The week before Christmas last year, Teresa Merritt hosted the Rotary Club of Richmond Hill’s first Military Night Out at her local dance studio.
Merritt, fellow Rotarians and members of Merritt’s staff offered a night of free baby-sitting for military families, providing some much-appreciated free time to spouses who become single parents during deployments.
“One mom went and got a pedicure,” Merritt said. “One mom went and did all of her Christmas shopping because she has four kids. Another one was very pregnant and Dad was gone, and she just went home and wrapped presents because she didn’t have time to wrap presents.”
Meanwhile, the children were enjoying crafts, snacks, dancing and tumbling. The baby sitters watched nearly 70 children from 3-10 p.m. that day.
“It was a full evening,” Merritt said. “I think it was very successful.”
For that effort and many others, Merritt was honored Thursday as the Rotarian of the Year at the Rotary Club of Richmond Hill’s annual meeting at the City Center.
Every time Merritt was asked to give her time and effort to a Rotary service project, she “just dug deep and kept getting up and doing it again,” said outgoing club President Lesley Francis.
The Rotary Club also presented two awards to community leaders who are not members of the club. Lou Gambill accepted the Community Service Award, and Barbara Eloi received the Vocational Service Award.
Gambill, the owner of My Grandfather’s Place barbershop, was praised for his volunteer work with local recreation programs. He has coached numerous youth baseball teams and also provided uniforms and equipment.
“He really cares about the boys and girls in our baseball program in our community,” Rotarian Gene Durante said. “Lou was recently recognized as an outstanding volunteer in recreation for the entire state of Georgia.”
Fittingly, the man known around town as “Mr. Baseball” wore a baseball tie to the Rotary annual meeting. Gambill had a big smile on his face and his eldest son, Taylor, at his side as he accepted the award.
“I love working with the kids,” Gambill said. “It’s an important part of my life, and it always will be. I do it because I just enjoy doing it. It’s just in me.”
Durante described Eloi as “an inspiration to all of us” and “the epitome of the Rotary motto of 'service above self.'” Eloi is the resident care manager at The Suites at Station Exchange senior-living community.
“She creates and fosters a loving and caring relationship with the people she serves and their family members,” Durante said. “Barbara has a true passion for helping others. She never just meets standards; she always exceeds them by far.”
Eloi thought she was at the meeting merely as a guest of Suites at Station Exchange Executive Director Rich DeLong, who was being sworn in as the new Rotary president. But midway through the program, DeLong and Durante surprised her with the award presentation.
“I’ve never heard that many nice things said about me,” Eloi said with a laugh. “My heart was pounding.”
The night’s youngest honorees were two Richmond Hill High School graduates who received scholarships from Rotary.
Zach Balcomb earned the $2,000 Jay Gardner Scholarship and Max Makhinson received the $1,000 Mary Bean Scholarship. Makhinson is headed to Georgia Tech to study chemical engineering, while Balcomb said he will attend Davidson College and likely major in economics.
Club leaders gave an overview of the service projects from the past year, including Rotary International’s commitment to eradicate polio worldwide. The Rotary Club of Richmond Hill contributed more than $35,000 to various local causes over the last 12 months, according to club treasurer Brad Brookshire.
“It is about a lot more than lunch and a program,” Francis said. “It is about service above self.”
To see more photos from the Rotary awards and officer induction, visit community.bryancountynews.com/gallery.