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Orleans Hub’s ‘Outstanding Citizens’ recognized for community service

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 February 2019 at 10:11 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Orleans Hub’s “Outstanding Citizens” for 2018 were recognized during an awards program on Wednesday evening at Hoag Library. Pictured, front row, Pete Sidari (accepting for Tony and Laura Sidari), Penny Cole, Melissa Ostrom and Tami Ashton. Back row: Leonel Rosario, Deborah and Samuel Wilson (accepting for the late Chris Wilson), Michael Hungerford, Jak Kohmann and Brett Sobieraski.

ALBION – Orleans Hub held its annual awards program on Wednesday evening at Hoag Library and recognized our choices for “Outstanding Citizens” for 2018.

Each year since the Hub started, we’ve highlighted people who made a big impact in the community.

The following were recognized:

Leonel Rosario has worked with his family to create a popular Mexican restaurant on Maple Ridge Road in Medina. Mariachi de Oro Restaurant of Medina draws people from all over Western New York, and has received many glowing reviews in The Buffalo News and other publications.

Rosario is busy as the chef and co-owner of the business. He finds time for many community events, welcoming the chance to share food and dances about the Mexican culture.

This year on Nov. 1 he helped organize a Day of the Dead celebration, which for the first time was in downtown Medina. Rosario previously hosted a scaled-down version of the Day of the Dead at Mariachi. Moving it to the downtown was a way to include Main Street businesses and have more room to share food and the festive dances.

Rosario also is active in the very popular Farm-To-Table dinner in downtown Medina. Rosario has worked with Michael Zambito of Zambistros the past two years with the fine dining experience. This year it was expanded to include Mile 303, Sourced Market & Eatery and The Shirt Factory Cafe. Rosario is generous with his time and can be counted on to enthusiastically join with others for community events.

Brett Sobieraski, a Kent resident and sergeant with the Rochester Police Department, ran over 175 miles for 50 hours nonstop to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics.

Sobieraski started his journey in Buffalo on July 13 and ran along the Erie Canal to just outside Syracuse. He ran through Orleans County the first night of the challenge. He called it the 50 for 50 running campaign to signify 50 hours of running for the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics.

Sobieraski set a $10,000 fundraising goal and topped that with $13,000. He was joined by many first responders for parts of the run, and finished the last leg carrying a torch alongside people with disabilities.

Tony and Laura Sidari, Albion natives, suffered the tragic loss of their son Leon, 4 1/2, on Christmas Day in 2017. Leon died two days after getting the flu. He was a very healthy and happy boy.

The Sidaris are both medical doctors. They have become very outspoken in urging people to get flu vaccinations. Leon hadn’t been vaccinated from the flu last year. At an Oct. 8 flu shot clinic in Albion, 59 children were vaccinated at Orleans Community Health. That clinic was made possible through Leon’s Fund, a non-profit organization the Sidaris helped form that promotes flu shots. Leon’s Fund also has money to be given to help children with medical problems at Christmas time.

Orleans Community Health also has educated about 2,500 parents in Orleans County, encouraging them to have their children vaccinated from the flu.

The Sidaris were living in San Antonio for six years before moving recently to Dayton, Ohio. Tony’s uncle Pete Sidari accepted the award on their behalf on Wednesday.

Mark Bennett Sr., 60, of Waterport was driving by the Gaines Valley Aviation Airport on Route 279 when he saw a small experimental helicopter in the sky. It was about 2 p.m. on April 24.

Bennett pulled over to watch the aircraft. Something went horribly wrong with the Mosquito XE and it crashed. Bennett reacted quickly. He climbed through an electric fence and ran to the crash site. The aircraft had burst into flames. The pilot was on fire. Bennett cut Heard’s shirt off, rolled him over to put out the flames and pulled him from the wreck, saving his life.

Bennett declined the award, saying anyone would have sprung into action.

Michael Hungerford led a major art installation project last year at the former Medina High School. The former school on Catherine Street was sitting empty most of the year. The school will be renovated into apartments.

While the building was idle, Hungerford pushed for it to be used for a major immersive art project. For one weekend in October about 1,000 people went through the building to see 29 different art projects in what was called “PLAY/GROUND.”

