Winner a 'true patriot'

Tuesday, July 3, 2007
James Harnes Sr. of Advance, Mo. is the recipient of this year's Spirit of America Award. He is shown in front of the Advance Military Memorial. Harnes is founder and chairman of the Advance Memorial Committee, which designed and built the memorial that honors about 800 area war veterans. (Fred Lynch)

The fifth annual Spirit of America Award, honoring those who have shown patriotism through service to their country, will be given Wednesday to an 88-year-old man who wants to accept the award on behalf of his community.

James Harnes Sr., a lifelong resident and seven-term mayor of Advance, Mo., will receive the award after being nominated for the fourth time. The award sponsored by the Southeast Missourian will be presented at Libertyfest in downtown Cape Girardeau just before the fireworks display begins.

Harnes has led many improvement projects in Advance and the surrounding area. Harnes helped establish a medical clinic in Advance, founded the Stoddard County Municipal League and initiated the Advance Community Team, a community improvement organization, to name just a few of his many projects and accomplishments.

One project that defines Harnes' commitment to community and patriotism is his participation in the Advance Memorial Committee, which designed and built a memorial in Advance Memorial Park that honors the 800 honorably-discharged Advance-area veterans who fought in wars. Harnes, who founded the committee, said building a new memorial was necessary.

"We did have one, or part of one, for several years, but it was wood and it rotted," he said. "People were a little bit skeptical at first about building a new one, but once we got the stones out there they appreciated it a lot more."

Although honored to receive the award, Harnes said the community's constant support that is the real spirit of America.

"It's kind of dubious about a single individual representing the spirit of America," Harnes said. "I think it's this whole community, my family, my church family, they all encompass the spirit of America. I think it's an honor to the whole community because I'm a product of this community. and what I've done has been for the community and with the community."

Gary Capps, who nominated Harnes, said Harnes is not just a great mayor but an amazing person.

"I nominated Mayor Harnes for the Spirit of America award because he is the person I admire the most," Capps said. "I have worked with him on several community development projects, and he is an excellent economic developer. Mayor Harnes is a true patriot, a highly-decorated veteran and a person everyone should look up to."

Harnes served in the U.S. Army, enlisting in 1940 as an infantryman. In 1942 he attended Officer Candidate School and completed his active service in the Pacific Theater as an officer, attaining the rank of captain. Citations include the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart with bronze cluster.

Harnes is active in the VFW, American Legion, Military Officers Association, Disabled American Veterans and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

"I believe in freedom," said Harnes. "And the spirit of America has had its ups and downs, but I think the country is very strong right now. Others might say otherwise. But I don't think the spirit of America will ever die."

Harnes is also involved in the Southeast Missouri Hospital Foundation, Advance Public Schools Foundation, Bootheel Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission, Stoddard County Development Foundation and Lakeville Masonic Lodge.

Other nominees for this year's Spirit of America Award include:

* Dr. William Bird Sr., pastor, Greater Dimension Church of God in Christ

Nominated by Shelby McBride, a member of Bird's church. McBride said Bird works tirelessly in south Cape Girardeau to improve conditions for those who live there.

* Faune Riggin, KZIM Radio

Nominated by Marilyn Olson on behalf of the Association for Community Education of Animal Behavior. Riggin has served on Habitat for Humanity Boards and assists the Special Olympics. She has received many broadcasting awards, and a resolution from the Missouri House of Representatives for outstanding service to the community.

* Dr. Charles Stephen Pewitt

Nominated by Dr. Julia Pewitt Kinder. Kinder said Pewitt was instrumental in establishing the SPEC OPS Paza, an outdoor memorial exhibiting military equipment in Jackson.

The 2006 Spirit of Award winner was Neal Edwards, a World War II veteran who volunteers at the Missouri Veterans Home and an active member at the local VFW and American Legion. Other past winners are John "Doc" Yallaly, Dr. Dan Cotner and Melvin Gateley.

jsamons@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 197

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