Stephanie Arkright with the Campbell River SPCA (left) congratulates Nikki Watts (right) after she was awarded Hero of the Year at Thursday’s Local Hero Awards. Arkright was also a nominee in the category – the final one of the night – and it was Watts’ second nomination of the evening. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

Watts is Campbell River’s Hero of the Year

Miller recognized for bravery at Local Hero Awards

They come from all walks of life, and they help their community in countless ways. They are Campbell River’s Local Heroes, or at least the first installment.

On Thursday, inside Fire Hall No. 1, the community honoured some of its best and brightest in a dozen categories during the inaugural Local Hero Awards, sponsored by the Mirror and Marine Harvest. Each of the award categories had its own sponsor.

The fire hall was decked out, as at least 150 finalists, guests, sponsors and other dignitaries were on hand.

“We have come together to celebrate and recognize remarkable people, individuals whose selfless and courageous acts of service have made this community such a vibrant place to live and work,” Mirror publisher Artur Ciastkowski said to begin the event. “This is an opportunity for us to recognize your achievements and let your share your powerful stories.”

The climax of the evening came with the announcement of Hero of the Year, in which animal advocate Nikki Watts took top honours, for her efforts, which started during a period after the SPCA closed five years ago and before it re-opened, with efforts such as Lost and Found Animals and the Campbell River Partners for Animal Welfare Society.

“I kind of fell into this, but I really love it a lot,” she said.

Watts’s award followed the Courage and Bravery category for which Gerry Miller received top honours and a standing ovation.

He had been walking his dog in January in the Stories Creek area following after heavy rains when creeks and rivers were swelling. He heard a girl screaming and ran to the creek where she was clinging to a tree. She had already lost her friend and the friend’s dad. He jumped into the water and pulled her out to safety.

After receiving the award on Thursday, Miller spoke of the incident, saying, “This has really changed my life, and sent me in a new direction in life, a good one.”

He was nominated by Shana Braden, who lost her husband and daughter in the incident. She had known him before, running into him while dog-walking, and remembers him as shy and inward. She praised the first responders too for their efforts at the scene, but for her, seeing Miller’s confidence and connections to the community grow these past few months has helped with her own grieving process.

“Gerry saved a child’s life and the experience changed him. It gave him purpose, and it gave him self-confidence,” she told the Mirror. “It’s been very rewarding for me to see something so positive come out of something so tragic.”

Others taking top honours Thursday were: John Jepson (Coach); Carol Chapman (Community Volunteer); Karen Lutz (Community Builder); Chuck DeSorcy (Educator); Alex Witcombe (Arts Advocate); Sandra Milligan (Environmental Leadership); Krisandra Rufus (Diversity and Inclusion); Sydney Boyle (Youth Volunteer); Mary Lazarski (Seniors’ Champion); and the Coast Guard team of Dennis Kolk, Paul Nestman, Phil Hawkins and Huw Davies (Emergency Services). Those receiving top honours were given a whale sculpture created by artist Pavel Barta.

Thursday night’s event was the culmination of many months of planning and represented the efforts of many. Members of the community submitted nominations, and from these, the shortlist was developed. The Mirror will publish a special section in the Friday, June 8 edition, with profiles of the finalists.

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