North East Community Foundation

Lake & Smith Award Recipients

Each year at its Annual Meeting, The North East Community Foundation presents a special award to honor a local individual, family or non-profit organization who demonstrates excellence in community service and a commitment to the residents and community of North East.

The Lake & Smith Award for Community honors long-time local residents Ernest Lake and Geraldine Smith, founding members of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Award recipients also receive a gift of $500 to donate to the non-profit organization of their choice.

Award Recipients

2007 — Ernest Lake & Geraldine Smith
2008 — Robert & Janet Miller
2009 — Vicki Stetson
2010 — Community Nursing Services of North East
2011 — North East Food Pantry
2012 -- Mercyhurst University
2013 -- Ted Miller
2014 -- The Orris C. Hirtzel & Beatrice Dewey Hirtzel Memorial Foundation


2007 — Ernest Lake & Geraldine Smith

The North East Community Foundation honored long-time local residents Ernest Lake and Geraldine Smith at its annual meeting held on April 19, 2007. The pair was honored with the newly created Lake & Smith Award for Community Excellence, which is an annual award presented to local individuals or non-profit organizations who demonstrate excellence in community service.

Mr. Lake and Mrs. Smith currently serve on the board of directors of the Foundation and were instrumental in the establishment of the group. For more than 50 years, each has served a wide variety of North East non-profit groups and are true community assets.

As part of their awards, the Foundation presented Mr. Lake and Mrs. Smith with checks for $500 to donate to the non-profit groups of their choice. Mr. Lake chose Community Nursing Services of North East. Mrs. Smith chose McCord Memorial Library and the North East Historical Society.

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2008 — Robert & Janet Miller

The North East Community Foundation honored long-time local benefactors Robert and Janet Miller with its Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Service. The award was presented at the Foundation’s Annual Meeting on May 29, 2008.

Mr. and Mrs. Miller received the award with nearly 200 family members, friends and representatives from community organizations in attendance. As part of their award, the Foundation presented the Millers with a check for $500 to donate to the non-profit group of their choice. The Millers chose the North East Food Pantry.

With a lifetime of experience in the food industry and more than 40 years as co-founder
and owner of Better Baked Foods, Inc., North East’s frozen food and snack manufacturer, Robert Miller’s experience, corporate vision and values have played a major role in the founding, development and success of three food companies.

The U. S. Small Business Administration in 1982 selected Mr. Miller as the “Small Business Person of the Year” in upstate New York, citing him for “outstanding entrepreneurial skills.” In September 1985, the National Frozen Pizza Institute in Chicago honored Mr. Miller as one of the original founders of French Bread Pizza.

Mr. & Mrs. Miller have maintained great interest in the communities where their company’s facilities and employees are located. In 1990, Mr. Miller’s outstanding leadership of the North East fund-raising campaign secured an option for Mercyhurst College to purchase St. Mary’s Seminar in North East. In 1991, Mr. Miller received the Delta Nu Delta National Honor Society Award in Business Administration at Mercyhurst College. He was also nominated and accepted to the Mercyhurst Board of Trustees and continues his work for the board today. In 1995, Ernst and Young, a national accounting firm, nominated Mr. Miller as a finalist for the Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Upstate New York. Mr. Miller was also an integral supporter in the establishment of the North East Community Foundation. He has also played a key role in funding renovations for the Westfield Memorial Hospital.

The leadership capabilities that Mr. & Mrs. Miller have displayed throughout their lives in North East continue to be focused on the concerns and needs of the people of the community. The North East Community Foundation is pleased to bestow the Lake & Smith Award upon Mr. & Mrs. Miller for their ongoing efforts to make North East a vital community.

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2009 — Vicki Stetson

The North East Community Foundation honored lifetime resident Vicki Stetson at its Annual Meeting, held June 3, 2009, at Mercyhurst/North East. Ms. Stetson received the Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Service, an annual award presented to local individuals or non-profit organizations who demonstrate a consistent commitment to the people of North East.

Ms. Stetson received the award with nearly 150 family members, friends and representatives from community organizations in attendance. As part of her award, the Foundation presented Ms. Stetson with a check for $500 to donate to the non-profit group of her choice. She chose 4 N.I.N.E Thrift Store, an organization that she founded 10 years ago to help the residents of North East.

Throughout her 40 years of teaching, Vicki Stetson was acutely aware that things were not easy or fair for everyone. She felt that as long as you were willing to work at something, there should be a result that rewarded that effort. When she saw that there was a need to have services and opportunities available in North East, she was determined to do something to make that happen. The result was the 4 N.I.N.E. Place Thrift Store, which could recycle no-longer-wanted items to people who could use them for a small price. The profit from the sales could underwrite a place for local residents to have access to programs and information to improve their quality of life. It was a simple idea, but not a simple matter.

Beginning in a very rough building in 1999, a core group of volunteers created the successful organization that exists today. As North East residents clean out closets and basements, they have a place to donate their items where a dedicated group of 37 volunteers sort, clean, and ready them for sale. It is a tribute to the inspiration of Ms. Stetson that on average, 627 volunteer hours are logged each month. The store, open 12 hours a week, generates enough income to fund a day care subsidy program to enable modest income families to take advantage of a safe and affordable place for their children during working hours. Items that are not suitable for sale are shared with other organizations, such as City Mission, the Community of Caring, Outreach Erie, Sunshine Group, ANNA Animal Shelter, Wattsburg Outreach, plus shipments to help victims of fire, and disaster relief for Katrina, Haiti, the Congo and Russia. In addition, used eye glasses are donated to the Blind Association, and used hearing aids to So the World Can Hear.

