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February 24,  2003


LA CROSSE, Wis—Elmer Grassman, a retired educator, now recognized for his contributions to the Rotary Lights project ; Sue Anne Gelatt, an active community volunteer; and Tony Melendez, a renowned musician, will receive the 2003 Pope John XXIII Award for Distinguished Service in a ceremony at Viterbo University Tuesday, April 1.

Recipients are selected by the Viterbo Board of Advisors and the award represents the highest non-academic honor conferred by the university.

Sue Anne Gelatt is well known for her commitment to many La Crosse-area organizations.  Her involvement includes working with the  La  Crosse Public Library, Chileda, the Boy Scout and Girl Scout joint fundraising campaign, the La Crosse Symphony, St. Joseph Cathedral, Riverfront, and Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center. She has served as past president of the La Crosse County Historical Society and, with her husband, is co-chair of  the Gundersen-Lutheran, "A Home for Hope" campaign.

According to William Medland, president of Viterbo University, Gelatt was selected because of  her belief and commitment to projects which improve the lives of others. "Sue Anne emulates the spirit of the late Pope John XXIII who understood that the good works of our society are best accomplished when we say ‘yes,’ time and time again to efforts which better the lives of others," he said. "Nobody does that better, than a selfless and committed volunteer—much like Sue Anne."

Elmer Grassman is a very familiar face to the many professional educators and students of the La Crosse area as he spent more than 40 years as a teacher and principal before retiring in 1988. He was the first principal assigned to Hintgen Elementary School, a position he held for 20 years. In 1975, his colleagues named him area Principal of the Year. Elsewhere, Grassman has been active and visible. He was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Downtown Rotary and, in 2000, he was designated the Maple Leaf Parade Marshall. He currently puts in an enormous amount of time into the Rotary Lights project, spending hours each day, checking and repairing the tens of thousands of lights that make up the Riverside Park holiday display.

"Elmer demonstrates the true spirit of servant leadership," Medland said. "He has directed dozens of committees and organizations during his lifetime, yet, he is also an extremely hard worker who will volunteer to do whatever is asked."

Tony Melendez, a musician currently performing in Branson, Mo., became an instant household name as the result of an event that occurred more than a decade ago. It was an unforgettable moment when, on Sept. 15, 1987, he played his guitar for Pope John Paul II in Los Angeles. Born without arms, he performed a touching song entitled "Never Be The Same." When the Pope approached him from the stage to kiss  him in appreciation, it seem to reflect the sentiments of the entire country.

Since then, Melendez has performed in every state in the union and in 27 foreign countries, making countless television appearances, including The Today Show, Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning. He has also received numerous awards and honors, including the first annual Inspirational hero Award from the NFL Alumni Association at Super Bowl XXIII in Miami.

Melendez and his band currently have a show in Branson, and when on the road, he is often invited to visit schools, colleges, and universities to give presentations on drug abuse, the importance of self esteem, disability awareness, cultural awareness, and family support.

According to Medland, plans are being made for Melendez to perform while he is in La Crosse. "He is a tremendous inspiration and especially in today’s society, he is a welcome gift of hope and powerful mentor particularly for young people," he said.

The ceremony and banquet, which will be held in the Fine Arts Center, is set for 6:30 p.m.  Call 608-796-3070 for ticket details.

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