Slechta, Wright named Citizens of the Year
Two teachers at Fairfield High School were recognized Friday as Citizens of the Year at the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce annual awards banquet.
Scott Slechta, English language arts chairman and Staci Ann Wilson Wright, special education teacher and Work Experience and School-to-Work program coordinator, were both surprised by the honors.
“I’m very humbled,” said Slechta, who had been “kidnapped” from the high school’s second night performance of “Zombie Prom,” and brought to the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center just prior to the award announcement.
“I do what I do because this is Fairfield,” he said. “When I was told I had to come over, my biggest concern was who’s going to ring the chimes at intermission?”
Wright, invited to the banquet on the pretext that one of her foundations was receiving an award, said she was speechless on reaching the podium while the crowd applauded.
“I was told I would get to do a shameless plug for the African Violet Foundation,” she said. “I am motivated by a Martin Luther King quote about ‘What are you doing for others?’”
She thanked her husband, Roger, her parents and her children. Her family had entered the banquet hall as her name was announced.
“How large a check will you write to my organization?” Wright challenged the audience.
The 2013 Citizens of the Year introduced this year’s winners. Each introduction included remarks about how fortunate Fairfield is to have the two winners as residents.
It is a surprise announcement, with identities kept secret, then slowly revealed as the award winner is described.
“This recipient of our Outstanding Citizen Community Service Award certainly fits that description — he is indeed an outstanding citizen of our community and he has served this community generously,” said Pat Doyle.
Slechta was born in a small Iowa town in the late 1950s and grew up on an Iowa farm doing typical things; his chores included cleaning hog sheds, grinding feed and feeding livestock, plowing, disking, planting, cultivating, walking beans, baling hay and harvesting.
In high school, he participated in band, choir, speech team, drama club and track, as well as 4-H.
“Sounds pretty typical for a good Iowa kid, right?” said Doyle.
“But this young man is anything but typical.”
In 1984 he was hired to teach at FHS. He was welcomed by the small city but its citizens had no idea just how blessed they would be, said Doyle.
His life exemplifies what he believes: “To be a part of the community, you must be involved with the community … either in a seen or an unseen way.”
Slechta was described as being active in his church and its youth activities; has served as a lifeguard with Fairfield Park and Recreation Department and trained and certified other lifeguards in the community.
“He works tirelessly to insure a quality learning environment and experience for the students of our district,” read Doyle.
“He is exacting and sets high standards for his students. His efforts are recognized and appreciated. He was named Fairfield’s Teacher of the Year in 1997. He earned National Board Teaching Certification in 2008, once again setting an example for his students.
“At last count, he has been directly or indirectly involved in the education and development of at least 5,000 members of our community including some of us, our children, and possibly by now, a few grandchildren.”
It is his expertise at another of his teaching responsibilities that provides the bridge from professional excellence to community service, said Doyle.
“He is the director of FHS drama department. During his career he has directed countless extremely successful high school plays and musicals, giving his students skills for a lifetime of enjoyment,” read Doyle.
“He has been known to spend countless hours cleaning and organizing the high school theater’s infamous ‘dungeon,’ amassing a collection of costumes and props likely unrivaled in eastern Iowa and beyond.
“He began a relationship 26 years ago with the Fairfield Area Community Theater – and our community has been so much the better for it,” read Doyle.
“This is where he gets ‘front stage’ billing. He facilitates, coordinates and directs community members to produce a dramatic show or a full-scale musical – and he does so expertly, skillfully, tactfully and patiently – and with a fantastic sense of humor. He knows exactly which actor to put into what role to create a great cast and how to put together a great crew to create a great production.
“His passion and his motivation are best expressed in his own words:
“‘I like doing this because I can create a venue for those community members who want to be in a show to have a fun and unique theatre experience,” Slechta was quoted. “Through hard work and lots of fun, our community theatre group has produced nearly 50 shows since its revival 25 years ago. I’ve directed all but five of those shows. We’ve had casts as large as 150 to those with less than 10, but because we produce pure and true community theatre, we are supported by the community itself.’
