A book of honor

First Posted: 4/19/2013

He likes to say “yes.”

But Ed Ackerman, the 2013 recipient of the Pittston Memorial Library’s Jean Yates Award and editor and columnist of Pittston’s Sunday Dispatch, said he’s not a “yes man.”

The award, presented annually to a person who has exhibited dedicated service to the library, is named in honor of the late Jean Yates, a library benefactor, volunteer and board member. It was presented to Ackerman at St. Joseph Marello Parish Center Wednesday night.

Ackerman read off a list of words he wanted to use as cues when giving his remarks.

One of the words, he said, was “yes.”

“A long time ago, I thought: I want to be able to say yes to as many requests as I possibly can,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Does that make me a yes man?’ I hope not. I think it makes me a man that likes to say ‘yes.’

“I’ve often said I think there are a lot of people out there who love to say ‘no.’ I don’t want to be that guy. I want to say yes,” hea dded. “So, as I’ve gone through my life, when people ask me things, I say yes.”

When former Sunday Dispatch sports editor Jim Gilmartin asked Ackerman to write sports for the paper, the 17-year-old Ackerman said “yes.”

“And I did that for a long time as different jobs came up at the Dispatch. I said yes.”

And when people asked to him to get things in the newspaper or write a story for them, he said “yes.”

When officials at Wilkes University and later at Luzerne County Community College asked him to teach journalism, he said “yes.”

When former Pittston Mayor Michael Lombardo asked him to serve on the library board, he said “yes.”

“When we heard about the John Cosgrove Collection, and it was brought up to us and was said ‘Would you like to have that?’ I was the guy who made the motion to say ‘yes.’”

He’s said “yes” all his life.

“And when Barbara Quinn called me to say that I was selected for the Jean Yates Award, I had an awful time saying yes to that,” he said.

Ultimately, as his character dictates, he said “yes.”

“I’d much rather give an award than get one,” he said. “And so I came here feeling very uncomfortable.”

Ackerman offered an apology to the organizers and past recipients of the Jean Yates Award. He said he told his family it wasn’t a big deal to receive the award.

Ackerman and his wife, Mary Kay, an operating room nurse, reside in Pittston. He has two children, Greta, 29, of Los Angeles, Calif., and Michael, 26, of Chicago. Both work in the field of advertising.

When his daughter, Greta, announced she would fly in from California for the event, Ackerman said that’s when he realized what a big deal it was.

“I thought, my daughter is doing that for one day, putting herself out like that. Right then and there, I realized it was a big deal,” he said.

“And introducing my daughter to all of you today has been such a wonderful experience,” he said. “And it’s breaking my son’s heart that he can’t be here today.”

Quinn, president of the Board of Trustees of the Pittston Memorial Library, said the Jean Yates Award is presented to a person who has provided outstanding service to the Pittston Memorial Library in order to keep Yates’ dream alive of keeping the library growing and thriving.

Ackerman was a good fit, Quinn said.

“Ed Ackerman certainly fulfills the criteria for this award, although he was quite mystified as to why we selected him,” Quinn said. “We disagreed and he humbly consented to accept this award.”

“There hasn’t been an event or happening in the Greater Pittston community that doesn’t owe its success to the wonderful coverage provided by Eddie and the Sunday Dispatch,” she said.

Ackerman is credited with being the force behind bringing the massive private collection of Pittston native and Washington, D.C. insider John Cosgrove to the library and the library’s expansion to make room for it.

“Of course, I’m not always sure whether to thank him for this or strangle him,” Quinn joked.

Cosgrove could not attend the ceremony, but Quinn read a letter from him.

“We are grateful for (Ackerman’s) strong and inspired support for all the good that the library is doing every day in my hometown community,” Cosgrove wrote. “If my books at some time seem to turn their backs on him, please tell Eddie that the volumes are proudly rendering a salute of appreciation to him for all he has done to preserve and expand his hometown library.”

Quinn said plans for a community room and expanded children’s art area are moving forward.

“We have our revised plans for the new addition, have met with the architects and constriction committee, picked out the furnishings and are ready to go to bid,” she said. “Hopefully, construction will start in the very near future.”

Quinn also thanked library director Anne Hogya, fund-raising director Howard Grossman, support staff Jean Decker, Gemma Williams, Patricia Joyce, Kathy DePasquale, Elaine Marriggi and Winnie Williams, library controller Eileen Bartoli and board secretary Ann Noone.

An anonymous friend made a $5,000 donation in Ackerman’s honor, Quinn said.

An invocation was offered by the Rev. Joseph Sibiliano, pastor of St. Joseph Marello Parish, and a benediction was sung by Monsignor John Bendik, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish Community. Library board member Joseph Long acted as toastmaster.

Quinn also honored board member Mike Ostrowski, who died last year.

“He was a truly wonderful man, and we still miss him and his zany sense of humor,” Quinn said of Ostrowski. “I’m sure the angels are either rolling on the clouds with laughter or jumping off.”

Past winners of the Jean Yates Award include Michael Lombardo, Sandy Insalaco, Tom Tigue, Friends of the Library, Eileen Burns, Ellen Mondlak, Eva Mae Falcone and Maria Capolarella-Montante.

Capolarella-Montante, president of Friends of the Pittston Library, spoke of what an asset Ackerman is to the library.

“He works hard on behalf of the library and he does it with kindness and caring, because that’s the kind of person he is,” he said. “That’s reflected in his column each Sunday.”

She presented a book to the library in Ackerman’s name on behalf of the Friends.

“But,” she joked with Ackerman, “If you want to read it, you have to go to the library and check it out.”

Ackerman said he was happy the event turned into a class reunion. He was valedictorian of the first class of Pittston Area High School in 1967.

Al Kridlo, Bill Keating and John A. Brogna spoke of their good friend and classmate.

“We came here to honor Ed,” Kridlo said. “He’s done so much for me personally, and so much for this community. He’s one of those guys that goes out of his way for you. He’ll do things for you and remain in the background.”

“He always made our class proud,” Keating said.

“He’s an unsung hero,” Brogna said.

Gloria Blandina, director of the Care and Concern Clinic, grew up across the street from Ackerman and has known him since the fourth grade.

“Eddie is kind, insightful and he’s interested in other people,” she said. “He’s sincere and his words are so touching.”

After Gilmartin brought Ackerman to the Dispatch, Ackerman remained at the paper for 23 years, rising to the position of managing editor. After serving as an adjunct professor at Wilkes University, he became a full-time professor at Luzerne County Community College where he is now in his 23rd year of teaching.

While continuing his career in the college classroom, Ackerman returned to the Sunday Dispatch in 2000 to serve as part-time editor.

He resumed writing his weekly column, “Ed Ackerman, optimist,” for which he has won a first -lace Keystone Award presented by the Pennsylvania Newspapers Publishers’ Association. It appears each week on page 2 of the Dispatch.

Jean Yates’ younger sister, Joan Speziale, was in attendance, along with Yates’ niece, Ann Keller, and great niece, Dana Keller.

“She was a very loving and giving person,” Speziale said. “She worked hard.”

Keller spoke of her aunt’s legacy.

Quinn praised Yates.

“She exemplified outstanding library service with her dedication and generosity,” Quinn said.

During his remarks, Ackerman spoke of a scene near the end of the film, “Saving Private Ryan.” A dying soldier who took a bullet during the rescue told Private Ryan to “earn this.”

“You all said a lot of nice things about me tonight,” Ackerman said. “I’m a recipient of the Jean Yates Award, but I like to think of all the things I could have done to really be the recipient. So what I will say now is I will honor your selection and honor Jean’s memory by ‘earning this.’”

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