MOUNT VERNON – Larry Andrzejewski has a hard time sitting still. And an even harder time accepting praise.
That made Tuesday’s ceremony on Mount Vernon’s Public Square particularly strenuous for the 73-year-old. Still, he managed to ride out the storm and accept the 2020 Knox County Outstanding Senior Citizen Award from Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging, in front of a crowd of socially distanced friends and family members.
GALLERY: 2020 Knox County Outstanding Senior Citizen Award Ceremony
Larry Andrzejewski, 73, was honored Tuesday for his career of service and post-retirement volunteerism. He was named the 2020 Knox County Outstanding Senior Citizen by Area Agency on Aging District 5. Community leaders, friends and family members gathered on Public Square in Mount Vernon to celebrate Andrzejewski's efforts.
The award was a token of gratitude for Andrzejewski’s years of post-retirement volunteerism in Knox County, District 5 VP of Administrative Services Teresa Cook said. He was nominated by Danielle Sutton, the volunteer coordinator at Hospice of North Central Ohio, and selected by the agency’s project review board.
“I am so blown away by it all …” Andrzejewski told those who gathered for the ceremony. “I feel totally blessed because I get a chance to be with other volunteers who are just wonderful people. Our county is laced with them. And I count it a privilege to serve with them.”
Andrzejewski, who resides near Ankenytown with his wife, Mary Lou, has volunteered for numerous local organizations since his retirement in 2007. He has volunteered with Hospice of North Central Ohio for the last 12 years and The Winter Sanctuary homeless shelter for the last 10 years. He has been an advocate with TouchPointe Marriage and Family Resources, DivorceCare for Kids, and Knox Starting Point.
While many of his volunteering opportunities have been put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrzejewski still manages to visit the Knox County Jail every Monday night to consult with inmates. He talks with them, prays with them, and even offers them a Bible. But mostly, Cook said, he listens.
“You’d be surprised how, at least during that span of time, the change that comes over them. It’s just amazing …” Andrzejewski said. “They’re trying. They just need someone to put an arm around them and say, ‘Dude, you can make it.’”
Andrzejewski takes a similar approach in his role at The Winter Sanctuary, where he listens to – and challenges – those utilizing the shelter. In his role at Hospice, he spends time with clients during their final hours, listening and praying. He helps children and families find strength and stability through his work at TouchPointe, DivorceCare and Knox Starting Point.
“Words cannot put a true description to the impact that Larry has made since turning 60, and over his lifetime,” Sutton wrote in her nomination form. “Larry connected with each person that he coached, he counseled, or he listened to. Larry listens with his heart.”
In addition to his regular volunteer work, Andrzejewski has also coached various Little League teams over the years and did mission work through prison visitations. He has served as an ordained elder at Grace Fellowship Church in Mansfield for the past four years, and previously served as a member of the Fredericktown United Methodist Church praise team.
Prior to his busy retirement, Andrzejewski taught physical education and health at Lexington Local Schools for 31 years. Because he taught semester courses, he is believed to have taught every student (an estimated 7,000 total) who passed through the school district from 1976 to 2007 – a feat he considers a privilege.
“There was only one other teacher that was able to do that,” Andrzejewski said proudly. “But I loved it because I got to know those kids for a semester.”
A Toledo native, Andrzejewski moved to Knox County at the age of 24 after fighting two years in the Vietnam War, where he served as a lieutenant platoon leader. He experienced things during combat that “we could never imagine and we would never want to imagine,” Cook noted. “Many of the freedoms we have today was because Larry sacrificed for his country.”
After arriving in Knox County, Andrzejewski taught at Utica Junior High School for two years. He then took a position at St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School in Mount Vernon, where he taught for three years.
Andrzejewski credits his faith for his ability to serve others, both inside and outside the classroom.
“I truly believe the lord, first of all, was calling me to do it,” Andrzejewski said. “I can’t believe how much I’ve enjoyed every part of it. So I give all the glory to God because he led me, and I’m just having a ball.”
He spent most of his speech Tuesday praising his fellow volunteers and encouraging others – particularly the elderly – to get involved.
“As the elderly population, we have a lot of experience, a lot of insight, a lot of wisdom, and we have a lot of God-given talent,” Andrzejewski said. “And I believe that that’s exactly what the lord would have us do, is to take that and share it, and show that you want to encourage and care for people.
“I think people are starved to know that somebody cares for them. So, I am so thankful that I get to be in this situation and am privileged to be a volunteer here. And those of you who are near retirement, think about it. Your life is very valuable and to give back to other people is so incredible.”
In addition to his award from the Area Agency on Aging, Andrzejewski was presented with two proclamations on Tuesday – one from Mount Vernon Mayor Matt Starr and the other from Knox County Commissioner Thom Collier.
Starr’s proclamation declared Sept. 8, 2020, “Larry Andrzejewski Day” in the city, asking all residents to “strive to live a life of service as Larry has, and make our world a better place.”
Starr recalled meeting Andrzejewski years ago, when he was a sportswriter for the Mount Vernon News and Andrzejewski was coaching a Fredericktown track team. Even then, Starr said he could tell the coach shied away from individual attention. He knew today would be hard – with Andrzejewski sitting front-and-center, accepting public praise and an award – and he commended him for enduring it.
“He wasn’t a guy who wanted a lot of accolades, he wasn’t doing it for that,” Starr recalled. “But I said, ‘Larry, you know what? This is something the community needs. We need examples. We need good stories right now. We need examples where people can say, ‘Hey, that inspires me.’’ And so we twisted his arm into coming out here to endure all this wonderful attention.”
Collier issued a similar resolution and paid tribute to Andrzejewski’s commitment to the community. He said people like Andrzejewski are Knox County’s greatest assets – far more valuable than anything material.
“We always say that we have many great assets in Knox County, but the greatest of those assets is the people. And there’s nothing better than to see individuals who have dedicated their life to making other people’s lives and worlds better, and that’s exactly what Larry exemplifies to all of us,” Collier said.
“We’re just so pleased at the things that you’ve been involved in, the way that you’ve made the community better – from young people to those in the aged community. And we’re just thrilled to recognize you, and appreciate your loyalty and dedication to your family, your church, and to your community, and that you’ve remained active in many roles and set a wonderful example for your fellow citizens of Knox County.”
After his retirement in 2007, Andrzejewski said he took a year off. But he quickly realized that he wouldn’t last long as a house-dweller.
He knew he needed to get out and work with people – he knew he needed to help. He started volunteering and never looked back.
“We have so much, for lack of a better word, God-given talent and experience and wisdom and insight. I don’t like sitting on the bench. You know what I mean?” he said with a smile. “Why not take it out there, if someone is willing to listen?”
About the award: District 5 of the Ohio Area Agency on Aging covers nine counties, including Ashland, Crawford, Huron, Knox, Marion, Morrow, Richland, Seneca and Wyandot. The organization, based in Ontario, offers myriad services to support local elderly populations.
The Area Agency on Aging presents one resident per county each year with the Outstanding Senior Citizen Award. This marked the 20th year for the award, which is meant to honor local residents who are "making a difference in their communities and present a positive image of aging,” the organization stated. Awardees are selected based on their contributions to the community after reaching the age of 60.