“He has been married to Tricia for 26 years. He is father of four great kids, and we are so very grateful he chose this community as his home,” read Doyle.
Staci Ann Wilson Wright
“We, the residents of Fairfield and Jefferson County are fortunate,” read Jodi Kerr, introducing Wright.
“We are fortunate there are people in our community like this recipient. Not only does this award recipient make our local community a better place to live, but also this recipient makes this world a better place.
“This year’s recipient’s life was spent mostly in Fairfield. It included stints in college elsewhere, but this recipient returned home and boy, are we lucky,” read Kerr.
“Reports are that as a child, this person was kind and generous, except, perhaps, when it came to the recipient’s brother. Rumor has it that this recipient was able to convince this brother to always be the first to pull the recipient in the wagon, with promises that the favor would be returned, but it rarely was. It is also reported that the recipient and that same brother were industrious and honed their marketing skills by scouring the neighborhood selling rocks to their neighbors. Finding money for worthy causes is a skill that this recipient has perfected and those rock selling adventures were just the beginning.”
Kerr said one of the award winner’s traits is organization; another is a personal mission to help people.
“This recipient recognized that so many high school students did not receive any gifts at Christmastime,” read Kerr.
“Perhaps their family struggled just to put food on the table or perhaps that child had been effectively abandoned by their parents. This recipient organized a nonprofit group to provide a simple gift or two to these kids.
“Perhaps more importantly, she understood that what may mean more to them than the school sweatshirt they receive is the acknowledgement that someone was thinking of them at Christmas, that they mattered to someone.”
Wright started the organization, The African Violet Foundation based upon the premise that a simple act of kindness can change a life.
“This recipient is the heart and soul of the African Violet Foundation, which was named in honor of her grandmother who always delivered an African violet to a person who needed to know that someone was thinking of them.
“This recipient organizes, fundraises, purchases, wraps, distributes and provides thank you notes for the Christmastime gifts to needy high school and middle school students at Fairfield and Pekin schools. This endeavor has communitywide support and has grown tremendously in the few years it has been in existence.
“This past year, The African Violet Foundation provided Christmastime gifts to 337 students,” read Kerr.
“She organizes clothing drives, collects unwanted furniture and other household items to distribute to people in need. Last year, she spearheaded a ‘Show You Care With Underwear’ campaign to collect new underwear to distribute.
“As a teacher of special learners in a special education classroom, she has also led and coordinated the school’s Renaissance program. This program had two large assemblies each year at which students were honored for character, grade point improvement, attendance and academic achievement.
“She also makes P.E. clothes available in her classroom for students who need them and this effort grew into a charitable endeavor called Caring Through Clothing, where clothing is given away the weekend after Thanksgiving — the best ‘Black Friday’ deal there is, as she describes it,” read Kerr.
Wright and FHS school nurse Mary Hill led a “Be the Match” donor drive, seeking a bone marrow donor match for a FHS senior facing leukemia last year. The two secured volunteers and put in hours planning and working with the hospital staff to have DNA collection at the health center and high school.
She also raised funds to purchase a new washer and dryer for a single parent.
“While that may seem like a strange goal to some of you, she knew the importance of having access to clean clothing for a struggling family,” read Kerr. “This goal, too, was accomplished in a very short period of time. If she could sell rocks to the neighbors, raising money for a washer and dryer was probably a piece of cake!”
She believes that one person can make a difference and that a little bit of kindness goes a long way, said Kerr.
“This recipient is a very creative and humorous person. Most likely, we have all had the opportunity to read a column in The Fairfield Ledger written by her and laughed aloud at the family antics described in such detail that you could almost swear you witnessed it in person.
“This recipient has also been published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ and has written a book, yet unpublished.
“It may be hard to believe that a single person could help so many people and do it with enthusiasm and laughter, read Kerr.
Kerr apologized for people having to lie to Wright to have her attend the banquet for an award to the African Violet Foundation.
“But we knew that you would not think yourself deserving of this award because that is your nature,” said Kerr. “But you are very deserving.”