by Rachel Hunter
The Silas Wainwright Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6338 was thronged by the Gouverneur community as the Gouverneur VFW Post Commander Richard Fisher presented Donald Schuessler Jr., M.D., of Gouverneur with the 69th Annual Good Citizenship Award on Saturday, October 13, 2018.
The event began promptly at 5 p.m. for a social hour, and at 6 p.m. all were welcomed by Post Commander Fisher and Post Chaplain Gerald Barker gave the invocation. The pledge of allegiance was led by Richard Fisher.
Gouverneur VFW Post Quartermaster Robert Sargent then drew attention to the small, round table that is always set but never occupied — the prisoners of war/missing in action (POW/MIA) table. The tradition of setting a separate table in honor of prisoners of war and missing comrades has been in place since the end of the Vietnam War. The manner in which this table is decorated is full of special symbols to help all remember brothers and sisters in arms.
The Gouverneur VFW Post Kitchen Committee then served family style a scrumptious meal of baked ham, scalloped potatoes, cole slaw, green beans and mushrooms, applesauce, rolls and butter, and a decorated cake for dessert.
Post Commander Fisher at the conclusion of the meal introduced the guests in attendance, including Village of Gouverneur Mayor Ron McDougall, Town of Gouverneur Deputy Supervisor Eldon Conklin, Town of Gouverneur Councilman Curran Wade, Bonnie Fikes of Senator Patty Ritchie’s office, and St. Lawrence County District Attorney Gary Pasqua (who left after the social honor).
Michael Webster, Department of New York V&MSP Chairman, then gave the long list of past recipients of the Good Citizenship Award starting with Ernest Hunkins who received the first honor in 1948.
VFW Post Commander Fisher then introduced Guest Speaker Dede Scozzafava, who first extended gratitude to the Gouverneur VFW Post 6338 for their efforts in organizing the Good Citizenship Award Dinner each year. “It is important for our community to get together to share and to honor people that make great contributions to the community. We are certainly here today to do just that.”
“It is an honor for me to be here tonight to recognize and say thank you to Dr. Donald Schuessler and Glenda Visser Schuessler for the many contributions that they have made to our community,” Scozzafava said. “When I was thinking about what to say tonight, I remembered a quote from C.S. Lewis that I think pretty much epitomizes Glenda and Don. “Don’t shine so that others can see you. Shine so that through you other can see Him.” When we think of all their good works, that quote really rings true to their service. Accordingly they are probably a bit uncomfortable with this recognition, but our minister Pastor Beth Quick says that it is a good thing to venture outside of our comfort zones every now and then, so Don and Glenda enjoy the discomfort this evening.
“Don and Glenda moved to our community 34 years ago. That’s hard to believe. I remember when you first got here we played volleyball. We’ll have to get together and do that again and see if how it has changed. But all we have to do is look at Betsy, Don, his wife Devin, their three children, Katie, and Joe to recognize the passage of time. See, Don and Glenda, you really haven’t changed at all…
“Don and Glenda became very active in the community, especially with the First United Methodist Church of Gouverneur (in various capacities). They have done it all, serving people not only in the congregation but reaching those outside the walls as well.
Don has been there for probably thousands of children and their families. It is not unusual to see a buggy on Rowley Street as the Amish have come to respect Don… in large part because Don respects each and every one of them and their cultural traditions. That is who he is. That is who they are. When they travel to foreign countries, they are there respectfully as equals – equals in humanity.
“We can read about the many boards that Don and Glenda have served on: Ryan’s Wish Foundation Board, the Gouverneur Foundation Board, Kairos Prison Ministries, Board for the Upper New York State United Methodist Church, Board for Golisano’s Children’s Hospital, camping ministry boards, various committees for Gouverneur and Canton-Potsdam hospitals.
“But their most important trait that we admire is their faith in humanity. At a time of great division and respectable discourse is strained, they believe in the things that can bring us together – kindness, compassion, gratefulness. They practice the little things, knowing that the little things are really the big things.
“Just a few random actions that I have experienced or witnessed… a handwritten note of recognition, condolence, concern, support or encouragement, how many of you have received one of those from them? A lot of hands go up in this room. A jar of homemade soup or plate of cookies, or rhubarb crisp just when you need it when you are feeling down, they are there. A willingness to see a sick child, no matter the time or place. Available to give a ride. I had one children who in their 20s still thought that they should be able to go see Dr. Schuessler. Always a warm greeting or welcome, a kind word or deed to someone who is struggling, always giving them hope. Regardless of long hours with patients, stopping by a hospital room to say hello and sometimes staying a little longer than they probably should to listen.
