Citizen Awards winners honored
By BEN FIELDS
HUNTINGTON — Mining entrepreneur Jeff Hoops had an interesting take on his philanthropic efforts after being honored as The Herald-Dispatch 2013 Citizen of the Year on Sunday at the Huntington Museum of Art.
“I gave away money we didn’t have for a building we will never see for people we will never know,” Hoops said, receiving a round of laughter from those in attendance.
The remark was in reference to the $3 million Hoops donated to the Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation for its children’s hospital, now named the Hoops Family Children’s Hospital. It was also a nod to David Graley, vice president and chief operating officer of the hospital foundation.
Hoops said it was Graley’s “infectious” passion for the project that got Hoops involved with the children’s hospital.
Hoops also donated significant funds that helped complete Marshall University’s Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex, which also bears the name of Hoops Family Field.
“People like Jeff are giving up what could have been theirs to make this a better place,” said A. Michael Perry, who introduced Hoops. “Most of all, I’m proud of the fact that he acknowledges where all of those resources came from, his heavenly father.”
Also honored Sunday were Debra Johnson-Tourigny (Zack Binkley Award for Community Service); Huntington High School football coach Billy Seals (Lowell Cade Sportsperson of the Year); Huntington Outdoor Theatre co-founder Helen Freeman (The Herald-Dispatch Award for the Arts); and Tom, Rick and Jack Houvourus (Business Innovators of the Year).
An insurance agent for nearly three decades, Johnson-Tourigny became president of the board of directors for the Huntington Area Food Bank — a volunteer position — in February last year, when the charity was in crisis.
An embezzlement scandal had put the operation of the food bank, which has been in existence for 30 years and helps more than 200 partner agencies distribute food throughout the area, in jeopardy.
“Most people would want to turn tail and run away, or at least distance themselves from the situation, but not Debra Johnson-Tourigny,” said Terry Deppner-Hardin, herself a recipient of the 2009 Citizen of the Year Award, who introduced Johnson-Tourigny.
Hardin talked about how Johnson-Tourigny was able to put standards in place to solidify the food bank’s foundation and revitalize its board of directors.
Johnson-Tourigny also led a re-branding effort that changed the name of the food bank to the Facing Hunger Foodbank.
“Debra’s commitment, once given, is dependable, consistent and exceeds all other standards,” Deppner-Hardin said.
Tourigny-Johnson said she wanted to share the moment with Tiffany Tatum, the food bank’s executive director, and others who had put in so many hours to help put the organization on the road to success.
When Seals took over the Huntington High football program five years ago, the team was coming off consecutive 1-9 seasons.
In Seals’ first season at the helm, they did one worse, going 0-10.
But as Seals has built the program, it has become a source of pride at the school and the community. Last year, the Highlanders went undefeated in the regular season. The team made it all the way to the Class AAA state final, falling to Martinsburg, 9-7, in the title game.
“Mr. Billy Seals has shown the community and the Huntington kids they can get there from here,” said Herald-Dispatch sports reporter Grant Traylor, who introduced Seals. “The kids started to believe, and the community started to believe.
“Huntington High School has always had great athletes, so what’s the difference? They have a leader.”
Traylor noted that Seals is uncomfortable being recognized for his accomplishments, and the coach did deflect any element of praise, redirecting it to everyone from school administrators to assistant coaches.
“It’s nothing to do with me,” he said. “It’s our kids. They’re the best kids there are.
“Football is important to our kids, because some kids don’t have anything else to hold on to. Football keeps them in school.”
As the co-founder of Huntington Outdoor Theatre, or H.O.T., Freeman worked tirelessly in the Huntington arts community for 20 years. She is now an award-winning speech and theater teacher at Huntington High School.
“(Freeman) can give people a dose of confidence that they’ve never had before,” said musician Mark Smith, who was the director of music for H.O.T. during the majority of Freeman’s tenure. “She’s a person who says ‘I can really help this person. Let me at them for a week, I can turn them around.’ And she does.”
Freeman said she couldn’t have pulled H.O.T. off without her husband, Steve, also a teacher at Huntington High and the “idea man” behind the outdoor theater, and co-founder Patti Shaver.
“I can remember growing up ... I thought ‘I’m going to make a difference,’ ” Freeman said. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Tom, Rick and Jack Houvouras
For 2013, the Business Innovators of the Year award actually went to three people, specifically, the brothers Houvouras.
Tom Houvouras is president of Huntington Plating, the business his father Andy — a community icon — founded. Rick Houvouras, who couldn’t attend Sunday’s event, is a managing partner of Star Technologies in Huntington and a former member of the state Legislature. Youngest brother Jack Houvouras founded Huntington Quarterly magazine in 1989, and now heads up five additional publications in the Huntington community.
“They could have done many things in many places, and we’re blessed that they did it here,” said Ed Dawson, executive editor and publisher of The Herald-Dispatch.
Jack Houvouras thanked Mike Perry, who nominated the trio, noting Perry was one of the first people he interviewed for the first edition of Huntington Quarterly.
Tom Houvouras said the award was “humbling,” and choked back tears when he talked about his father, whom he said he was fortunate to work with.
“Hopefully we’ve given back to Huntington what Huntington has given us,” he said.
Follow reporter Ben Fields on Twitter @BenFieldsHD.
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