PORT ANGELES — Six community heroes will be honored April 30 with the Clallam County Community Service Award for 2015.
The award honors community volunteers “who have made a difference in Clallam County, who have made our communities a better place by doing extraordinary things for their neighbors, their community or the environment.”
This year’s recipients:
■ Reath Ellefson, a tireless individual who uses her hands and heart to organize free community meals.
■ John Willits, passionately dedicated to preserving the North Olympic Peninsula’s natural resources.
■ Edna Leppell, West End ultra-volunteer involved in multiple community projects and activities spanning several decades.
■ Peggy Norris, who shares her talents, energy and passion with the Salvation Army, Kiwanis and other groups.
■ Wendy and Russ Bonham, a spirited couple responsible for organizing, coaching and leading the Clallam County Orcas Special Olympics team.
Framed award certificates will be presented at a reception in the downstairs meeting room at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 E. Lopez Ave., Port Angeles, that begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 30.
The reception — featuring special desserts — is free and open to the public.
This is the 36th year of the Clallam County Community Service Award, begun by the Peninsula Daily News and now co-sponsored by Soroptimist International of Port Angeles-Noon Club.
A blue-ribbon judging committee selected the six from nominations made by individuals, clubs, churches, businesses and other organizations.
“These are truly local heroes, working to make community life stronger, tighter, happier, richer — busy people who unselfishly give their time and energy to help others, who always seem to be able to make time to offer a hand or a shoulder,” said John Brewer, PDN publisher and editor.
Norris was the first female president of the Kiwanis Club of Port Angeles in 1993 and then the first female Kiwanis lieutenant governor in 2000.
It has been through Kiwanis that Norris has been an energetic volunteer at Beausite Lake camp for special-needs children, Port Angeles’ Dream Playground and the Waterfront Trail. She’s helped build a new fence for the YMCA and new bleachers for the high school track.
“She is a bundle of energy,” wrote Cal Mogck of Sequim in his nomination letter.
Norris’ love of local history and her research skills have made her invaluable to the Museum at the Carnegie, where she has been a volunteer docent since 2005.
Her busy hands volunteer at Angel Crest Gardens off state Highway 112 west of Port Angeles.
Norris does everything from making coffee to weeding the fields to making bouquets.
“She is a cheerful and energetic worker who encourages us all and is an outstanding example for younger, less experienced workers, including me,” said Linda Moffitt, owner of Angel Crest.
In a clown suit aboard a funny quad-cycle, Leppell delights in making families laugh in West End parades.
Leppell’s affinity for smiling kids is also at play when she is organizing donations for the Kids’ Fishing Day every May in Forks.
Leppell has spent decades helping out wherever she can.
Bouquets and a greenhouse for Forks Long Term Care residents, founding what is today the West End Youth Baseball League, establishing 9/11 and Vietnam veterans’ memorials, and making yellow signs to remind passers-by “This family is supported by timber dollars” are only a sampling of her accomplishments.
Now in her 80s, Leppell is still making dried fruit and afghans for the annual Quillayute Valley School District scholarship auctions.
“Edna’s contributions to our community represent a lifetime of service, and she is a role model and inspiration to everyone that knows her,” wrote Bryon Monohon, mayor of Forks.
The nomination packet for Willits had endorsement letters from owners and managers of some of Clallam County’s notable land stewards — Merrill & Ring, Clallam Conservation District, Robbie and Jim Mantooth, Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, Nash’s Organic Produce and North Olympic Land Trust.
Many of them were Willits’ students when he was an educator for Peninsula College’s Forestry Technology Program.
“John has been and will always be one of my key mentors,” wrote Cam Field of Merrill & Ring, who also noted Willits’ integrity and ethics.
Willits’ Quacker Farm in the lower Dungeness Valley was the first of 74 properties to enter into a conservation easement with the North Olympic Land Trust.
He was named Wildlife Farmer of the Year in 1999 by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and state Association of Conservation Districts because of habitat restoration and environmental enhancements at Quacker Farm.
That award was just one of many Willits has earned for his teaching and land management skills.
“Our tribe and I have always admired John’s dedication to make a great difference in the habitat, salmon, birds and other wildlife on the North Olympic Peninsula,” wrote W. Ron Allen, chairman/CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe.
Wendy and Russ Bonham
The Bonhams started the Clallam County Orcas Special Olympics Team.
They began with bowling in 2007 and have since added basketball, track and field, softball and swimming.
While this on-the-go couple has recruited several volunteers who assist in coaching, they provide the organizational glue and devotion that maintains schedules and training.
They also arrange lodging, meals and transportation for team members requiring special attention while attending regional and state events.
Emotions run high at practices and events where athletes overcome personal obstacles and support each other through victories and losses.
“Special Olympics have given our athletes a sense of belonging, a sense of self,” Kim Yacklin of Port Angeles wrote in a nomination letter for the Bonhams.
“Many athletes are adults and may not have other activities they can participate in, and many do not even have family members for support.
“The Clallam County Orcas is their family.”
Ellefson knows how to feed a hungry crowd reaching well over a thousand.
At Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas brunches, she can be seen in her apron and smile, spinning about the Queen of Angels gym in Port Angeles greeting guests like a good hostess welcoming friends to her home.
Since 2008, Ellefson has been putting her skills to the test by organizing free holiday meals for the community.
She oversees more than 100 volunteers who shop, cook, serve, greet and clean up.
In 2014, the Thanksgiving meal used 40 turkeys and 12 hams.
Ellefson also gathered gifts for everyone attending the dinner — plus clothing for those in need.
Last March found Ellefson handling breakfast and lunch for Project Homeless Connect at the Vern Burton Community Center in Port Angeles.
Ellefson spends time each month organizing donations and getting ready for the next community meal.
“Reath is motivated to do the work of Jesus Christ with her hands and her heart,” wrote Marcia Logan of Port Angeles in her nomination letter for Ellefson.