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Parade Group honors Kathy McMinn



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At center, Kathy McMinn spends a day subbing at Paint Creek. Lake Orion's 2010 Citizen of the Year, McMinn says she's the happiest surrounded by children. Photo by Laura Colvin (click for larger version)
December 01, 2010 - Speechless?

She laughed at her own suggestion. No, definitely not speechless. No one would believe it.

Searching for words to describe how it felt to be named Lake Orion's 2010 Citizen of the Year, Kathy McMinn tried again.

Surprised. Honored. Humbled.

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Yes, that was more like it.

The award, bestowed by the Orion Area Parade Group in a cooperative effort with the Lake Orion Review, is now in its fourth year.

Each fall, the Review asks the community to nominate deserving individuals who volunteer within the boundaries of Lake Orion school district.

It all started with a search for someone famous for the parade's top honor.

"Every year we'd sit around a table trying to come up with a celebrity to serve as Grand Marshal at the Holiday Lighted Parade," said Orion Area Parade Group (OAPG) president Alice Young, who also serves in an elected position as Orion Township treasurer. "Then finally Wes Fuelling, who has since passed, said 'Why in the world are we trying to find a celebrity? We have plenty of people right here.'"

Dr. Joseph Mastromatteo was named first Citizen of the Year in 2007, and passed the torch to Sara Van Portfliet in 2008. Larry Mullins earned the group's 2009 nod.

This weekend, Kathy McMinn will be honored at the Holly Jolly Folly, the Holiday Lighted Parade's fundraiser, on Friday, Dec. 3.

Saturday, she'll serve as the parade's Grand Marshal.

"She's always looking out for people, and never asks for anything in return," said Denise Skiba, who worked alongside McMinn in the Lake Orion school district on many occasions. "I've heard stories about her driving people 20 miles to work and sitting there waiting to drive them home again because they don't have a car. All around the community people will tell you stories about the wonderful things Kathy's done."

Skiba, along with Jo-Ann Ronan, jointly nominated McMinn, pointing out her longtime membership at Lake Orion United Methodist Church, where she is a member of the PRAISE team, helps in producing the Christmas pageant, leads the music with Sunday school classes, helps with vacation Bible school and the youth group LOGOS, and has helped to establish and grow the free meals program.

With the community outreach group, as well as on her own, McMinn has also assisted families who need housing and other necessities in times of crisis.

"She's so accepting and caring," said Skiba. "She makes everyone feel valued."

But Skiba and Ronan weren't alone in singing McMinn's praises.

At the helm when Paint Creek Elementary opened in 1998, Bev Tepper, now associate principal at Lake Orion High School, remembers the day a colleague told her McMinn wanted to come over from Stadium Drive.

"I was just giddy," said Tepper. "Kathy McMinn had such an incredible reputation, and she was coming to work with me. It waswonderful."

McMinn, Tepper said, is the "kind of person you'd trust with anyone or anything."

So when the school's population grew enough to bring on some help, McMinn became assistant principal.

"She just shined above everyone," Tepper said. "She has so much heart and soul that even when we disagreed - and we did - I always respected her because there was never any question her love for the children, and what was best for them, always came first."

To illustrate, Tepper recalled the way McMinn went off on a shopping trip whenever she heard about a family who might be without Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas presents under the tree.

"And it wasn't just for church or school," Tepper said. "It didn't matter who it was. If they needed something she'd go and get it, and she never took credit for anything."

All that, and a "fabulous sense of humor" to boot.

"My life has been enriched and is better because I know Kathy McMinn," Tepper said. "Every person that talks to her knows how special they are."

As the oldest of five siblings, Kathy McMinn grew up caring for others. It was something she did not because she had to, she said, but because she loved to.

"I had such a strong sense of family since the day I was born," she said. "My grandmothers, my Aunt June, they were all the epitome of love and selflessness."

A true lifelong resident of Lake Orion, McMinn recalls her girlhood on Florence Street.

"All 13 grandkids would be there every Sunday night," she said. "We broke bread together, we nurtured one another."

By fifth grade she knew she wanted to be a teacher, and by 21 she found herself standing in front of a roomful of third graders at Proper Elementary in Gingellville.

The school only stayed open two more years - it's now the District - but those two years were the beginning of a long career teaching Lake Orion children, including those with special needs, from preschool to fifth grade.

"I've always kept in touch with the children who needed a little extra," she said, noting her philosophy that it's important to look children in the eye when they come in the door so they know they are respected and loved. "All children need cheerleaders and - it's cliche, but - it really does take a village to raise a child, and to nurture a family."

And while she'll dole out as much love and as many hugs as any child needs, McMinn said one thing she's always found important is instilling in a child the desire to help others.

"A majority expect to have things given to them," she said. "We all need to give back."

Something she seems to have learned well.

McMinn is also active in the local Lions Club. While not an official member, her husband Barry - of nearly 25 years -is a past president of the club.

Through him, she's served as something of a liaison to the Lions. If someone hears of a family who could really use a Christmas basket, or a family who can't afford a child's glasses, they dial her up.

"I'm not sure why they started calling me," she laughed. "But I'm glad they do. It's a role I'm glad to have in the community and It's such an honor to know people feel they can come to me."

She was also honored with her title of Citizen of the Year.

"I'm humbled to win," she said. The other nominees are all so deserving, and have done so much for so many. And that's why I love Lake Orion; that's what makes this town what it is. This is such an incredible, awesome honor."

For more details on attending this weekend's Holly Jolly Folly and the Lighted Holiday Parade, please see page 11.

Lake Orion Review Editor
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