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Editorial: Citizen of the Year Nominees

Familiar names, plain folks

December has become one of the most enjoyable months of each year for the Inquirer Editorial Board, because that's when we receive nominations for our annual Citizen of the Year award.

Typically, not only are familiar names nominated for the honor but also just plain folks who may be nowhere near being on this newspaper's radar screen but are doing good deeds in communities that want to show their appreciation.

Take Jill Davidheiser, described as "in her 80s," who was nominated for trapping stray cats, taking them to the vet for shots and to be neutered, then keeping them until she finds them a home. At last count, she was boarding eight kitties.

Then there's Raymond Gant, founder of the Ray of Hope program, which has rehabbed 74 low-income houses. A former drug dealer who spent 12 years in prison, Gant has a positive message that resonates with young people.

Dr. Lawrence Ragone, an optometrist who grew up in Camden, was nominated for giving back to that impoverished city's residents by providing free or discounted eye-care services to the homeless and other uninsured patients.

Neha Gupta, 12, was nominated by her aunt Anita Garg. For the past three years, Neha has made and sold charms to raise money for the education of orphans in northern India. So far, Neha has raised $3,000.

Another little girl, this one a finalist for Citizen of the Year, is Katherine Commale, 7, who has raised more than $73,000 for the Nothing But Nets program, which buys bed nets to protect families from mosquitoes in tropical nations, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. At $10 per net, that means one little girl in Chester County has helped to save the lives of more than 7,300 people.

Albert R. Boscov was another finalist, nominated by several people for coming to the rescue of the department stores that bear his family's name. At age 79, Boscov couldn't bear to see the Boscov's stores that his father founded 97 years ago shut down in bankruptcy. With his nephew Edwin A. Lakin, he cobbled a deal to buy back 39 stores and save hundreds of jobs.

Also a finalist was Larry Robin, proprietor of the now closed Robin's Book Store. It was believed to be the oldest independent bookstore in Philadelphia. Except it was more than a bookstore. It was an institution started by Robin's grandfather in 1936. It was a convenient meeting place for Center City denizens. And in its future it may become a cultural salon, with poetry readings and other literary events, says Robin.

Many readers wanted to recognize the five city police officers killed in the line of duty within 13 months - Officer Chuck Cassidy, Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, Officer Isabel Nazario, Sgt. Patrick McDonald and Sgt. Timothy Simpson. Some nominated Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey for the compassion he showed in handling the deaths.

In the five years that the Editorial Board has selected a Citizen of the Year, the task has never been easy. In selecting a winner, the board understands there are dozens of others in Philadelphia, South Jersey and the Pennsylvania suburbs who also work hard to be good citizens. To them all we say, well done.