Artists were given free rein to create in old classrooms, stairwells, hallways and other space in the school. The project received gushing reviews in Rochester and Buffalo.

Photo courtesy of Melissa Ierlan: Orleans Hub editor Tom Rivers presents an “Outstanding Citizen” award to Jak Kohmann, a Boy Scout leader in Clarendon.

Jak Kohmann has set a standard of excellence for Troop 59 in Clarendon. In the past 16 years, 32 of the Boy Scouts in the troop have earned their Eagle rank, the highest level in Scouting. On Aug. 1 last year, six Scouts were presented with the rank during a Court of Honor celebration. They include Xander Apicella, Matt DeSimone, Dalton Thurley, William Harrington, Jake DeSimone and Ben Downey.

Kohmann was praised by the Scouts and parents for his commitment and guidance to the Scouts, especially since his son aged out of the program about a decade ago. His son Derek Kohmann, 27, was the third of the 32 scouts to earn his Eagle.

Penny Cole is a dynamic presence at Holley’s Junior-Senior High School. She works as a secretary in the guidance department. She also is a dedicated cheerleading coach in Holley. She inspires her cheerleaders to perform their intricate and athletic routines. They have won several Genesee-Region League titles. The cheerleaders also do many community service projects, including visits to local nursing homes.

Cole has become a passionate fund-raiser for the Ronald McDonald House. She engages the entire school community in her fund-raising efforts, whether it be a charity basketball game with numerous gift baskets, or a the chance to buy a shingle on a doll house.

The basketball game last year raised $4,444, by far the most in the 12 years Holley has been raising money for the Ronald McDonald House.

The Ronald McDonald House provides a place for families to stay while their children are hospitalized. Cole said several Holley students have battled cancer in recent years, including a student this year who is fighting leukemia.

Melissa Ostrom of Holley wrote a book published by Macmillan in 2018 that honors the courage and resourcefulness of pioneer settlers in Orleans County and Western New York. In The Beloved Wild, Ostrom brings life to pioneer characters. The pioneers were typically just teen-agers when they set out from New England to brave a hard journey by wagon, through dense forests, to get to Orleans County and Western New York.

There wasn’t a map. The pioneers followed markings on trees as they made their way west. The pioneer settlers were incredibly resourceful in taming the land, building homes and farms in the frontier. The obstacles were many – sickness, uninvited strangers, alcoholism, abuse.

Ostrom, a former Kendall high school English teacher, writes about those challenges and the indomitable spirit of pioneer settlers.

Tami Ashton of Medina knows the pain of losing a loved one to addiction. Her daughter, Christina Ashton, died from a drug overdose on June 27, 2016, at age 34.

Ashton has shared her story publicly, trying to break the stigma of addiction. She also has been an important leader of Orleans – Recovery Hope Begins Here, a new organization that connects people struggling with drug addiction to local resources and mentors. Ashton is vice president of the organization.

The group has also led community forums about addiction and helped families in crisis connect to professionals.Orleans – Recovery Hope Begins Here also has 12 trained mentors and counting to serve as recovery coaches for people with addictions.

Ashton is a trained to be an addiction recovery coach for the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. She encourages people to be honest about the drug crisis in their own lives, their families and communities – and to then seek help in fighting the addictions.

Chris Wilson was dedicated to peace and serving children from war-torn countries. He passed away on May 28 after a brief battle with a rare form of cancer.

Wilson traveled to Afghanistan many times, and worked with the U.S. and Afghanistan embassies so children who were made orphans by war could come to Orleans County for a summer of respite and fun.

Wilson served as international director of Project Life, which over 20 years brought about 130 children to Orleans County for a summer of recuperation. The children stayed with local host families, including with Wilson and his wife Deborah and their son Samuel. The kids learned English, visited many tourism sites, and mostly had care-free summer days. Three of the children had medical issues and needed to stay longer. Wilson worked out medical plans for each of them, arranging for their care and donations.

Wilson was a high-energy and compassionate person, who wouldn’t be discouraged even when the task seemed insurmountable. He was diagnosed with a rare cancer in April. From his hospital bed he sent emails from his laptop, advocating for children.

His wife and son accepted the award on his behalf on Wednesday.

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