December 04, 2013 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Every year the Orion Area Parade Group nominates a citizen of the year who quietly and humbly serves the community.
This year the nominated John Spokaeski will wave to Orion citizens astride a convertible in the 24th annual Lighted Parade in downtown Lake Orion.
Founder of Eagle Valley landfill, daddy of all the Independence SCAMP children, granddaddy to the Lake Orion Girls and Boys Club, funder of many civic organizations' events, Spokaeski was nominated for over 20 years of commitment to the Lake Orion area.
Which he doesn't view as service at all.
"I'm not looking for a 'thank you' or nothing. It's from the heart. Carl [Cyrowski] brought this on me. He should be on here too," Spokaeski said.
Plenty of community members beg to differ.
"He comes to the park once a year and puts on this huge picnic for the SCAMPers. He brings all the food and he sometimes brings them sunglasses, sometimes Frisbees, always a gift, and always this wonderful lunch," said Donna Clancy, executive director of the North Oakland SCAMP.
"He has the sheriff's department come and fire department come and they get to sit on motorcycles and climb all over fire trucks. It's just amazing," Clancy continued.
So much that the SCAMPers and counselors look forward to his picnic every year.
The Clarkston SCAMP is a five week summer camp program designed to provide an exciting and therapeutic experience for children and young adults with special needs.
For the past 26 years Spokaeski and his son John Jr. Spokaeski provide SCAMPers with a hot-dog picnic, toys, and exciting entertainment.
"It's fun. A lot of fun. I mean they hang on you. They love you, and you just work with them. It's from the heart, that's what it is. Once you get involved, you're involved," Spokaeski said.
He has boatloads of hand-crafted thank you cards from his "kids" as he calls the SCAMPers, and an entire bedsheet signed by the entire camp from one year.
"Dear Mr. John S., Thank you for the awesome, yummy picnic. We look forward to the picnic during SCAMP," the cards read.
He also sponsors the SCAMP golf outing every year to help provide programming.
A particular fishing contest put on through the North Oakland Elks Club comes to mind when Spokaeski recalls his favorite memories.
To start, there were only a handful of fishing rods for more than 50 kids. That wouldn't do. So Spokaeski marched up to Meijer's and asked to purchase 150 rods and reels.
"The guy looked at me like he was gonna call the cops," Spokaeski recalls, but got the manager, and in three hours Spokaeski had his 150 rods and reels, and returned to the contest.
"This one guy, I'll never forget this, he came and threw that rod and reel down and said it broke. My son said, 'what's wrong with it?' And he said, it won't catch fish. He picked up the rod and reel and went out there and cast it. That thing didn't even hit the water and a bluegill jumped on that hook. He walked around there and he was so proud of catching the fish," Spokaeski remembered. "There's hundreds of moments with these kids," he said.
He has hundreds of moments with Lake Orion and Oxford seniors too.
He attended almost every holiday event—Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, you name it—at the old Orion senior center in the 1990s and early 2000s, donating food, presents and his time to give the older community a social outlet and a friend. Organizing special field trips for seniors was not out of his reach, and sponsoring luncheons and donating cakes, park benches, or entertainment was a gift from the heart.
"He has worked with our bingo group and card group to provide food donations and giveaways when we play. He's also been real active with doing scrapbooks and pictures with the seniors," Lisa Sokol, Orion Township Community Programs Director, said. "He's donated a lot of photos from the times when he used to be real active with our senior center, and we still have those downstairs," she said.
Spokaeski dropped off stacks of albums to the center, reminiscing with old friends about older friends long gone. He said those albums brought back such memories for the seniors, many of them cried when they saw the pictures.
"Overall he's just been very supportive to our program and really wanted seniors to have an opportunity to have a lot of social interaction, and to be able to have a place where they could come and be," Sokol said.
In 1998 L. Brooks Patterson, County Executive of Oakland County, awarded Spokaeski the Q2 Award, a leadership award that honors community members for contributing to their local community above and beyond the call of duty.
An annual award that stands for Quality People Quality Community, Spokaeski was recognized for his contributions that enhanced Oakland County while employed with Eagle Valley, especially with the following clubs and activities within Lake Orion: junior/senior drug free weekend retreats, Orion and Oxford senior centers, Orion/Oxford Optimist Club, Orion Township Chamber of Commerce, Orion/Oxford American Legion, LOHS 24-hour relay, and the Pontiac Boys and Girls Club.
Spokaeski said he didn't do it alone.
"My kids, all my grandkids, it's just something we do," he said. "I work right alongside everybody. John Jr. has the same name and the same birthday. We confuse a lot of people," Spokaeski said.
He was picked out of numerous people to be the Citizen of the Year for the Orion Area Parade Group.
"It's not for their own benefit," Carl Cyrowksi said, VP to the Parade Group. "When I said to John, 'you know we nominated you for Citizen of the Year,' he said, 'I don't need that.'
"I just do what I do from the heart.'
'That's why you're getting the award," Cyrowski told him.
"I tell him every year that there's a place waiting for him in heaven, because he's such an angel to so many people," Clancy said.
"He is a part of many, many, many things, but he never forgets to show everyone individually how much they mean to him," she continued. "Some people get a big head, but he never seems to portray that. It's all about who he is taking care of. It's never about him. I really do believe that the man should be citizen of the year. He's such an inspiration to so many just as an individual he should be honored," Clancy said.