Two men who have spent their lives trying to make Champaign County a better place to live – Judge Roger B. Wilson and Neil Evans – were honored for their contributions to the community by the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce during its annual dinner on April 28.
Wilson, who has called the county home since 1965, received the Simon Award – given to a member of the community who has improved the quality of life in Champaign County – while Evans, a lifelong county resident, accepted the Volunteer of the Year Award – given to someone whose vital contributions of time, energy and resources have benefited Champaign County and the surrounding community.
“Community members who are involved in our community provide the structure for Champaign County to thrive,” Chamber Executive Director Lydia Hess said. “We are in a fortunate position to be able to recognize community members for their efforts each year.”
Hess added the chamber’s board of directors is responsible for selecting the recipient of the Simon Award, and the decision to give Wilson a statue of Simon Kenton for his contributions to the community was unanimous.
“Judge Wilson has been an indispensable resource for so many individuals in Champaign County, and he cares deeply for our community,” she said.
Wilson said receiving an honor previously bestowed upon the likes of Warren G. Grimes and Mike Melvin was “an honor I never expected to receive.” He added, “It’s very humbling to be in their company in this small way.”
Receiving the Simon Award, Wilson said, wouldn’t have been possible without the support of his wife, Linnae, and all the individuals who worked alongside him throughout his 40-plus years in office.
“I accepted the award on behalf of a very loyal staff that served the community well,” he said.
Wilson added he also accepted the award on behalf of those who help the court system function, like law enforcement leaders and officers, jurors and witnesses, etc.
“All of these people are the ones who made it possible for me to serve the community,” he said. “The court system in our country is a real strength of our country. It’s what differs us from many other countries where disputes are settled in the streets.
“The only way the courts can be effective is if the community supports it,” Wilson added.
Evans a champion of volunteering
Born in Salem Township, Evans has called the county home his entire life, and since 1984, he’s been volunteering his free time to help make life a little easier for cancer patients through his work with the Cancer Association of Champaign County (CACC).
Over his 30-plus years with the nonprofit, Evans has served as the patient service director and coordinator of the association’s annual Candlelight Tour of Homes fundraiser.
Hess said Evans was an easy choice for the Volunteer of the Year Award as the staff at the chamber office has witnessed firsthand Evans’ “valuable contributions” to the community as he is a frequent visitor to the office to help promote CACC events.
“The chamber board also was aware of his crucial efforts to help cancer patients in our community and quickly selected him from among this year’s very worthy nominees,” she said.
Evans said receiving the award was “an unexpected honor,” and he called it “one of the greatest awards I have received.”
He added volunteering is his way of giving back to the community and encouraged others to do the same for the well-being of the community.
“Volunteerism is important to the community because people don’t do volunteerism this day and age,” he said. “The community will not survive if people don’t get involved in different organizations like churches, schools and service organizations, etc., and provide a service.”
Anyone interested in nominating a community member next year for either the Simon Award or Volunteer of the Year Award can do so by contacting the chamber in February 2018 for a nomination form.
“We accept nominations starting March 1 and welcome any person or organization to submit a nomination for a deserving individual,” Hess said.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.