, thank you for what you do to exemplify patriotism in your community and I congratulate you on your Good Citizenship Award.
“I also thank any of the past Good Citizenship Award recipients that are here tonight for your patriotism. To quote a Past National President, Ann Pantolekos, “Patriotism Begins at Home” and I am very proud of the community of Gouverneur.
“During my travels around the great state of New York, I have had the fortune to experience the outpouring of love, support, and simple acts of kindness to our veterans in the community, our hospitalized veterans, our homeless veterans, and the families at the VFW National Home for Children.
“I am truly proud to be part of the team that has been executing the projects and events to support our veterans, our active duty personnel, their families, our youth, and their community.
“I would like to extend my sincere appreciation for the hospitality and courtesies extended to my husband Michael and I for attending the Good Citizenship event tonight. I would like to thank the members of Post 6338 and the auxiliary members who cooked and served the delicious meal this evening.
“Again, Mr. Hotis, congratulations!”
The evening closed with the Benediction from Post Auxiliary Chaplain Marlene Webster and with the kitchen committee dismissed, the evening ended with hugs, pictures and handshakes for honoree Lyle Hotis!
by Sandy Wyman