By Matt Mackinder
Clarkston News Editor
The 38th annual Clarkston Community Awards ceremony was held May 10 at the Clarkston Community Church, with several individuals being honored for their selfless acts of giving back to the local community.
Eight awards were presented, preceded by a video package with the winner then speaking briefly to the audience.
The winners this year included Levi Baldwin (Youth of the Year), Dr. Fabrizio DiNoto (Citizen of the Year), Mike Herrmann (Adult/Youth Volunteer), Brandon Bahoura (Business Person of the Year), Sue Julian (Community Beautification and Preservation), Vibe Credit Union (Community Enhancement), Preservation Clarkston (Community Collaboration), and Dawn Horner (Lifetime Achievement).
Baldwin, just 10 years old, has Tourette Syndrome and has been actively raising awareness for the disorder on a daily basis as a fifth grade student at Pine Knob Elementary School.
“He has grown and flourished in his ability to show people who he is and teach our community about Tourette Syndrome and the importance of mental health education,” said Anne Baldwin, Levi’s mother. “Together, we wrote a book and he takes it to classrooms, to other schools, he donates it, to teach kids and adults about his conditions and make sure kids like him are represented, and just to make Clarkston a more welcoming and inclusive place where every single person is welcome.”
DiNoto is a local internal medicine physician with his practice on Citation Drive who works with patients directly and does not deal with stacks of paperwork or insurance.
“Along with our other providers, basically, we have a direct relationship with the patient with no insurance in between and we deliver exceptional care for our population,” said DiNoto. “Nowadays, as you know, healthcare is a mess. There is so much involved that we decided to really have direct contact with the patient without dealing with any insurance, and here I am.”
For Herrmann, he has been a youth sports coach for many years as well as a leader in Scouts, all in Clarkston.
“My wife and I have lived in Clarkston for 21 years now and I couldn’t think of a better place to raise our two kids,” Herrmann said. “I got involved early on in their lives volunteering in their various activities, first with Andrew in Cub Scouts and then moving on to Boy Scouts where I continued to volunteer even though Andrew completed his Eagle rank over a year ago. Both our kids played parks and rec baseball and softball, and Andrew played flag football. I coached them both along the way. They were also involved in the Clarkston High School Marching Band, so it was natural for me to assist where I could with the pit crew.
“All along, I was giving my time for them, but quickly realized I was giving my time for many Clarkston kids.”
Bahoura is the founder and owner of the Pita Way restaurant franchise. The first restaurant opened in Clarkston 13 years ago.
“The first year starting a new restaurant was by far the toughest year of my life,” Bahoura said. “If it wasn’t for the great people that I’ve gotten to know in the Clarkston community, there’s no way I can take Pita Way to where I’ve taken it today. We’re currently in 22 other communities and we’re growing the company even further this year. We’re also in four states. Again, without your support and your help in getting to know the people in this community, I wouldn’t be standing up here today.”
Julian is a member of the Blue Heron Headwaters Conservancy, a Clarkston-based organization whose mission is to protect the land, water, and wildlife in the headwaters region of the Clinton, Shiawassee, Huron, and Flint rivers through preservation, stewardship, and education. Its vision is to support biodiversity and the quality of life for the communities and the future generations of Oakland County and beyond.
“Although my name is on this award, you really do need to know that I am accepting it on behalf of many, many volunteers,” said Julian. “We have so many volunteers working for the conservancy. We have to figure out in our newsletter where we’re going to add an extra page to get everybody’s name in. This really is a Clarkston institution and the first conservancy in Michigan. There are now about 40, but it started right here. We have grown and are now expanding out.
“We hope what we are doing in terms of beautification is as much a credit to Clarkston as it is a pleasure to do something really important for the world.”
Brandy Ackerman, Clarkston Vibe branch manager, and Ngoc Do, community engagement specialist, accepted their award.
“We look forward to elevating our communities and creating more opportunities for many years ahead,” said Do.
For Preservation Clarkston, president Sam Moraco and Clarkston Community Schools Construction Trades teacher Steve Wyckoff spoke on the meaning of their honor, which comes from the group’s efforts over the years to save the Bailey House, a historic home on Sashabaw Road that has been undergoing renovations by Wyckoff and his students, and helping with the City of the Village of Clarkston’s city hall remodel and expansion in 2020 and the work at Sashabaw Presbyterian Church.
“With the Bailey House, it’s a landmark, it needed to be preserved, and it didn’t make any sense to tear it down to put a sidewalk in,” Moraco said. “We went to Wednesday meetings at Oakland County for over three years just to convince them that it was worth saving. We got them to agree and Steve took it from there.”
“It’s been a wonderful ride with Preservation Clarkston and we’ve had a lot of support from the community,” added Wyckoff. “The Clarkston Optimists have been huge with us. Anything we have ever wanted, they have never said no. Sam has always been there and whenever we run into a bump, we get the situation solved. It’s been wonderful for our kids. We’ve had to work through the winters, through COVID when we were allowed to, and you don’t get that every day. I think that’s been lost. I think one of the biggest things we’re getting out of this is teaching our youth how to work when they don’t want to work.
“That’s a big deal.”
Wrapping up with Horner, she said being a volunteer means “when mom is involved, you’re involved.”
“Both my son and daughter were selling tickets when they were eight or nine years old for Taste of Clarkston, they’ve helped people get through home on the SCAMP home tour, and have helped with all the fun things in Clarkston, so I appreciate them being part of this journey with me,” Horner said. “My work family has put up with me for 25 years. Sad to say I will be ending that career at the end of this year (Horner is senior vice-president of Waterford Bank N.A.), but not sad for me, I can tell you that. Clarkston is a wonderful community. We’ve lived here over 30 years and I can’t say no (to volunteering). And you won’t be able to either once you start getting involved.
“It’s a great thing to do, it’s a lot of fun, you meet a lot of great people, and the reward comes back tenfold.”
The Awards Selection Committee includes Clarkston resident Dr. Thomas Stone, past winner Leanna Haun, and Josh LaMay and Heidi McClain from Clarkston Community Schools.
The Community Awards Committee is made up of McClain, Greg Henneman (Clarkston Community Church), Julie Meredith (Clarkston Independence District Library), Angela Logan (Waterford Bank N.A.), Kendal Penney Petzold (Clarkston Area Chamber of Commerce), Sue Wylie (City of the Village of Clarkston), Amy Laboissonniere (Independence Township Parks, Recreation and Seniors), and John Ehlke (Independence Television).
Sponsors of the awards included Stroll (Youth of the Year), Coats Funeral Home (Youth of the Year), LaFontaine Automotive Group (Citizen of the Year), Clarkston Dental Group (Adult/Youth Volunteer), Waterford Bank N.A. (Business Person of the Year), Bowman Chevrolet (Lifetime Achievement), MSU Federal Credit Union (Community Enhancement), Lewis E. Wint and Son Funeral Home (Community Collaboration), and General RV Center (Community Beautification and Preservation).
PHOTO: The winners from the 2023 Clarkston Community Awards gather last Wednesday morning, May 10. Pictured, from left, are Brandy Ackerman, Ngoc Do, Brandon Bahoura, Sam Moraco, Steve Wyckoff, Levi Baldwin, Dawn Horner, Mike Herrmann, Sue Julian, and Dr. Fabrizio DiNoto. Photo: Matt Mackinder