Two selected as Oxford’s citizens of the year

Credit: Submitted photo

Credit: Submitted photo

Molly Bowers Franklin, Dave Belka honored for contributions to community

OXFORD — A gift of music to the community and a wide-ranging scope of efforts aimed at helping other less-fortunate members of the community are being recognized in the two people chosen for recognition as Citizens of the Year for 2021.

The selection committee consisting of previous recipients voted to recognize the musical efforts of Molly Bowers Franklin in providing an online “Sequester Series” during the pandemic and the many contributions of Dave Belka to helping others, which intensified during the pandemic.

The Citizen of the Year program is in its 70th year, started by Avis Cullen, the former editor and owner of The Oxford Press, to recognize people in the community who have made significant contributions to life in the Oxford community. Recognition is made in two areas, Citizen of the Year with a focus on the current year and Citizen of the Years honoring long-term contributions not confined to just one year.

Molly Bowers Franklin lost her job providing musical therapy to residents of Butler County in nursing and retirement homes. She undertook an effort to provide a musical diversion for everyone.

Dave Belka has been active in a variety of community efforts to help others but those efforts redoubled in 2021 as social service agencies struggled in the face of the pandemic.

Molly Bowers Franklin

Bringing more than just music to the community, Molly Bowers Franklin provided a wide variety of music to the community as enjoyable entertainment during the pandemic when any diversion was welcome.

Her dozens of daily Sequester Series videos featured original music vignettes, scenes from famous shows, comedy skits and musical pieces that featured local musicians, family and friends. Several nominations noted she spent thousands of hours giving of herself as she created shows that brought laughs, music, inspiration and joy to so many in the community.

All were posted on Facebook for free viewing.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, she was providing monthly music therapy to a large number of the nursing/retirement homes in Butler County but the shutdown brought an end to that and left her without an income.

A nomination by her mother, Nora Ellen Bowers, noted, “Instead of seeking alternative employment, she immediately launched into creating entertaining videos which she sent out on Facebook – free of charge.”

In another nomination, Anne Settevendemie Ritz summed up the effort and its value to viewers of her Sequester Series.

“When our options for human interaction became limited, Molly brought life to us. Every day brought inspiration, giggles or guffaws,” Settevendemie Ritz wrote. “Molly Bowers Franklin surely has made our town a better place.”

That nomination continued to explain viewers never knew what character might appear,

“One day might feature ‘Normal Molly’ in her garden strumming while singing the old hymn ‘In the Garden’ or crooning ‘The Very Thought of You’ while playing the piano. The next day might feature mustachioed ‘Pavarotti Molly’ rowing in a gondola (rowboat) on her backyard pond singing the famous aria ‘Nessun Dorma’ in pretend Italian. Another might feature Molly as ‘Lois’, the culturally challenged 1950s southern chef, creating lovely-yet-inedible meals in her kitchen,” she wrote. " ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ featured Molly as Loretta Lynn, playing guitar among her backyard goats. She played a Mozart classic on a scale of water-filled beer bottles. Each day, she created a new persona (in costume) to entertain. Edith Piaf sang ‘La Vie en Rose’ while accompanying herself on the accordion. Johnny Cash, Charlie Chaplin, Dolly Parton appeared singing their signature songs. Also on the playbill were lively songs sung by Molly’s family band, which includes husband Tom, Joseph and Lucy.”

Others from the community were invited to join in the fun including teacher Sue Killy “signing” vocals, her mother and sister, Lisa Biales and Scott Shriver.

“With instruction from her brother Jake, Molly quickly learned the technical skills necessary to mix and coordinate the different parts of a performance when players had to stay in separate places,” Settevendemie Ritz wrote.

Dave Belka

Dave Belka was described in nominations as a tireless volunteer in the Oxford community and his involvement with the Oxford Kiwanis Club gave him a platform to excel.

He serves as chair of the Community Services Committee, created new service projects for the Oxford community, recruiting and organizing the volunteers from both Kiwanis and the Oxford community. He organized two virtual service projects to raise food and funding for the food pantry Talawanda Oxford Pantry and Social Services and the Oxford Senior Center.

He wrote numerous grant requests to the Ohio Kiwanis Foundation to get COVID supplies for Talawanda Schools and was awarded a $3,000 grant, as well as a $500 award for TOPSS for use with the new refrigerated truck.

A professor emeritus from the Miami University Department of Kinesiology and Health, Belka also chaired the local Salvation Army bell-ringing effort for the second year in 2021. Money from that effort helps the Family Resource Center.

Feeding the hungry has been at the forefront of much of his efforts.

“During the COVID pandemic, he initiated and organized two virtual projects. One was a food drive for TOPSS that yielded 2,300 pounds of food donations plus unsolicited contributions of $1,000. The second project assisted the Oxford Senior Center in collecting 1,800 personal care and cleaning items plus $300 in unsolicited donations,” Bill Houk wrote in one of the nominations for Belka.

Houk also noted Belka was the writer of two grants to the Ohio Kiwanis Foundation which were approved, giving the Talawanda School District $3,000 for COVID safety equipment in August 2020 and TOPSS $500 for operation of the new refrigerated van in April 2021.

While much of Belka’s community efforts involve doing the actual work of volunteering, he also exercises a leadership role in the efforts. Houk and Bob Carmean both praised his efforts with the Kiwanis Club’s Community Services Committee which he has chaired since 2013 and served as co-chair two years before that.

Carmean wrote: “He has been instrumental in driving grants to numerous organizations and needs of Oxford. His leadership on Pancake Day and Chili Supper has provided funding to allow Kiwanis to fulfill its mission. From TOPSS to the Family Resource Center, he gives back to the community. His volunteering at the Oxford Museum Association Apple Butter Festival and the Greater Oxford Community Foundation Needs Awareness Committee expands his engagement throughout the broad Talawanda territory.”

Houk explained the honoree recruited new service projects in May 2021 which gained Kiwanis board approval and he invited Kiwanians to lead and participate in the projects.

“Several of these included providing volunteers for the August 5 Thursday evening concert, painting the Family Resource Center main building (August) and collecting donations from Krogers and Walmart every Thursday for TOPSS,” Houk wrote.

In addition to all that, the nomination also noted Belka is active in the Southern Gateway Chorus since 1991 and has served as the main grant writer and top chorus fundraiser.

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