Veteran wins Spirit of America Award

Monday, July 3, 2006
Neal Edwards, a World War II veteran, received the Spirit of America award for his character and ideals that represent America. Edwards volunteers at the Missouri Veterans Home and is active at the local VFW and American Legion. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

If Neal Edwards could put a price on the amount of time he spent volunteering, it probably wouldn't come near to topping the more than $1 million he's raised for various causes during his life. Edwards spends countless hours of his time at the Missouri Veterans Home. In between serving on committees for the annual Veterans Home Flag Day Golf Tournament -- which he founded in 1997 -- and the Veterans Home Foundation Board, Edwards manages to visit the more than 100 residents living at the home.

Through his volunteer work at the veterans home, and in addition to serving on a variety of other boards and organizations, Edwards has earned the Southeast Missourian's fourth annual Spirit of America Award.

The Spirit of America Award, which honors a community member who personifies the character and ideals of America, will be presented to Edwards Tuesday night during Libertyfest in downtown Cape Girardeau. Any organization -- civic club, church group, veterans organization, Scout troops, sports leagues, school groups, auxiliaries and others -- could nominate someone for the award. The Missouri Veterans Home will receive $1,000 for nominating Edwards.

"I'm really surprised," Edwards said about winning. "I know I've been nominated a couple times before but I didn't think I'd ever win."

But Ken Lipps, chairman for the veterans home volunteer services and fund-raisers, believes there's something about Edwards that stands out from the other eight nominees for the Spirit of America award.

"Obviously there are a lot of good people doing some great things. But with Neal, it just really seems like he has a genuine care and concern for these people he's raising the funds for," Lipps said.

And Edwards is genuinely concerned for veterans. He often attends fishing outings and trips to baseball games with the residents at the Missouri Veterans Home. In fact, the annual golf tournament raises funds for a perpetual trust fund. Interest from the fund allowed the veterans home to purchase a new wheelchair-accessible van last year.

"There's a real special place in my heart for those guys," said Edwards, who served in World War II for the U.S. Army.

His duty to serve his country remains strong, Edwards said. The 84-year-old has been a member of the VFW and American Legion for more than 60 years. He's also a member of the VFW Post 3838 -- the largest VFW in the state.

Before retiring in the mid-1980s, Edwards sold advertising for the radio station, KGMO, and KFVS12 for approximately 20 years. The advertising sales experience may of had something to do with his 13-year reign as "top new member recruiter" for the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce. He is a 40-year member of the chamber and has served on leadership and fund-raising committees.

"That was something I was always real proud of," Edwards said about his membership in the chamber. "It was always a good thing to go out there and get more members to join."

A charter member of the Exchange Club, Edwards served as president and district governor for Missouri and Iowa. He led a drive to place Freedom Shrines -- a collection of 30 historic documents such as the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence -- in area schools. He is also involved with the Southeast Missouri State University Booster Club, and was a member of the United Way board of directors.

Lipps said Edwards represents the essence of the spirit of America, whether volunteering at the veterans home or helping in the community.

"I'm sure people must be aware of all these things he's done. He's just got a real humanitarian side to him and there's just something about Neal that stands out," Lipps said.

335-6611, extension 246

Spirit of America nominees

Phil Brinson

Nominated by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Easter Missouri

Bio: Brinson is involved in several local business organizations including the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Merchants Association, the Special Business District Advisory Commission to the city council, Rotary Club and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

For the past five years, Brinson has been an active volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri.

Pete Poe

Nominated by the Southeast Missouri Fair Association

Bio: Poe volunteers on several community boards, including the Southeast Missouri Hospital Foundation, Red Cross, SEMO District Fair an the Egypt Mills Antique Tractor Club.

His 18-year commitment and leadership with the fair has made it better and stronger with a positive future. Poe and his wife, Jeanne, have raised three children and have four grandchildren that will be carrying on that spirit.

Karen Daugherty

Nominated by Theresa Taylor, executive director of the Vision House of Cape Girardeau

Bio: Daugherty wakes up every morning to 12 struggling addicted women and their recoveries at the Vision House. She is a great friend, mother, co-worker and Christian.

Although she may not be a DEA agent, she fights the war on drugs every day in her own way right here on the streets of Cape Girardeau in an attempt to save the lives of some very sick, homeless and addicted people. And she even kicks in doors sometimes, too.

Cheryl Klueppel

Nominated by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri

Bio: Klueppel serves as the executive director of the Southeast Missouri Chapter of the American Red Cross. She has been an active member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri.

She also finds time to volunteer for other organizations as well, including the Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals, Alzheimer's Association and Community Caring Council.

Jeannette Dohogne

Nominated by Semo Life Savers and Crisis Pregnancy Center

Bio: Dohogne helped establish a Crisis Pregnancy Center in Cape Girardeau about 30 years ago. She has volunteered to answer phone calls, collect baby clothing, items and money to assist young women with after their pregnancies.

After recovering from colon cancer, Dohogne has spent her time volunteering at Saint Francis Medical Center, as a Eucharistic minister at St. Vincent's Church, Semo Life Savers, and a local representative of Voice for Life.

Charlie Herbst

Nominated by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri

Bio: Herbst was influential in organizing the local Big Brothers Big Sisters Agency in Cape Girardeau. He serves as a voting member of the board of directors and as chairman of the agency's local Strategic Growth Council.

He has been a Cape Girardeau City Council member since April 2002, and was a member of the Cape Girardeau Police Department from 1989 to 1999.

Barbara Yallaly

Nominated by the American Legion Post 63 Auxiliary

Bio: A 30-year member of American Legion Post 63 Auxiliary, Yallaly has held many offices while helping her husband "Doc" Yallaly manage the American Legion baseball team.

Yallaly is currently the Department of Missouri Auxiliary's Cape Girardeau Veterans' Home Representative. Yallaly has also served or chaired fundraisers for: Children's Miracle Network, St. Jude Hospital, Kenny Rogers Center, St. Louis Children's Hospital, Cardinal Glennon Hospital, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and Ronald McDonald House.

Jim Harnes

Nominated by the Stoddard County Development Foundation

Bio: Harnes enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1940 as an infantryman and retired from the Missouri National Guard in 1980.

He has been active in the Advance school system, has improved health care by working with the Cross Trails Medical Center, and works on a county and regional basis with the Stoddard County Development Foundation and Bootheel Regional Planning Commission.

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