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Five will receive Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Hero Awards at Jan. 21 celebration

January 09, 2012

Kelly Homan Rodoski
(315) 443-3784

The 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Hero Awards will be presented to five members of the Syracuse University or greater Syracuse communities during Syracuse University’s 27th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, "A Living Legacy: The Fierce Urgency of Now." The event will be held Saturday, Jan. 21, at 6:30 p.m. in the Carrier Dome, and is free and open to the public.

A dinner will precede the event in the Carrier Dome at 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 for the general public and $15 for students without meal plans. Students with meal plans will be charged for one dinner. For ticket information, contact Hendricks Chapel at 443-5044.

This year's Unsung Hero Award recipients are Lt. Col. MaryJo Timpano, director of staff for the 174th Fighter Wing of the New York Air National Guard (community adult category); Emily Kelsey-Gossard, a senior at Marcellus High School (community youth category); Risa Cantu C’DeBaca, a senior majoring in women’s and gender studies and minoring in sociology at SU (SU/ESF student category); Cheryl Spear, SU doctoral student, scholar, advocate and service provider for individuals with disabilities (SU/ESF student category); and Lynda Hamilton ’74, manager of the Brockway Dining Center on the SU campus (SU/ESF faculty/staff category).

Spear passed away on Dec. 11, following a battle with cancer; she is receiving the 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Unsung Hero Award posthumously. She was nominated for the award by friends, colleagues and several students whom she supported.

Lt. Col. MaryJo Timpano
Timpano is a member of the Vera House Board of Directors, working to educate about the skills necessary to work toward an end to sexual and domestic violence. She is the sexual assault response coordinator for Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, and in this role trains members of the military on the prevention of sexual assault, serves as the primary point of contact for military personnel who are victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse, supervises victim advocates and directly responds and advocates for victims.

She also advocated tirelessly for the creation of the Hancock Field Joint Deployment Health and Wellness Center over the past year. The newly opened center, of which Timpano is director, provides resources to address the physical, psychological, spiritual and family health of service members and their families.

Timpano has also identified and partnered with community resources to provide services for military members and veterans and serves as an advocate for homeless veterans. She also volunteers in the local community, donating time to the Rome Rescue Mission’s Welcome Hall, is a Community Reading Program volunteer in Utica and New Hartford and is active with the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

“Lt. Col. MaryJo Timpano is a shining example of the human capacity for caring and through her devotion to others has improved the lives of both military members and their families and the underprivileged throughout Central New York,” says Col. Kevin Bradley, commander of the 174th Fighter Wing.

Emily Kelsey-Gossard
Kelsey-Gossard, a senior at Marcellus Senior High School, has committed her time and talent to the ministry at Brown Memorial United Methodist Church on Syracuse’s West Side for the past three years, volunteering with the church’s twice-weekly tutoring and summer programs.

Her service to the church has been an inspiration for many, says Heather Williams, who nominated Kelsey-Gossard for the award. “Her desire to reach children who need to know someone cares and that they have a future of potential enables her to serve in areas that go beyond her comfort zone,” says Williams. “Emily easily connects with children from cultural and economic backgrounds different than her own. Her loyalty to this outreach has inspired our congregation in multiple ways.” Kelsey-Gossard’s dedication to the church has encouraged church members to volunteer and donate financial resources.

Williams says Kelsey-Gossard has a strong desire to improve the lives of children. “She embraces all children and they just gravitate towards her. They can see in her genuine compassion that reaches into the very heart of the impoverished situation many find themselves in,” she says.

"Emily asks difficult questions and does not accept that these situations are the way they should be or are meant to be,” Williams says. “She is an inspiration and a role model for many young people searching for meaning and purpose that happens in the change of people’s lives by simply caring and doing what is just.”

Risa Cantu C’DeBaca
C’DeBaca, a McNair Scholar and member of the Golden Key International Honour Society, has overcome many personal challenges to excel academically and in her social justice activism, says Vincent Lloyd, assistant professor of religion in The College of Arts and Sciences, who nominated her for the award.

“She has done an exceptional job of using her scholarship to inform her activism and using her activism to inform her scholarship—precisely the ideal of Scholarship in Action championed by Syracuse University,” says Lloyd.

