Honoring leaders in the community

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Eight individuals were recognized for their contributions to the community at the village of Urbancrest’s 12th annual Black History Celebration on Feb. 28. Pictured here from left to right (with Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr. in the second row) are Rena Saroiberry, S. Henry Warr, Mohamed Osman, Annie Pearl Sanders and Linda and Rodd Lawrence. Fellow honoree Sharon D. Saunders was not present to collect her award, nor the one for her father, the late William Daniel Saunders. Annie Pearl Sanders was accepting the award on behalf of her husband, Willie Sanders Sr.

When Veronica Shepherd was first elected to serve on the village of Urbancrest council, she expected her childhood friend and fellow council member S. Henry Warr to be a stabilizing force as she navigated these new waters. And for the most part, she said, he was just that but he didn’t always make it as smooth and she wanted it to be.

“I could count on him to listen,” she said with a laugh, “but I soon learned that you may leave upset when he offered you his advice and opinions.”

She said that when she became the mayor years later, she often lamented to Warr her belief that the council was hindering progress on programs and ideas she wanted to implement.

“I was hoping other people would see my way of things as it would be much easier,” she said, “but he would remind me that it didn’t always work the way I wanted it to. He would always tell the truth, even if you didn’t like it.”

She said his steadfast belief in the purpose of the council, of its mission to serve the community before self, is one of the reasons why he was “so deserving” of recognition at the village of Urbancrest’s 12th annual Black History Celebration.

On Feb. 28, Warr was among eight individuals receiving awards for their contributions to the community. He was recognized with the Distinguished Service Award and for serving more than three decades in the village government.

Warr said he was talked into running for council in the late 1970s but never expected to win, nor to serve as long as he had.

“I didn’t expect to still be doing this at my age,” said the Vietnam veteran, “but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Though Warr lost the most recent election to Deborah Larkins-Jackson by a flip of the coin in November 2019 (their tie on election night prompted a recount and then coin toss by county election officials), he was appointed to a position on the planning commission.

“I am so proud to have served this historic village and I am proud to continue to serve,” he said. “It was been a true honor and a privilege.”

He said that when he recalls his time on the council, he is most proud of its advancements. He cited an upgrade to the storm sewer system, the widening of residential roads and the building of a new municipal complex as some examples that have taken place during his tenure.

Warr said that while he feels “rested,” he is keeping the door open to another council run in the future.

Also receiving the Distinguished Service Award were the late William Daniel Saunders, his daughter Sharon D. Saunders and Willie Sanders Sr. They were recognized for their activism in the community and willingness to put others above self.

William Daniel Saunders, more commonly known as “Farmer” to village residents for his love of bib overalls, was the first street commissioner, a council member, a World War II veteran and a long-time custodian at the Urbancrest Elementary School. He was also honored for his spirituality.

“He was an intricate part of the village from a religious standpoint as well,” said village Mayor Joseph Barnes Sr.

Sharon D. Saunders was recognized not only for her service to the village in governance (she served on council and was noted by event organizer Elberta Barnes for her willingness to “stand for what is right”) but her humanitarian efforts and willingness to volunteer at any event. Saunders also played an integral role in the implementation of a children-led community garden.

Former board of public affairs trustee Willie Sanders Sr., said Barnes, is a tireless worker who “turned his own front yard into a tool shop” when strong winds tore down limbs from trees in the village.

“When we had tornado-like winds sweep through our area a few years ago, Mr. Sanders volunteered to help people in the community remove tree limbs from their yard and make repairs to homes and buildings.”

Barnes said his willingness to lend a hand – most often unprompted – is what made Sanders worthy of the award.

Receiving the Mayor Ellen Walker-Craig Jones Community Service Award were attorneys Linda and Rodd Lawrence, community activist Mohamed Osman and restaurant manager Rena Saroiberry.

The Lawrence’s have been working with the village for more than a decade, with Rodd serving as its current law director. Barnes said the Lawrence’s have been instrumental in “keeping the village legal” as it pertains to contract negotiations, litigation and other codified matters.

Osman was recognized for his work with the village youth, especially with its growing Somali community. Osman said he was inspired to create goal ceremonies to celebrate their achievements no matter how small they may seem.

“I want to encourage them to be somebody,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they are in kindergarten or all the way in high school, I want them to know that they can be somebody and can help lead others through encouragement and by setting a good example.”

Saroiberry, a manager of the Subway restaurant on Broadway in Grove City, was recognized for her “devotion as a community partner.” Elberta Barnes said Saroiberry has been volunteering and catering events held throughout the village for more than a decade.

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