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Walls to be honored with citizenship award

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Scouting group recognizes his commitment to community

By Todd Martin

At Christmas, Gary Walls was surprised with a trip to Italy to see the Pope deliver the Easter Vigil at the Vatican.

What he didn’t know then was that a new Pope would have been named – one who would resonate with Walls even more than his Catholic roots would have predicted.

Pope Francis has become known for his commitment to service, to helping those in need.

“I was within ten yards of the Pope, and it was amazing,” Walls said. “He’s very charismatic and has gained the respect of a lot of people. He’s so humble, he’s not even taking his papal apartment.

“And if you look at this, at him, it all ties together. If you look at someone, and they’re happy and fulfilled, I’ll show you a person that helps others.”

Walls’ commitment to helping, both financially and with the commitment of his time, is well documented in Shelby County, and that’s precisely why he will be honored Thursday with the 2013 Friends of Scouting Distinguished Citizen Award, which is presented by the Lincoln Heritage Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

This is the second consecutive year the winner comes from Shelby County. Last year’s recipient was Ray Leathers, president of Roll Forming Inc.

“The dinner is designed to honor someone in the community who exemplifies the spirit of the scout oath and law,” said Stephen Whitehead, who is organizing the dinner. “Scouting has been around for over a hundred years. It is through the work of great volunteers that we have been able to lead and guide today’s youth into the leaders of tomorrow. The award honors those whose personal and public contributions enhance our community.”

Whitehead noted that Walls has helped the Lincoln Heritage Council during past years with fundraising efforts, but it’s his work in the community that really set him apart.

“Gary has been a pillar within this community and has been a part of many boards, community organizations and other causes that make Shelby County a great place to live,” Whitehead said.

Pat Hargadon, who is on the committee that chose Walls, said Walls has been a guiding light for him to follow.

“Gary was one of the guys who started me on a road to community service some thirty-odd years ago by getting me involved in the Shelbyville Jaycees,” Hargadon said. “Gary was president of the Kentucky Jaycees, and I can still remember his speech about a duty to serve our communities. Gary was the consensus choice of the committee to receive the award this year, and I can’t say enough to support that choice.”

The idea of helping others was instilled in Walls at an early age, when he would watch his father take fresh vegetables from their garden to people in need in the area.

“He would take items to widows and the poor all through the summer, and you could just see the happiness on their faces when he’d show up, he received so much joy from that,” Walls said.

During his time at Western Kentucky University, Walls became involved with the WKU Tutorial Organization, and that’s when he said it started to hit home for him personally.

“The guy I worked with – I remember his name was Tommy – he came from a single-parent family, and he didn’t even have a pair of shoes that fit,” Walls said. “They were like two sizes too big and probably from another family member. So I went out and got him a new pair of shoes, with the limited resources of a college student, and I remember thinking this is what it’s all about.”

And Walls has been dedicated to helping others ever since then.

He joined the Jaycees in the 1970s and rose to the ranks of state president from 1981-82 and National Vice President from 1983-84. He’s also served on the board of directors for more than a dozen state and regional groups, including the Ohio Valley March of Dimes, University of Louisville Department of Pediatrics Foundation, Western Kentucky’s Neonatal Nurse Association and the Kentucky Perinatal Association.

Locally, his biggest move was helping found Shelby County Community Charities.

“We’ve raised more than one-point-three million dollars locally, all while keeping expenses to a bare minimum,” he said. “And that was all started because of a little boy with a tumor on his brain stem, and his dad, who had just started his own business, decided to stay home with him.”

“I’m still to this day so inspired by Michael Long [that young boy] because he fought, he showed courage and respect and dignity to life. He really brought out the best in people.”

Walls continues to divide his time, working most recently with the Rob Fest foundation and even this weekend with the Mercy-Omega Gala, a celebration onSaturday in support of Mercy Medical Clinic and Omega House Women’s Shelter in Shelbyville.

“There are a lot of people that that do a lot of things in this community,” Walls said. “I’m just very humbled by this [recognition]. This really speaks well of the people I’ve worked with, and those that have taught me to give since I was a little boy.”