It’s been 30 years since Times Review Media Group honored its first people of the year.
Published only in The Suffolk Times that first go-round, the list of honorees was top ped by overall Person of the Year Linda Graham. Ms. Graham, a mother of five and co-founder of the Southold Hospice in Progress program, had died just one month earlier in a tragic crash at the age of 44.
In the article, friend Catherine O’Brien of Southold said of Ms. Graham: “Whenever you had a problem you could count on her. There was no question about being a bother.”
In the three decades since, some changes have been made to our people of the year program — including the introduction of Riverhead News-Review, Shelter Island Reporter and northforker honorees — but the theme of recognizing folks who give of themselves has remained. In 2016, we named as persons of the year Southold and Greenport IGA owner Charles Reichert for donating hundreds of thousands of dollars back to the community and Riverhead native Tijuana Fulford for creating the Butterfly Effect Project, which aims to build self-esteem in young girls from mostly low-income families.
With the summer season behind us and our staff beginning to take aim at fall and winter projects, it’s time for us to once again appeal to our readers for suggested nominees. Who would be your 2017 Person of the Year?
This is the second straight year we’re seeking nominations a bit earlier as we’ve moved up the deadline to accommodate production of videos for each of the recipients.
Community participation has always been a major part of our selection process. In the early years, a committee of six community leaders worked with our publisher to select the winners, which includes categories honoring a businessperson, educator, community leader (formerly civic), and public servant. We added a sports person of the year in 2015.
At some point the selection process changed and since as long as I’ve been here (2006) we’ve made an annual request of our readers (and staff) to submit nominations. Our staff then meets to hear the case that was made for each individual before reaching consensus on a group of winners. The process takes several hours but always ends with a satisfying result.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the program for me has been seeing the recipients accept their awards during the annual ceremony, which we again plan to host at a North Fork venue in March.
Thinking back on some of my favorite past people of the year moments one that immediately came to mind was when we honored Riverhead’s Thelma Booker as a community leader of the year in 2015. Not the least bit shy, Ms. Booker took some extra time in her acceptance speech to plug several fundraising events she was involved in to the audience of more than 200 people. Hey, you can’t be an effective leader if you don’t muster any support for the groups you work with.
Perhaps my favorite piece to work on was the following year when we selected Wendy Zuhoski of Wendy’s Deli in Mattituck as businessperson of the year (based on all the positive reaction to the selection it was a favorite for many of you as well.) We generally try to keep our selections a secret from the honoree, so as we work on the stories and videos we tell them we’re doing something else. If we can avoid talking to the honoree altogether we will in an effort to completely surprise them. So when I stopped in to tell Wendy I was working on a piece about her, she was pretty elusive, never wanting to take too much credit for all the good she does in her community. I basically had to say, “Look I’m doing a story about you whether you like it or not.”
When she picked up that week’s copy of The Suffolk Times and saw the real reason I was so persistent, she let me know how much she appreciated it.
Wendy, in my opinion, embodies the spirit of these awards. Even though she named her business after herself, it’s never about her. She puts in the hard work to do right by her customers, her staff and her hometown. It’s why we all love her so much.
It’s also been particularly rewarding when a previous winner writes in a nomination, something that happens just about every year.
I hope over the next two months, everyone who reads this jots down a few names. Tell us about the neighbor who doesn’t get the attention she deserves for all the good she does or that teacher who puts in the extra time to guarantee your children get the education they deserve.
Write to us more than once if another name comes to mind or resubmit a nominee we didn’t choose from a past year.
Our staff is looking forward to once again reading off each of the names you’ll submit. We can’t wait to honor the next Linda Graham.
The author is the content director for Times Review Partners, a division of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.