LIMA — Lima’s city council chambers started filling up Wednesday morning with friends and colleagues for a weekly press briefing, and Lima Mayor David Berger admitted he started to get “suspicious.”
Before long, he became momentarily speechless and then grateful as organizers surprised him with an honorary Jefferson Award for Public Service.
“The Jefferson Awards, of course, are a wonderful way of acknowledging individuals who spend their lives in service to others as volunteers,” Berger said. “They’re critical people who touch people throughout every aspect of our lives together. So I’m very honored to receive this.”
The originally planned 12 local Jefferson Awards winners will be recognized during a streaming presentation starting at 7 p.m. Thursday on Your Hometown Stations’ Facebook page. It marks the 20th anniversary of the program in Lima. People present Wednesday got a sneak peek at how emotional it could be.
Rachael Staley, the chair of the Jefferson Awards committee, rattled through Berger’s volunteerism during his 32-year stint as Lima’s mayor. Berger previously announced his retirement from the office, with a four-way primary in May and a general election in November to replace him.
She recognized his years of making pancakes for the Sertoma Club, parking cars or popping popcorn at the Optimist Home Show, picking up litter at the Ottawa River Cleanup, caroling with neighborhood groups and speaking at nearly every Eagle Scout awards banquet along the way. He also found time to read to Lima schools pupils and other work along the way.
“The purpose of the Jefferson Awards is to honor individuals for the commitment to improving the lives of others while inspiring and encouraging others to get involved in their local communities,” Staley said. “We cannot think of an individual that has better exemplified these ideals than Mayor David Berger.”
John Nixon, Lima’s council president, acknowledged the impact Berger had on Lima over the years.
“Dave Berger has redefined what the work of the job of the office of Mayor has been,” Nixon said. “He’s benefited his community. All of us — everyone, whether you want to admit it, whether you recognize it or not — has benefited from his dedication to this city and to its residents.”
Berger became emotional and paused for a bit after Nixon noted the sacrifices Berger’s wife, Linda, has made over the years, quipping that his job has been a full-time job for her too.
Berger was clear he didn’t plan on resting on his laurels in the final seven months of his term.
“There’s lots to do still,” Berger said. “Despite the idea that maybe it’s time to crank some things back, actually things are coming at us every day, either challenges or opportunities. We need to react to the first, absolutely, and take advantage of the latter, and that’s what we’re doing.”