“I know what they have done for me. You know what they have done for you. But what we have no idea about is the thousands of lives that have been positively impacted by their actions, by their hands and by their hearts. And I know once again that their lives epitomizes this quote: Don’t shine so that others can see you. Shine so that through you others can see Him. Congratulations and thank you.”
Post Commander Fisher then invited Dr. Schuessler up to the podium to accept the award, to the grand applause of all gathered in the VFW hall. Dr. Schuessler then took to the podium and invited his wife, Glenda, to join him as he addressed the crowd. “Being in this community really beats the snot out of everything else,” Dr. Schuessler said. “Contributing to each other and receiving from each other has really made our lives so much richer than if we were off by ourselves. And to be in a community like Gouverneur – it is just a wonderful place to be. Thank you very much.” Great applause sounded again as Dr. and Mrs. Donald Schuessler made their way back to their seats.
Later in the evening, Dr. Schuessler reported that he had received a letter from Stella Hunkins Garitz, daughter of the very first recipient of the Gouverneur VFW’s Good Citizenship Award Winner Ernest Hunkins. The letter was penned as follows: “It was a thrill to see that you had been awarded the Good Citizenship Award. As you may or may not know, my father, Ernest Hunkins, was the first to receive the award – 70 years ago. There was an article in the September 21 Gouverneur Tribune Press “Looking Back to Yesteryear” about his receiving the award.
“Since it was the first ever, he and my mother, Lucille, got into their best outfits and went to the VFWW at the appointed time. Lo and behold, the invitation to the award dinner was only for the honoree, not his wife. My mother spent the entire time with the kitchen staff! The next year the rules changed and as a result Glenda will be seated next to you.
“My father was very active in the First Methodist Church in Gouverneur as you are. He was on all of the committees, especially finance, and each Sunday he stood at the back of the church with a counter hidden in one hand and the bulletins in the other. He greeted everyone but since he had a stroke in his early years, it was difficult for him to shake hands. Every time I get a chance to visit the church I can see him with his smile of greeting at the back of the church near the window with Jesus knocking at the door.
“He spent Christmas Eve delivering toys and gifts collected by his Boy Scout Troop (which I think was sponsored by the church) to houses where the children needed a surprise on Christmas morning.
“I hope this explains why I am so happy to see that you have finally been recognized for all of your community service. I can’t think of any living person who is more deserving.”
Post Commander Fisher then continued the ceremony by introducing Department of New York State VFW Commander Eugene Ratigliano, who extended congratulations to Dr. Schuessler as follows:
“This is truly an outstanding program that shows the brotherhood and sisterhood amongst the community, having our VFW members recognize those in that community that they rely on so much for support. I am sure it is vice-versa, both ways. Today as volunteerism is on the wane, it certainly is not on the wane here in Gouverneur, considering your past history and the number of individuals you’ve recognized over the years, it is a tribute to the members of this post and the Veterans of Foreign Wars as a whole to recognize citizens such as yourself and the work that you do here. It is wonderful to be back up here in the North Country, and my wife and I give our sincere congratulations.”
Post Auxiliary President Jeff Platt then introduced Darlene Stanton, Department of New York VFW Auxiliary President, enforced the importance of knowing your neighbor, and lending a helping hand – qualities that Dr. and Mrs. Donald Schuessler exude in their daily lives before extending her own special congratulations.
During the awards ceremony, Bonnie Fikes, a representative of New York State Senator Patty Ritchie’s office presented Dr. Schuessler with a special citation from the New York State Senate for his dedication of community service. Dr. Schuessler also received a clock plaque presented by Village of Gouverneur Mayor Ron McDougall on behalf of the Village of Gouverneur in recognition of all that he does in the local community.
Assemblyman Kenneth Blankensbush due to a scheduling conflict could be attendance, but offered the following: "Dr. Donald Schuessler's career has been a testament to professionalism, service and civic pride. He's kept our kids healthy and safe, and we're all grateful for his generosity and commitment to strengthening our community. I want to offer him my most sincere congratulations for his earning the VFW Citizenship Award."
Post Auxiliary Chaplain Ruth Meade then gave the benediction, and VFW Post Commander Fisher dismissed the committee – Richard Fisher, Post Commander, John Holt, Post Adjutant, Gerald Barker, Post Chaplain, Michael Webster, Post Trustee, Jeff Platt, Auxiliary President, Melissa Simione, Post Kitchen Chair, Marlene Webster, Auxiliary Historian, Gerald Barker, Committee Member, and Julie Holt, Auxiliary Conductress – to enjoy the evening’s activities, which included a dance with music by The Timberliners from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Many hearty congratulations were then extended Dr. Schuessler and his family on the conclusion of the award ceremony.