Marlene Froning hands checks to firefighter Doug Kill, with Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock, at left, and Mayor Rodney Metz, at right. Froning was recently honored with the Jefferson Award.
For one local woman attending the Lima Jefferson Awards banquet earlier this week as one of eight finalists served as a recognition for her work beyond her belief.
As she sat in the audience Tuesday reflecting on the accomplishments of the other seven people, Wapakoneta’s Marlene Froning says she was just so honored to be mentioned with an esteemed group where any of the others work could earn them the privilege of attending the national Jefferson Awards in Washington, D.C. — and then they called her name.
“In all honesty, I am very humbled and very honored,” Froning said about receiving the honor as she prepares for Bicycle Safety Day on May 12. “I am still in total disbelief because there were so many other wonderful people who were there that do such wonderful things. There projects are so special and are just so amazing, but I am still in disbelief that I was selected.
“This is such a prestigious honor and to think that someone thought that what I do is so worthy — I am very humbled by it,” she said.
Froning earned the honor for her nearly 40 years of volunteering in the community. She volunteers at her church, St. Joseph Catholic Church, helping with their annual Fourth of July Festival and has worked the weekly bingo night. Among her other volunteer activities is helping to make baptism robes and making meals for people after a funeral.
In the past she has helped organize collections of donated goods to be trucked to tornado-ravaged St. Louis and hurricane-stricken New Orleans. She also organizes the groups to work the recycling center every week in Wapakoneta.
Four years ago, she started a new event — Bicycle Safety Day — in memory of her son and for the safety of area children.
Her goal is to ensure children wear bicycle helmets and have a better knowledge of riding and the rules of the road. She works with area groups to provide the helmets and safety tips — an event close to Froning’s heart.
Her son, Keith Wesley, died at 10:05 a.m. Aug. 2, 1983, while riding his bicycle home after baseball practice when he was hit by a car as he crossed U.S. 33 at Dearbaugh Avenue.
Froning said not a day goes by when she, her husband, Richard, and his three siblings, Matt, Krista and Kelli do not think about loss of their son and brother and what it meant to their family. Keith had another sibling, Jason, who died 32 days after his birth.
Froning told the Wapakoneta Daily News all the work with organizing and holding the Bicycle Safety Day is worth the effort. She holds constant to the thought that if she can cover one child’s head it is worth the time and if they can impress on them at a younger age the necessity to wear a helmet while riding then the better.
According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, on average more than 140 children under the age of 14 are killed when riding bicycles, and nearly 75 percent of brain injuries among child bicyclists could have been prevented with a helmet.
From earning the Jefferson Award, Froning is set to receive $700, which she said is earmarked for Bicycle Safety Day. She said any money donated is strictly for purchasing bicycle helmets for the children.
Meanshile Froning said she was in awe of the other seven who were honored in Lima.
“The one person who really humbled me was the one who took care of the children, arranged for them to come to the United States,” Froning said, referring to Waynesfield resident Tami Shobe. “I was really moved by how at times the children with the cleft palates would die before they got here.
“To think that a parent could lose a child that way when their life could be so much different and they could have survived and all their lives would be so much different,” she said. “That devastated me and I was filled with such hope knowing that one person, and the group that helps her, could take care of that and change another person’s life.”
Froning said she can imagine the difference Shobe makes in the life of these children through Children’s Medical Missions. She also gave credit to the others such as Suzanne Kaliher Plumb with Churches United Pantry, Edward Noble with the Goodfellows and St. Marys Community Foundation, Beth and Chas Myers with Putnam County Habitat for Humanity, Bill Hanz with Lima Family YMCA, Art Brinkman and Jim Sherrick with Barbers Give Bikes, and Kay Ahten with Delphos Canal Commission.
When her name was announced during the ceremony Tuesday in Lima, Froning said her first thought was “did they just say my name?”
“When I heard them say my name, I just thought it can’t be,” Froning said. “I did not go to the ceremony with any expectation that I would go anywhere beyond that. I was just excited to be at the banquet and that was such an honor to be there.”
She spread the credit to her volunteers for making an event she is involved with a success.
She also gave credit to her two daughters — Kelli Froning-Rempe and Krista Nuss. She said she is proud of her children because they are always inspiring her, assisting her and helping her with her endeavors.
“I was totally shocked about the things she had to say about me, not only as a mom but what she thought of me as a person and things I do and the things I do for the community and those around us,” Froning said. “It was very emotional to know how much she thought about me in that way. It was emotional to know she had such a respect for me, not only as a mom, but as a lady who will go out and do things for others.”