“This has been hard work,” said Diana Hatfield, board member of 4 N.I.N.E. Place Thrift Store. “The work has been at times dirty, tedious, overwhelming, and endless, but it has always been rewarding. To see the fruition of an idea, the creation of something from literally nothing, has been the best outcome of all. And it wouldn’t have happened without the drive and dedication of Vicki Stetson.”

The Thrift Store also operates as a community center for all residents. It donated the land for a permanent home for the Food Pantry. The Community Room houses the GED program to help people further their education, and a self-help group to improve family situations. There is a wireless connection available to enable people to access information only available on the Internet. Many services have reached out through the facility to make the programs available without the need to travel into Erie, including Healthnet, GECAC programs, and Retired Seniors Volunteer Program. 4 N.I.N.E. Place is also a resource for community services for juvenile diversion and adult probation. All of this happens because Ms. Stetson sees a need, or hears of a program, and picks up the phone and makes the connection.

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2010 — Community Nursing Services of North East

The North East Community Foundation honored Community Nursing Services of North East (CNSNE) at its Annual Meeting on June 3, 2010. The North East home health agency received the Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Service, an annual award presented to local individuals or non-profit organizations who demonstrate a consistent commitment to the people of North East.

Community Nursing Services received the award with nearly 150 staff, family members, friends and representatives from the community in attendance. As part of the award, the North East Community Foundation presented CNSNE with a check for $500 for the agency to use for its program.

The Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Services was named in honor of long-time North East residents Ernest Lake and Gerri Smith. Mr. Lake and Mrs. Smith currently serve on the board of directors of the Foundation and were instrumental in the establishment of the group. For more than 50 years, each has served a wide variety of North East non-profit groups and are true community assets.

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2011 — North East Food Pantry

The North East Community Foundation honored the North East Food Pantry at its Annual Meeting on June 16 by presenting the pantry with the 2011 Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Service. The community foundation presents this award annually to a local individual or non-profit organization who demonstrates a consistent commitment to the people of North East.

The North East Food Pantry began in 1983 as a ministry of the Christian Churches in North East and Greenfield Townships. After operating out of various local churches and the former North East Borough Building, the pantry received a piece of land on Bothel Street, which was a donation by Vicki Stetson. A new building was erected on that location and opened in 2004.

In 2010, the food pantry distributed more than 190,000 pounds of food to its patrons. These patrons represent 328 local families, or more than 900 individual people.

According to Assistant Director James King, the North East Food Pantry acquires food in numerous ways. First, donations make up about one third of the food provided to patrons. Donated food comes from manufacturers such as Welch’s, Better Baked Foods, and Bay Valley Foods; from food drives by churches, organizations and businesses; from local farmers who donate fresh produce; and from individuals within our community who make food donations.

The food pantry also purchases food from the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania. Some of the food received from Second Harvest is donated from various vendors and manufacturers. Besides donated foods, most of the food received from Second Harvest is taxpayer-purchased. The North East Food Pantry purchases this food for thirteen cents per pound. The cost of these items is usually offset by grants, which Second Harvest receives and administers.

In addition, the North East Food Pantry provides non-food items to its patrons. These items include paper towels, toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, cough drops, and more. The pantry tries to obtain as much of these kinds of items as possible because they are usually quite expensive for patrons at retail stores.

The North East Food Pantry received the Lake & Smith Award with nearly 80 volunteers, family members, friends and representatives from the community in attendance. As part of the award, the North East Community Foundation presented the food pantry with a check for $500 for the agency to use for its program.

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North East Food Pantry

Rev. David Oyler, left, Trustee of the North East Community Foundation, presents the 2011 Lake & Smith Award to James King, Assistant Director of the North East Food Pantry.

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2012 — Mercyhurst University, The North East Campus

The North East Community Foundation honored Mercyhurst University, The North East Campus at its Annual Meeting last June by awarding the organization with the Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Service. This annual award is presented to local individuals or non-profit organizations who demonstrate a consistent commitment to the people of North East.

When NECF Trustee Chris Miller presented the award to Dr. Gary Brown, Executive Vice President & CFO of Mercyhurst University, he noted the significant economic development role that the university plays in our community, as well as the quality educational services delivered to its students. The initial partnership between Mercyhurst and the community of North East laid the groundwork for the creation of the North East Community Foundation

The Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Services was named in honor of long-time North East residents Ernest Lake and the late Gerri Smith. Mr. Lake and Mrs. Smith were instrumental in the establishment of the North East Community Foundation.

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2013 — Ted Miller

The North East Community Foundation honored Ted Miller at its Annual Meeting on May 30 by presenting him with the Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Service. This annual award is presented to local individuals or non-profit organizations who demonstrate a consistent commitment to the people of North East.

A crowd of more than 100 friends, family and athletes gathered to honor Coach Miller, who is known throughout Pennsylvania as the legendary long-distance running coach for the North East Grape Pickers. Throughout his 50-year career, he has coached region, district and state champions, the newest being 2013 Gold Medal Miler, Ryan Smathers. Coach Miller was introduced by his daughter, Michelle, who presented a heartfelt tribute to her father. She shard a number of family stories that gave the audience a deeper appreciation for Coach Miller's commitment to his athletes, his community and his family.

The Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Services was named in honor of long-time North East residents Ernest Lake and the late Gerri Smith. Mr. Lake and Mrs. Smith were instrumental in the establishment of the North East Community Foundation.

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2014 — The Orris C. Hirtzel & Beatrice Dewey Hirtzel Memorial Foundation

The North East Community Foundation presented the 2014 Lake & Smith Award for Excellence in Community Service to the *Orris C. Hirtzel and Beatrice Dewey Hirtzel Memorial Foundation * in recognition of the Hirtzel Foundation’s decades of good works and student scholarships. Attorney James Bryan accepted the award on behalf of the Hirtzel Foundation and presented an historical overview of the charitable organization.

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