Difference-makers honored in Follansbee before festival

GUEST OF HONOR — Follansbee Mayor David Velegol holds a stool Monday for keynote speaker Bob Huggins, West Virginia University’s head men’s basketball coach, to sign during the annual Community Days dinner. The stool will be included in a prize drawing during the annual Community Days festival. -- Taryn Linder

FOLLANSBEE — With a college basketball coaching career that spans more than four decades, West Virginia University’s Bob Huggins knows a thing or two about commitment.

It’s a value that’s essential to success not only on the basketball court, but also in building a strong community, noted Huggins and the numerous leaders who turned out Monday for Follansbee’s annual Community Days kickoff dinner at the St. Francis Centre. The event honored local residents who have contributed to the success of Follansbee, ahead of the 26th-annual festival, which runs July 12-14.

“Tonight we recognize and honor a terrific group of individuals,” said Mayor David Velegol, also a festival committee member.

As keynote speaker, Huggins compared his basketball team to a flock of geese, quoting Kent Millard and Judith Cebula’s book, “Lead Like Butler: Six Principles For Values-Based Leaders.”

“When geese fly together, each goose provides additional lift and reduces air resistance for the goose flying behind it,” wrote Millard and Cebula.

“Consequently, by flying together in a V-formation, scientists estimate that the whole flock can fly about 70 percent farther with the same amount of energy than if each goose flew alone. Geese have discovered that they can reach their destination more quickly and with less energy expended when they fly together in formation.

“When people work together harmoniously on teams, sharing common values and a common destination, they all arrive at the destination quicker and easier, because they are lifted up by the energy and enthusiasm of one another.”

“Sometimes my team isn’t as smart as geese,” joked Huggins.

The Mountaineers are coming off a losing season — only their second in Huggins’ tenure — and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014.

“That’s not the type of record we want,” said Huggins. “I can’t wait to get started (next season).”

Huggins went on to say he loves WVU.

“I’m West Virginia through and through,” he said. “I am 65 years old. I love my job and love the people.”

With the support of others, Huggins founded the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Research Endowment at the WVU Cancer Institute in tribute of his mother.

The cause has raised around $4 million, with an added donation from the Community Days Committee at Monday’s dinner.

The Community Days Committee went on to recognize the honorees of the night.

Legendary college football coach and Follansbee native Lou Holtz once said, “Having been born in extreme poverty and raised in Follansbee, I learned the values of hard work, education and commitment to excellence.”

Although Holtz was unable to attend Monday’s dinner due to medical reasons, the “Lou Holtz Silver Spoon” award was given in his honor to James Hood and Michael Gaudio.

“Thank you to the Community Days Committee for recognizing me for the work we (Hood’s Pharmacy) do,” began Hood.

“We don’t stand out in the community and try to show the work we do, we just do it, and we expect nothing in return. You make a commitment, and you do it.”

Gaudio agreed.

“I am very happy to receive this award,” he said. “He (Holtz) talked about growing up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money but did have a lot of love, and a commitment to faith and the community. That is his silver spoon, and that is mine also.”

Gaudio thanked his parents for teaching him the value of education and commitment.

Recipients of the “Thank You for Shining” award were Robert Guio, Michael Bachinski, Kacey DiGiacinto and Aldo Crisante.

“Each of these individuals shines in their own way,” said Velegol.

Guio was recognized for the part he played in starting the Follansbee Youth Basketball League.

“I’m grateful and humbled to be standing here this evening to receive an award for something I did not do alone,” expressed Guio.

Next, Velegol introduced Bachinski who was recognized for his contribution as president of the Follansbee Baseball League, Ohio Valley Youth Baseball president and for taking over the softball league last years.

Velegol noted Bachinski has raised thousands of dollars for the athletic programs.

Bachinski identified the two rules in life that have helped him throughout his years.

“Number one, everything is a competition,” said Bachinski. “And number two, give 100 percent with everything you do and be satisfied with the results.”

DiGiacinto also was honored with the “Thank You for Shining” award for the education milestones she has accomplished.

From West Virginia University, DiGiacinto earned a bachelor’s in English, master’s in secondary education, master’s in school health education and a doctorate in kinesiology.

DiGiacinto has had several publications.

The last recipient announced for the “Thank You for Shining” award was Crisante.

Crisante has worked at Follansbee Pharmacy for 22 years and said he went into the field because he enjoys helping people.

“I wouldn’t be up here without the wonderful people I work with,” added Crisante.

The “Major Benjamin H. Follansbee” award was given to Denny Williams for his contributions in service, integrity, humility and courage.

Williams is an Army veteran, retired school teacher and former football coach.

Dave Lyle was the recipient of the Mary Ruth Morris Humanitarian and 2019 Grand Parade Marshal awards at Monday’s Community Days dinner.

“Everything I have done I don’t think I could have without Follansbee,” said Lyle.

To round out the evening, former Mayor Anthony Paesano awarded the “Anthony Paesano Making a Difference” award to Marty Bartz and Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson for their help and dedication in getting the Market Street Bridge included on the National Register of Historic Places.