By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- The volunteer spirit behind projects in two area communities has been recognized with Governor's Hometown Awards.
The Pike County Skate Park project in Pittsfield and Quincy's 9/11 memorial received awards presented Thursday in Springfield.
Michelle Westmaas, who spearheaded the skate park and served as president of Pike County Skaters, said it was "awesome" to see the project recognized at the ceremony in the Governor's Mansion and presented with a plaque and a highway sign.
"We already have the reward every day of driving by the skate park, seeing the physical park and seeing people use the park. Now we'll get to see the sign. It is pretty cool," she said. "When you see all the other winners and what they've done and realize how many other people were nominated and how few people were recognized, you really feel special to be part of that group."
The 30th annual awards give formal recognition to those who have contributed to their community's quality of life. Projects must have had strong volunteer support, have met a need and made a definitive impact.
Awards were presented in six project categories in each of six population divisions.
The Pittsfield project, a winner in the parks and recreation category, became a true community effort involving youngsters and adults.
"It's a great honor," said Mayor John Hayden, who attended the awards ceremony. "It made us feel pretty good to be from the city of Pittsfield."
Work toward the skate park began in July 2007 with the dream of 13 youth, including Westmaas' son Andrew, tired of skating on bumpy roads and crumbling sidewalks.
Soon plans were under way to build the park in Pittsfield's King Park at the site of the former Coultas Horseshoe Park. Early supporters included Hayden, the City Council and the Tony Hawk Foundation, which provided key motivation with a $5,000 grant in 2008.
Donated and reduced-cost materials and donated labor all contributed to turning the park from a dream to a reality.
The skaters raised more than $15,000 toward the park, and the city of Pittsfield allocated another $10,000 toward the project. A key donation came when members of the Union Difference, a coalition including construction labor unions throughout the area, agreed to donate all of the labor and some of the equipment to build the park, which opened in November 2011.
"It just shows the value of volunteers," Hayden said. "If people set their mind, it can be done."
The project solved what had become a safety issue in the city with kids skating at parks, businesses and on the streets.
"They didn't have any place to go, but due to the efforts of Michelle ... through volunteers, donations, a lot of sweat and work, they started the project," Hayden said. "If you go by and see the park now, you see the fruit of what their hard work has been."
Westmaas credited Hayden for his support, which "made it so easy for us, Patty McIntosh, executive director of the Health and Wellness Foundation of Pike County, the project's fiscal sponsor, and all the volunteers for their hard work."
"The hard part was being there (at the awards ceremony) without all the other families and folks that were there with us every step of the way. So many other people were a part of it in a big way," she said.
McIntosh said the project embodied everything the foundation supports, especially in its benefits for young people.
"I think it speaks volumes about the community recognizing that the kids need things and that the youth are important," McIntosh said. "We want to make sure we give every child a place they can call their own, where they can recreate. We just added to that offering. There's organized sports, and now skateboarders have a place they can call their own. Hopefully that will progress along as other youth take up other sports."
Quincy Mayor John Spring said the award received for the 9/11 memorial was recognition for a project that "really has touched people in the community."
The memorial, an artifact from the World Trade Center destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, was a winner in the memorials and monuments category.
Spring and City Engineer Jeff Steinkamp had talked about the possibility of a memorial to mark the 10th anniversary of the attack.
Just as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was beginning to let some artifacts from the terrorist attack be distributed to communities, "we went through that whole process, found out how to get something, then found we could get something with a connection to Quincy, with Harris Broadcast," Spring said. "It was really special to us."
The 15-foot-long, 7,000-pound steel structure is part of the tower that was on top of 1 World Trade Center, the north tower, and supported a television broadcasting antenna that was designed and manufactured by the Harris Corp. in 1978. Master Foundry, which was located at 36th and Wismann Lane, also built some of the parts for the antenna.
The city received the artifact in July 2011 and placed it behind the existing 9/11 Memorial at City Hall Plaza.
Steinkamp credited the teamwork involved in putting the memorial together.
"We worked hard. People were very supportive. When people were asked, nobody said no. Everybody stepped up, and we made a special place that will be there a long time, an honorable place," Steinkamp said.
The awards, offered through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, had more entries this year than ever before. Quincy has been recognized with awards in recent years for work with the Flood of 2008 and the Trees for Tomorrow program.
"That's not too bad for a two-term mayor to come here three times," Spring said.
McIntosh called it "humbling" for the skate park to be recognized with other great projects from areas with great community spirit.
"There were some really neat things people did. There were things we ought to go home and do now," Westmaas said. "This award's been given the last 30 years. I'm sure I've seen the signs as I went into other towns and not realized the significance of it. Now driving and seeing that sign will be really awesome."