WINTERSVILLE - Lou Holtz is one person who lives by the mantra, "never forget where you came from." For 16 years, he has made a point to give back to the people of the Ohio Valley.
"The Lou Holtz/Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame is not about me," he said Monday. "It is about the people of this valley. I just got back from visiting the troops in Afghanistan and realized that the most important thing with all of us is attitude and how we approach things. I saw a soldier in the mountains of Afghanistan who's been over there 11 months. I asked him how he was doing and he responded 'just living the dream.'
"I doubt that was true but it's the attitude that you have about life. This Ohio Valley has been amazing in my life, the Ohio Valley is really my home."
He relayed this message to more than 500 guests during the annual Lou Holtz/Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame induction banquet at St. Florian Hall.
According to Robin Webster, director of the hall, this year's event was the biggest in its 16-year span.
"Coach Holtz was presented proclamations from the states of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania as well as federal government for the work he has done for education," she mentioned. "In 15 years, he has raised more than a half a million dollars to give to graduating seniors who choose to attend a trade school. In the six years that we have been honoring teachers, he has given more than $78,000 through the 'I Believe in YOUth' grant to help motivate students.
CLASS?OF?2013 — Members of the Class of 2013 and honorees of the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame surround Holtz following Monday’s induction banquet at St. Florian Hall in Wintersville. - Michael D. McElwain
"We saw that a lot of teachers were paying out of pocket for supplies for students who didn't have them or couldn't afford them. The schools come to the hall of fame for a field trip and then write an essay on how they would use the money if they were to win the scholarship."
Webster noted that you don't have to be a sports fan to have respect for Holtz.
"No matter how you feel about his sports views, you have to respect Holtz for his dedication to the area," she said. "He cares so much about the Ohio Valley and about education here."
The hall's Class of 2013 inductees were Bridgeport native and baseball great Phil Niekro, who now lives in Georgia, and Marianna Milajecki of Wellsville, a longtime teacher at St. Aloysius School in East Liverpool.
Niekro, who is known as the "grandfather of the knuckleball," joined the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997. His 318 career victories are the most by a knuckleball pitcher. Niekro's longtime friend, Tony Figeretti, introduced him Monday.
"What makes Phil great is that he never forgot where he came from," Figeretti began. "The whole Tri-State Area respects him more now because he is one hell of a great guy. He always comes back to see his friends and does things to raise money for organizations, but he never hides from anyone. No matter where he's at or what he's doing, when someone asks him for an autograph, he never turns them down. He always asks the person their name, signs the ball and then thanks them for asking him for his autograph."
Niekro said that his memories of the Ohio Valley played a big part of his career.
"When I think of the Ohio Valley, I think of Lansing," he stated. "I am extremely honored and proud to receive this award. When I come home, I stay in the house I was raised in. I sit on the front porch and watch the cars go by, look at the trees and smell the air and it gives me a feeling like no other place."
He told the crowd one of the most important lessons he's learned over the years is that there are no guarantees in life.
"My late brother, Joe, was my best friend," he said. "We laughed and cried together. The greatest gift he gave me was that he always told me 'I love you.' And I always said it back to him. I don't think we say that enough to our loved ones. We take them for granted and we don't say it when we feel it. It takes one second to say 'I love you,' so next time you go on a road trip, make sure to tell the people in your life you love them. Life is too short."
Milajecki, a Polish immigrant, endured and overcame hardships to follow her dream of teaching and practicing her devotion to her religious faith, according to organizers.
"It is an honor to be standing here today," she began. "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my journey would bring me here. I had many challenges growing up in Poland, especially regarding my faith. Communism was in full swing in Poland during the time I was living there and it was hard to get to church. But I went and I prayed.
"When I became an American citizen, I learned the language and my friends took my children under their wing. My good friends helped me through school and taught me the language. Here I could come and learn and teach about God and that was a great privilege for me."
Milajecki has been a recipient of the "I believe in YOUth" grant six times and believes her students have really benefited from the funds.
"Thank you for the immeasurable kindness that you bestowed on us, Mr. Holtz," she said. "I hope my students remember their math and English but I want them also to remember what they learned in my religion class, that anything can be accomplished through faith."
The 2013 lifetime achievement award was presented to Jim Render, who was an East Liverpool High School assistant football coach from 1965-67. He currently coaches at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, where he has won five WPIAL championships and reached the state finals four times, winning twice. He has won more games than any high school football coach in Western Pennsylvania history, has a record of 364-113-5 and five WPIAL titles and two state championships in 42 years of coaching.
"I am very humbled to receive this award," Render began. "Last year, Holtz indicated that they might honor me at this event and I thought to myself, 'he won't remember me.' But he did and I feel really blessed to be here. I have has a lot of people packing my parachute over the year, including family, friends, players and associates. I am very lucky."
The Six Family of Chester and Newell was then presented the family heritage award.
"Seven years ago, we decided we wanted to honor families, because family is important," Holtz noted.
Brothers Norm, Wayne, Leonard and Lester, now deceased, and their families were awarded a special recognition for their education, religion and athletics throughout the Tri-State Area. From construction and real estate holdings to recycling, hospitality and riverfront operations, the name Six surfaces in virtually every aspect of the region's daily life, organizers said.
"This is such an honor to receive this great award," Norm Six stated. "One addition to the Six family was implemented 56 years ago, when I married my wife. She plays an important part to this family as well. Last week we just had our 20th grandchild. Most of our children and grandchildren live close so we see most of them each week. It is great to be close to family."
The "Do Right" award, which recognizes a person or organization for "exemplary conduct," was presented to West Liberty, Ohio. native Meghan Vogel.
According to organizers, with about 100 meters left in the 3,200 meter race at the 2012 Ohio State Track Meet, Vogel found herself in an unusual position of bringing up the rear. She saw competitor Arden McMath of Findlay's Arlington High School stagger and fall about 50 meters ahead of her. Following her instincts, Vogel picked up McMath and helped her across the finish line, making sure to have McMath cross ahead of her, just as she was ahead of her when she fell. Her compassion brought the crowd at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus to a standing ovation.
Urban Meyer, head football coach at Ohio State University, served as guest speaker for the event.
He is a three-time national coach of the year and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Distinguished American in 2009.
The hall of fame, which opened in 1998 in the former Bank One building in East Liverpool, is a museum of "sports, history, motivation and more." The idea originally was conceived as a facility to celebrate the achievements of East Liverpool's favorite son, legendary football coach Holtz. When approached, Holtz, who was born in Follansbee, initially declined and later relented, providing that the concept be expanded to also recognize residents and natives of the Upper Ohio Valley in all fields of endeavor who serve as inspirations for the area's young people. .
The hall is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. There is no admission fee, however donations are welcome. Those interested in information may view the website atwww.louholtzhalloffame.com or call (330) 386-5443.