Mayor Ron Anders used the first State of the City Address event this week as an opportunity to highlight individuals in the community whose services have made Auburn the city it is today.
The Lamplighter Awards will be an annual tradition moving forward, and this year, they were given to six people who Anders said "punch holes in the darkness."
"These individuals are the first recipients of the Mayor's Lamplighter Awards to recognize all that they have done to shine Auburn's light for us all," he said. "I think the opportunity for all of us to be lamplighters in our community, to punch holes in the darkness for all of those who need our help and our services, is so vital and important."
The awards were given to Alvin Willis, Cynthia Boyd, Donna Young, Eron Smith, Rene Waldrop and George Echols, whose surviving family members accepted it on his behalf.
Willis, who is responsible for maintaining the downtown area, was recognized for his cheerful commitment to keeping Auburn clean. And the commitment is real — Willis is at work by 5 a.m. every day, including weekends and holidays, readying the heart of Auburn for another day.
"(Willis) is there every day, before employees arrive, before most of us are awake," Anders said. "He leads an effort to make sure the heart of our city is clean for the next day. Not just a job, but a passion, never begrudging the mess we leave behind, he goes about his work with a joyful attitude."
Boyd is a retired school teacher who began her career in 1973 at Boykin Elementary School. In her second year of teaching, Anders was one of the students in her fifth grade class.
"She encountered a restless and a talkative fifth-grader that challenged her, but I stand here tonight and say to you with certainty that she made a huge difference in his life," Anders said.
Boyd taught for 30 years, retiring in 2003.
Anders went on to praise Young, who has been a small business owner for 32 years. She owns Behind the Glass in downtown Auburn and will soon be named the president of the Downtown Merchants Association.
"As Auburn has changed, her business has changed; as the world has changed, she has strived to keep pace," Anders said. "None of these changes have prevented her from investing in her community."
He went on to say Young is "one of Auburn's longest tenured small business owners and certainly one of Auburn's steadiest leaders."
Smith, choral director at Auburn High School, also received one of the first Lamplighter Awards, for the positive influence he has on his students.
"Competitively, they dominate. They win grand champion awards and best vocals and best choreography and best show design and best band and even best stage crew, but more importantly, he's doing a great job making best children out of our students," Anders said. "In a moment of celebration after a superb performance last year, (Smith) reminded his students that accolades and awards do not matter if our character and integrity are not strong."
Waldrop was recognized for impacting children and families in the Ridgecrest Housing Authority through Our House, which opened in 2014. Our House provides a community space where children can come after school to get a snack, do their homework and use computers. The organization also hosts neighborhood events for the families and has expanded into two houses to meet needs.
"By investing in these children's lives and investing in the neighborhood, literally, she is leading a ministry of hope to give these kids a promising future," Anders said of Waldrop.
The last Lamplighter Award was given to the late George Echols, who Anders remembered as "gentle."
"Through his work at his church, Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, through his work as a mason, his gentleness was known to everyone," Anders said. "He passed away last month, but he gave us a legacy that none of us will ever forget."
Echols' widow, Patricia, and daughter, Melanie Chambless, accepted the award on his behalf.