AUBURN, Mass. – Bethel Lutheran Church in Auburn was packed to capacity on Wednesday night as the Rev. John Gee received the town’s Riley community service award and a baseball signed by a Boston Red Sox legend at the annual ecumenical community Thanksgiving service.
Gee, pastor of North American Martyrs Church in Auburn, received the John E. and Ethel E. Riley Outstanding Citizenship Award for being “an outstanding citizen who has made life for Auburn residents better.”
The Riley Award Committee voted unanimously this month for Gee, who has been a pastor in Auburn for 22 years, serving in other parishes for a total of 59 years. The committee highlighted Gee’s involvement in a new 30-unit housing project for low-income elder citizens on the church’s property, as well as the church’s food service program that serves the Auburn community.
“It was very thoughtful of the committee to make me this year’s award recipient,” Gee said. “So many gifted and hardworking people came together to make the housing project a reality, and the same goes with the food pantry. I accept this honor in the name of all the people who have worked so hard and done so many things to bring these projects into reality.”
Martha Pappas, daughter of Ethel and John Riley, presented the award to Gee. She also gave Gee, an avid Red Sox fan, a baseball that was signed by legendary Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.
“I know how Rev. Gee likes the Red Sox so much, so I want to give him this family treasure,” Pappas said. “My father had this ball signed at his 90th birthday at Fenway, and he really cherished this ball. I’m sure if my father was here today, he would like you to have it.”
The John E. and Ethel E. Riley Outstanding Citizenship Award was created in 1976 to honor the Rileys for their contribution to serving and making life for Auburn citizens better. John served as Auburn Town Clerk from 1922 to 1952, and Ethel served as an assistant for many years.
There was money donated that is now held by the Greater Worcester Community Foundation. The interest earned is given to the recipient chosen each year.
In addition, Selectmen Chair Doreen Goodrich read congratulatory citations from state Sen. Michael Moore (D-Millbury) and state Rep. Paul Frost (R-Auburn).
Bethel Lutheran Church had attendees bring nonperishable food items, and a monetary offering was also taken. Both collections will benefit Auburn Youth and Family Services and Kateri Kitchen.
The annual ecumenical community Thanksgiving service rotates churches each year. The service was sponsored by the clergy and congregations of the Auburn Clergy Association.