By Jan Worth-Nelson
Longtime civic activist Ingrid Halling, a retired librarian and indefatigable anchor of the Central Park Neighborhood Association; and the late Wade Pyles, a Fenton-area Realtor and committed community advocate who died in September, were named the final recipients of the Sybyl Award Dec. 6 in a ceremony at Factory One.
Paul Jordan, a Mott Community College social work professor and retired community mental health social worker, also was honored with a lifetime achievement award.
The award celebrates Sybyl Atwood, for many decades a formidable lynchpin of community volunteerism at what was then called Resource Genesee. As her former boss Dale Weighill, now a vice-president at Mott Community College, has said, among many other contributions if an agency needed volunteers, Atwood recruited and placed them, and found help for those in need. When she died at 72 in 2007, she was lauded as “the grande dame of Flint area charity work.”
Members of the Sybyl Award committee say they have decided to end the program, begun in 2008, “to honor people living and working in our community who exhibit the same spirit, drive, and compassion that Sybyl did for so many and for so long.”
“When Resource Genesee closed in 2015, the Sybyl Award didn’t have an organizational home to support it each year,” Weighill said. “That task was shouldered by a small volunteer committee. Unless we can find an institutional home for the award, it’s not feasible for just a few people to run what amounts to a major special event each year.”
The list of 2018 nominees included neighborhood association leaders, mental health workers, educators, a longtime veterinarian, a public safety officer, a magazine editor, a filmmaker. Their causes cut across many of Genesee County’s greatest needs, their advocacy and activism addressing domestic violence survivors, the LGBTQ community, the homeless, international students, the Flint Water crisis and much more.
Halling, who came to Flint as a child with her family as a refugee from eastern Europe, has never lost her gratitude for how her family was welcomed in the U.S. and especially in Flint. She graduated from Central High School, Flint Junior College, UM – Flint and UM–Ann Arbor and spent her career not just as a librarian, but as a technical expert instrumental in establishing an automated library system serving five library districts in the county.
She has been a active board member of Leadership Flint, and twice chair of the Resource Center Board, through which she got to know Sybyl Atwood well. She has served as president and vice president of the Central Park Neighborhood Association and has been a president and vice president of the Court Street Village Nonprofit board of directors. As her nominator, Norma Sain, noted, in 2017, she was awarded the League of Women Voters Flint Area “Making Democracy Work” award for her leadership and vision by encouraging informed and active participants in the democratic process of government.”
In her acceptance speech, Halling reflected on her long years of devoted neighborhood activism, observing, “Change happens at the neighborhood level by collaborating and cooperating. Never mind about the trickle down theory because by the time it trickles down to us they’ve already taken their cuts off the top, and there’s nothing left for the rest of us.”
Sain wrote in her nomination letter, “I suspect Ingrid has the means to live just about anywhere she wants. She and her husband [Robert R. Thomas] choose to stay in the city and neighborhood she loves and in doing so is able to carry out her passion for philanthropic giving.”
Pyles was lauded in remarks by Sybyl Committee Member Ken Van Wagoner for understanding that “giving back is simply the way to go.” Citing the “deep kindness of his human spirit,” Van Wagoner said Pyles inspired others through his “tireless philanthropic work.” He championed many causes, “Snuggle Sack-kits” for the homeless, the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, and the Hurley Medical Center breast cancer programs.
An award-winning Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Fenton, he grew up in Linden, graduating from Linden High School in 1988. He went on to Northwood University in Midland for degrees in hotel and restaurant management and finance and worked for the Marriott corporation around the world for years, until as he told myfenton.com in 2013, “I realized how much I missed living in my small hometown” and came back. He and his husband, Duane Elling, have lived on Lake Fenton for years.
Asked in the 2013 interview what excites him most, Pyles replied, “It’s the people. I truly love building relationships with people and making things happen.”
In addition to Halling, Pyles and Jordan, the nominees were Anthony Alexander, Nicole Bowers Wallace, Randy Braden, Alisa Craig, Nicole Derusha-Mackey, Jeannette Edwards, Mona Hanna-Attisha, Healther Kale, Maryion Lee, Chia Morgan, Yvonne Penton, Dr. John Snell, Theresa Stephens-Lock, Phyllis Sykes and Jan Worth-Nelson.
Criteria for the award, according to Van Wagoner, once a Carriage Town neighbor and close friend of Atwood’s, were that nominees demonstrate compassion, creativity, curiosity and commitment to their lives through their professions or volunteerism; that they provide valuable service and improve the quality of life for others; that they encourage a sense of community and nurture community connections; that they mentor others to realize their own potential to make a difference; and that they reside and work in Genesee County.
Summarizing the group of nominees, Van Wagoner said, “These are the stars of Genesee County–these are Sybyl’s finest.”
Proceeds from the event have always gone into the Homelessness Endowment Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, Weighill said — in the ballpark of $10,000.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.