Belleville pays tribute to Citizens of Character

From a retired softball coach to small business owners, 14 people will be honored Tuesday night in Belleville as Citizens of Character.

The 12th annual Mary McHugh Citizens of Character Dinner will be hosted by the Belleville Achieves Strength in Character, or BASIC, Initiative

The awards are named in memory of Mary McHugh, who died in 2014 and was one of the founding members of the BASIC Initiative. McHugh was a longtime educator in Belleville.

This year’s award winners are Rita Eckert, Sherry Favre Salvatore, Tracy Gray, Marsha Heffner, Tony Higgins, Frances Jumper, Kalynn Larsen, Dwight and Joyce Lied, Rita Menke, Mary Miller, Bennie Parr and Stacy Rutledge.

Kristen Turner will receive the Dr. Steve Suess Character Educator of the Year award.

The 6 p.m. dinner will be at 4204 Main Street Brewing Co. at 6435 W. Main St. in Belleville. Limited seating is still available. For ticket availability, contact Erika Eckert at 618-233-5877.

The BASIC Initiative has compiled biographical information about the award winners. Here are highlights about the recipients:

Rita Eckert

Eckert, who is married to Mayor Mark Eckert, owns Eckert Florist at 201 W. Main St. in Bellevile. “She rolls up her sleeves at Belleville Helping Belleville day, shares her talent with flowers with local students, supports the Boy Scouts, belongs to Belleville Sister Cities and volunteers at downtown events.”

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Rita Eckert Provided

Sherry Favre Salvatore

Salvatore has served as director human resources for the city of Belleville and opened the General and Community Assistance office for the city as it transitioned from the work of the former Belleville Township. “Sherry exudes kindness and leaves a positive mark not only on the people she serves, but on her colleagues as well. She treats everyone with respect and dignity.”

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Sherry Favre Salvatore Provided

Tracy Gray

Gray is an assistant superintendent for Belleville School District 118. “She works as part of the Community Development Network and has built partnerships to support summer camps for students. She works in various ways to support students who are economically disadvantaged and regularly engages community partners in assisting to meet the needs of this vulnerable student population.”

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Tracy Gray Provided

Marsha Heffner

Heffner is executive director of Women4given, which provides grants to nonprofit organizations dedicated to changing the lives of women and children. “Marsha exemplifies all of the BASIC life skills for character through her community work, her personal life and her interactions with others.”

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Marsha Heffner Provided

Tony Higgins

Higgins is a Belleville firefighter. “Tony has greatly helped the fire department convert an old ambulance into a fire investigation unit and an old truck into a special response vehicle. Tony is well respected for his honesty, integrity and fairness.”

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Tony Higgins Provided

Frances Jumper

Jumper retired from the U.S. Navy and the railroad industry. She volunteers for numerous groups, including the Community Interfaith Food Pantry, Abraham Lincoln School, Programs and Services for Older Persons, Art on the Square and the Labor & Industry Museum. “Frances embodies and exemplifies the life skills of a true citizen of character and makes our community an even better place to live and work.”

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Frances Jumper Provided

Kalynn Larsen

Larsen is an assistant principal at Belleville East High School, where she taught special education and led the creation of the TARGET program to support students with behavior and emotional disabilities. “Kalynn influences students to be great citizens not just through direct teaching, but also by the way she interacts with them every day. She cares and students know it.”

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Kalynn Larsen Provided

Dwight and Joyce Lied

The Lieds are retired and serve as deacons, trustees, ushers and elders in their church, First United Presbyterian. They are involved in mission work and Stephen Ministry. They also volunteer at the Shelter Shop, help with a summer sack lunch program for children, and help rehab homes for Neighbors for Renewal.

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Joyce and Dwight Lied Provided

Rita Menke

Menke is a retired softball coach and educator at Belleville East High School, where her teams won three state championships during her 24 years as head coach. The school’s softball field was named “Rita Menke Field” in 2018. “Rita is the most dedicated and self-disciplined individual you will meet both on and off the field. Her former players, coaches and colleagues see her as a mentor, teacher and friend.”

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Rita Menke Provided

Mary Miller

Miller has worked for SWIC/PSOP in the Housing Department for over three decades. She assists seniors and disabled residents living in subsidized housing with needs assessments, advocacy and complaint resolution. “Without Mary’s expertise, many seniors would be lost in the search to find affordable housing in St. Clair County. She takes on tasks to bring joy to the seniors’ daily lives.”

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Mary Miller Provided

Bennie Parr Jr.

Parr owns Bennie’s Pizza Pub at 124 E. Main St. in Belleville. “Since joining the downtown Belleville community, Bennie has been a unifying force amongst the merchants. He shows cooperation and wants all of our downtown businesses to be successful.”

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Bennie Parr Jr. News-Democrat file photo

Stacy Rutledge

Rutledge is a volunteer at the Turkey Hill Grange. “She runs concessions for events and helps with fundraising dinners. When a vacancy on the Grange board came open, Stacy was quick to volunteer. She is working with the Junior Grange to support our youth.”

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Stacy Rutledge Provided

Dr. Steve Suess Character Educator of the Year – Kristen Turner

Turner is a third-grade teacher at Union Elementary School, which is both a state and national School of Character. “Kristen always focuses on the positive and doesn’t let negativity influence her life or that of her students. She builds positive relationships with her students and models the character traits she works to instill in her students.”

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Kristen Turner Provided
Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and is from St. Louis.