MINGO JUNCTION - It seems the overall opinion of Jene Watkins' greatest attribute would be his ability to put the students of the Indian Creek School District first.
That was one of many reasons why Watkins, school superintendent, was named the Mingo Junction Business Association 2009 Person of Year during a dinner held Sunday at the Mingo Knights of Columbus Hall.
Jim Freiling, vice president of the business association, explained that Watkins played a big role in the district's new middle school being built in Mingo.
"He has done so much to assist Mingo," Freiling said. "The new middle school being built in Mingo is really going to help out our community. Also, he has really provided assistance to the Mingo Knights of Columbus."
According to Freiling, Watkins also was instrumental in helping to create the Joe Fortunato scholarship and a music scholarship for Indian Creek students.
Bob Smith, president of the business association and master of ceremonies at the event, noted the coming school construction project is a "tribute to (Watkins') leadership."
"I can't say enough about what he has done for the district," Smith said. "The passage of the levy last November was a real tribute to his leadership. It was the first time in more than 40 years that such a levy gained voter approval. He puts his students first and he truly cares about his students. He also has been extremely helpful to our association."
The event included a dinner as well as a Dean Martin-style roast of Watkins. Friends and colleagues offered humorous, as well as inspiring, stories.
The "roasters" included Donna Graham, Watkins' current secretary; Kim Crites, his former secretary; Dan Bruno, president of the Indian Creek Teachers' Association; Paul Terpenning, who is involved with the Friends of Indian Creek; Rose Angelica, who, like Watkins, is a graduate of Smithfield High School and also attended Ohio State University; Thomas Graham, Jefferson County commissioner; and Casimir Adulewicz, who played football with Watkins at OSU.
During his turn at the podium, Graham said Watkins' main objective is to serve the students of Indian Creek and provide the best education possible.
"He is all about the education of children," Graham said. "This county is so much better off because of the compassion he has for the children of our area."
Bruno explained that Watkins not only cares about the students but also the staff of the school district.
"He cares about his students, staff, bus drivers, custodians, kitchen workers, everyone connected to the district," Bruno said. "He makes sure everyone gets the best treatment possible."
After surviving the roast, Watkins told the audience that he tends to look at life from the standpoint of the glass being half full.
"My glass is definitely half full," he said. "I believe these are the best of times for our district. I am a firm believer in building community. We are about to build a $16 million-plus school here in Mingo that will be second to none. We will be helping the local economy, and this project will benefit the entire community."
Watkins, who played football for the legendary Woody Hayes at OSU, said he firmly believes in Hayes' philosophy of paying forward and not paying back.
"The school construction project is a great example of paying forward," he said. "I want to publicly thank all the people who are here this evening that helped get our bond levy passed."
(Looman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)