SOAR Steelworker retirees present annual awards, scholarships at socially distanced event


Illinois Correspondent

Granite City, IL – It’s always a big event when the Granite City chapter of SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees) gives out its annual awards and scholarships.

This year was a little different because they couldn’t bestow the honors at their usual packed-house luncheons in the middle of a pandemic.

So the event was moved to Wilson Park last Monday, Aug. 10, on a hot, steamy morning in August, where a small crowd of faithfuls gathered at the pavilion as President Jeff Rains handed out the honors from behind a face mask.

LABOR LEADER: Jeff Rains (left), president of the SOAR Granite City Chapter, presented the Labor Leader of the Year award to Drew Gitchoff, an investigator for the Becker Law Firm. – Labor Tribune photo

The Ed Sedlowski Labor Leader of the Year award was given to a man who has been a familiar presence at Madison County Labor events for years, helping out whenever he has had the chance – Drew Gitchoff, who works as an investigator for the Becker Law Firm.

Rains said recognition for Gitchoff is long overdue. “Drew is our go-to guy on Illinois politics and government,” he said. “He is at all the events and gives us excellent guidance.”

Gitchoff is also chairman of the Collinsville Township Democratic Committee.

The Friend of SOAR award was given to Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer, who could not attend.

“Ed’s been great with us,” Rains said. “He’s always been a loyal sponsor and helped us out.”

ACTIVISTS: Jeff Rains (left), president of the SOAR Granite City Chapter, presented Activists of the Year award to Georgia and Kenton Smith.

Activists of the Year went to SOAR members Kenton and Georgia Smith for their many years of organizing packages of food and goods sent to U.S. military personnel overseas every December.

“They’ve made it possible for us to send thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies to our military people who are busy defending our country,” Rains said.

The Volunteer of the Year was longtime member Janet Martin, who also was absent. “She’s just there,” Rains said. “Whenever we need her for anything, she volunteers.”

SOAR Scholarship recipients at the event were, from left, Maddie Jackson, Grace Sedabres, Owen Buescher, Miriam Kastens and Lauren Rakers. Kayla Cunningham could not attend. – Labor Tribune photo

Graduating high school students were asked to write essays on the topic, “A Just Transition for Workers Moving from Fossil Fuel to Clean Energy Jobs.”

SOAR sold advertising for a 62-page awards booklet that generated enough money for five $2,000 scholarships. “We could not have done this without our donors,” Rains said. “We had a lot of support.”

The scholarship recipients were:

  • Miriam Kastens, Edwardsville High School, attending Brown University to major in architecture and organizational studies, sponsored by Dennis Warren and Gary Warren.
  • Grace Sedabres, Granite City High School, attending Webster University to study illustration, sponsored by Marlene Cook.
  • Lauren Rakers, Wesclin High School, attending University of Southern Indiana to study nursing, sponsored by Paul Ratermann.
  • Owen Buescher, Belleville West High School, attending University of Missouri-Columbia to study broadcast journalism, sponsored by Larry McIlvoy, his grandfather.
  • Maddie Jackson, Granite City High School, attending St. Louis University to study chemistry, sponsored by Robert Fouts, her grandfather.
  • Kayla Cunningham, DeSoto High School valedictorian, attending Truman State University to study biochemistry and molecular biology, sponsored by Bennie Woodland, her father.

Donors included many unions and locals, union families and Labor-supporting businesses, plus these Labor-supporting public officials and candidates: Bob Daiber, candidate for Madison County Board Chairman; Appellate Judge Judy Cates, candidate for Illinois Supreme Court; circuit judge candidate Leslie Wood, circuit judge candidate Tom Gibbons, circuit clerk candidate Amy Gabriel, auditor candidate Joe Silkwood, state’s attorney candidate Crystal Uhe and 5th Appellate Judge candidate Sarah Smith; plus state representatives Monica Bristow, Jay Hoffman and Katie Stuart, state Sen. Rachelle Crowe, Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth, Sheriff John Lakin, Chief Judge Bill Mudge, Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer, Granite City Township Supervisor Margaret Shipley, County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza, Coroner Steve Nonn and retired Congressman Jerry Costello.

SOAR’s next big events will be free, drive-up food distributions for families struggling with the pandemic, especially those dependent on Amsted Rail, which has had to lay off more than half of its workers.

To participate, come between 9 a.m. and noon to Restoration Church at 3375 Fehling Road, Granite City, on Friday, Aug. 28 and Friday, Sept. 25.



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