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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex pays tribute to the 2022 Citizen of the Year

- Sandy Larivee has served youth as an Optimist

and through the Essex Youth Centre for decades -

by Dan Bissonnette           

Over 75 people gathered at the Essex Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 201) on Saturday evening to honour the 2022 Citizen of the Year recipient, Sandy Larivee, including many friends, family members, community dignitaries, and fellow members of the Optimist Club of Essex.

  In addition, other past honourees, including former mayor Ron McDermott (2002), Marc “Kinger” Adams (2011), Wayne Miller (2013), and Christine Hayes (2018) joined the celebration to recognize the years of dedication Larivee contributed to the community, particularly to youth programs.

  Master of Ceremonies and member of the Citizen of the Year Committee, Tom Bonneau, introduced several individuals after the dinner portion of the evening, who took the time to speak about Larivee’s accomplishments, most notably her work with the Optimist Club of Essex and Optimist International. Many provided examples of her community work with local youth, which include soccer, hockey, and local fundraisers.

  Resident Cathy Meloche, who nominated Larivee for the award, spoke about how she first met her when she enrolled her children in the soccer skills competition. 

“Sandy is always thinking of ideas to put the kids first; to make a better place for them to live and play and feel valued,” Meloche said.

  John Ruth, the Governor of the Southwestern Ontario District of Optimist International, said in addition to all her work in Essex, Larivee also helped in the formation of 39 new clubs, including the Kingsville club that was founded in 1997. She also served in several executive positions and has personally sponsored 210 new members over the past 30-years. 

  MP Chris Lewis praised her for her commitment to community volunteering and presented her with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee lapel pin.

  Through her acceptance speech, Larivee thanked her family for their support. She reflected on her experiences of when she first arrived in Essex in 1992 and when she joined the Optimist Club of Essex shortly thereafter.

  She fondly recalled when she was approached to help reactivate the Essex Youth Centre in 1997, which she described as her “dream job.” Her work on that community project included everything from establishing a new Board of Directors, creating a new mission statement, and restoring the Centre’s charitable status, to working with an architect and contractors on the construction of the new facility, which opened in May of 2000.

  She also spoke about her work in forming a Jumpstart Optimist Club in 2003 that helps to feed children in schools. Locally, the Essex Youth Centre continues to administer this program independently and distributes money to area schools through a private funder.

  “Just this week, we have issued cheques to 24 schools to get food into the bellies of hungry kids,” Larivee noted.

  Speaking about her involvement with the Essex Optimist’s ongoing support of local soccer, she said she is looking forward to seeing youth play on the new soccer fields in 2024.

  She also spoke with pride about her granddaughter, Aliya Delgado, who is currently serving as Governor of the Southwest Ontario Junior Optimist District and stressed the importance of passing the tradition of community service to future generations.

  “You are all serving your community now, but we must pass on our legacy to our next generation – encourage them to continue the service you have provided, so that we can ensure a healthy and strong volunteer-minded Essex for many years to come,” she said.

  Larivee is known for her good nature and sense of humour, which was not lost on the many of the speakers who recognized her during the event, including her husband, Ron, who had the audience laughing with stories about occasions when she was, to put it delicately, not as graceful as a swan. Others spoke about her questionable sense of direction and less-than-direct navigational skills.

  Despite a little light teasing, there can be no denying Larivee has provided positive direction to hundreds of local youth and has exemplified the mission statement of Optimist International by “providing hope and positive vision” and “bring out the best in youth, our communities, and ourselves” through her efforts.

The Essex Citizen of the Year program has been ongoing since 1978.  A selection committee comprised of the Rotary Club of Essex, the Knights of Columbus at Holy Name of Jesus (Council #3305), the Essex Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 201), and Heritage Essex organize the recognition program every year as a way to honour a local citizen who gives back to the community through volunteerism.  

It is also a fundraiser for Heritage Essex, which maintains the historic Essex Railway Station. 


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