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Sertomans honor Hevern for 'starting ripples'

Echo Press photo by Celeste Beam After it was announced that Jennie Hevern was the recipient of this year's Sertoma's Service to Mankind Award, she looked in awe as the room began to fill with many of her family and friends, including her husband, Monty (not pictured).

In the movie, Pocahontas, Grandmother Willow tells John Smith about the ripples in the water: "So small at first, then look how they grow - but someone has to start them."

"Anyone who knows Jennie Hevern knows that she starts ripples," Jill Blashack-Strahan told the attendees at Sertoma's Service to Mankind Award luncheon Wednesday at Broadway Ballroom.

Hevern of Alexandria was the recipient of this year's award, which is the highest honor Sertoma can bestow on a non-Sertoman.

The award is given each year to the area's most deserving volunteer as determined by a Sertoma committee, which reviews the submitted nominations.

Hevern was saluted for the many things she has done for the community of Douglas County. Her nomination was filled with admiration for her selfless service.

Over the past 40 years, Hevern has always been ready to help and has been involved with many different causes and organizations. Among these things are past president of the Alexandria Business and Professional Women's organization, as well as being named the organization's AAA Woman of the Year; she has served on numerous boards including the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Young People's Place, DEO Center, Salvation Army, West Central Initiative and Listening Ear Crisis Center.

She is the primary driver of the "Jennie's House" project for transitional housing. Hevern is active in the community working on various projects, including Community Connection and the United Way's coat drive, back-to-school event and food drops.

For the last couple of years, her main focus has been "encouraging people who have resources to help those who don't."

During the Sertoma luncheon, Blashack-Strahan, founder of Tastefully Simple, was one of four people who spoke on Hevern's behalf.

As she told those in attendance the story of Grandmother Willow, Blashack-Strahan said Hevern has been changing one ripple at a time for a long time - at least as long as she has known her, which has been since 1978.

She told the story of how the two met, which was at a fitness center, somebody's "Slim and Trim."

"I don't think I ever saw her work out," Blashack-Strahan remembered as the crowd erupted in laughter. "And you could smoke in there, too!"

Becoming more serious, she called Hevern a changemaker and said that Hevern gets people thinking and that she has an ability to stretch people to places they didn't know they could go.

She called her a believer, a dreamer and a person who knows how to get things done.

"Jennie has an innate gift at knowing the right resources," said Blashack-Strahan, adding that Hevern has a relentless conviction for helping people in need. "She believes in people. Her heart is pure servanthood, but she rarely talks about it."

Trying to hold back her emotions, Blashack-Strahan called Hevern one of her most beloved mentors and that she watches and learns from Hevern. She said Hevern knows how to listen to people, which she said was a priceless gift.

"Her comments are genuine," Blashack-Strahan said of Hevern. "And she always makes time for people no matter how busy she is."

She thanked Hevern for making ripples and for having dreams, believing in them and for making them become a reality.

"Thirty-two years ago, just by looking at me, I knew you believed in me," she told Hevern. "I am humbled. You deserve this so much, as much as you are probably irritated right now."

Patty Wicken from KXRA-Radio, who has known Hevern her whole life, used words like true, decent and honest to describe her.

"She is an inspiration to me," Wicken said, adding that she was trying hard not to get "blubbery."

Wicken recalled a story from a couple of years ago when she ran into Hevern and Hevern's grandson, Cole, at the mall during the Christmas season.

Their arms were brimming with packages and when Wicken commented on it, Cole excitedly told her that the packages were for a man who was living in transitional housing, who would be by himself for Christmas. Hevern suggested to her grandson that instead of buying gifts for themselves, that they buy gifts for the man instead.

"I've known Jennie for years and could tell she was uncomfortable with Cole telling me," said Wicken, noting that it was because Hevern is such a humble person.

"I love you, Jennie. Congratulations!" Wicken told her.

Art Hermes, a former boss of Hevern's, also spoke. He told the crowd that he had a unique relationship with Hevern.

"I was her boss, but I really wasn't her boss," he said. "She taught me. I look at her as a mentor."

Hermes said Hevern has an ability to always find the best in anyone she meets and that she found things, traits, in him he didn't know existed.

"She is brutally honest and that's good," he said. "I can't think of anyone more deserving than you. We are all proud of you."

Another person who spoke about Hevern was her sister, Eloyse Wade, who lives in Marshall.

"I don't remember when she started volunteering," Wade said of her sister. "She has always been a volunteer. I think it started back when she said, 'Yes, Dad, I'll take care of those girls.' "

Wade said she is good at getting people to help her and that over the years, Hevern may have felt bad for doing so, but she reassured her that her family loved every minute of it.

She recalled many times when she and Hevern made trips to a local store to purchase toys for kids who lived in transitional housing, kids who were less fortunate than others.

They would go home, put the toys together and then go back and buy some more.

"It was so awesome to see those kids playing with those toys," Wade said. She added that her sister always told her, "Bring your tool box and your drill. And I loved every minute of it."

Of all the characteristics Wade rattled off about her sister, she noted that one of them was persistence and one was humbleness.

Wade remembers hearing her sister say many times, "I just do what I can every day."

Looking at her sister, Wade said, "Thanks, Jennie! And thanks to Sertoma for honoring my sister."


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2009-10 - Jennie Hevern