C’DeBaca has been involved with the “Occupy” movement, which highlights the plight of Americans struggling to work to survive. Finding that the local movement was not particularly inclusive, she organized and co-facilitated a forum titled “Feminism and the 99% Movement” on the role of feminism in the movement, and partnered with local Latino organizations to hold a Day of the Dead celebration at the Occupy site in downtown Syracuse.

Her research experience includes analyzing women's roles in the Zapatista Movement of Chiapas, México, and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. She is currently engaged in research on her experiences as a woman of color in the local Occupy Movement and the politics of occupying or (un)occupying physical and/or cyberspaces.

C’DeBaca has also worked with the Ida Benderson Action Group in Syracuse, formed to respond to the closing of the Ida Benderson Senior Center, which serves a mostly working-class, minority senior citizen population. “Risa links groups together for mutual support, acting as a node that connects networks,” says nominator Benjamin D. Kuebrich. “Her work is essential to the coalition building needed to address issues of ageism, sexism, racism and classism in our community and around the country.”

Cheryl Spear
Spear overcame adversity and late-onset visual impairment to spend a great deal of her life opening doors within society and higher education for others.

As an advocate, Spear was tireless in her efforts to promote equal opportunity and civil rights for people with disabilities—particularly individuals who are blind or partially sighted—in public libraries, institutions of higher education and among public service providers. At SU, she sought greater access to technology, electronic format of standard printed reading materials, classroom accommodations and fuller access to theater performances. As a person who was blind herself, Spear brought sensitivity and knowledge surrounding the issues and problems related to vision loss through her own experiences.

As an innovator, Spear developed the process for providing audio description of films and videos that are used in the classroom. She has also served in a consultant role with Syracuse Stage during its process of introducing audio-described performances for each of their productions.

As a teacher, Spear developed a support system and orientation to assist international students who are blind or partially sighted to provide guidance in arranging for housing, transportation, banking and other related needs. She taught students about American culture and the steps needed to arrange for necessary services and supports in order to live and function independently.

“What makes Cheryl an extraordinary unsung hero is that she has not only forced doors open for other people with disabilities or who are discriminated against because of their race, gender, sexuality or age, but she also worked long and steadily, often at the expense of her own advancement, to hold open those doors for them as they have advanced in their careers and lives,” says Holly Dobbins, who nominated Spear for the award. “Simply put, she put others first her entire life.”

Lynda Hamilton ‘74
Although she doesn’t work in a traditional classroom, Hamilton has become an important educator of students on the Syracuse University campus. As the manager of Brockway Dining Center, she oversees the meals of hundreds of students each day. Through the theme dinners she expertly arranges each semester, she transforms Brockway into a virtual classroom, using food, music and other means to impart lessons in global culture, geography and music.

Hamilton’s career at SU began in November 1980. She was a catering supervisor and manager and a production manager before she was promoted to dining center manager in April 1993.

In that capacity, Hamilton oversees student dining in Brockway, which primarily serves the residents of Brewster and Boland residence halls (although students can eat in any dining center they like, regardless of where they live).

Theme dinners are offered in the SU dining halls every three to six weeks each semester, and Hamilton goes all out when she prepares for a theme dinner. She thoroughly researches the theme to make the meal as authentic as possible for her customers. Hamilton puts a lot of effort into decorating the dining center as well, often bringing in personal items from home to use as props for her theme meals. For the annual “Taste of Central New York” meal, held in early September, Hamilton collects information from the Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau and New York State Fair to illustrate the wonderful things about the community for new students. She not only lines up decorations, but Hamilton has arranged for musicians to play in Brockway during the theme meals as well.

For the past three years, Hamilton has worked with Esther Gray, organizer of the University Lectures series, to plan theme meals around some of the University Lectures speakers to tie the dining experience to this prestigious University event. This year, Hamilton planned Fast Food-Slow Food dinner in honor of University Lecturer Eric Schlosser and a Latino dinner in honor of lecturer Maria Hinojosa.

Through these dining experiences, Hamilton takes her students on learning journeys around the globe. For many students, it is the first time they have tried something new; for others, the experience Hamilton creates is a comforting taste of home. Hamilton connects different cultures with students, many of whom who have never had anything more global than a burger or a burrito. She works enthusiastically—but quietly and behind the scenes—in fostering a global community and respect for new cultures in the Brockway Dining Center.

“With subtle goodness, Lynda puts a face and humanity to different ethnicities,” says Gray.

Hamilton received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from SU and studied for a semester in Freiburg, Austria.

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