MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- No one beamed brighter than Joan Vaitis' husband when she was named the 2007 The Sun News Volunteer of the Year on Tuesday.
Joan Vaitis gasped, and her husband, Ed Vaitis, announced: "I'm a dead man now. I'm so happy, but I'm dead. Oh geez."
That's because Joan Vaitis' humble spirit doesn't feed off recognition. She's driven instead by her desire to ease people's pain and suffering and sustained by an inner strength few can muster.
When Joan Vaitis learned her husband had nominated her earlier this month, "she didn't speak to me for a week," he said. "This kind of stuff is not for her. She doesn't do anything for her benefit."
Vaitis was singled out among her volunteer peers during a banquet at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, where her community service as a paramedic for the North Myrtle Beach Rescue Squad and with the Coastal Critical Incident Stress Management Team were underscored.
She was chosen by Henry Haitz III, publisher of The State newspaper in Columbia, who was asked to select a winner among the 12 volunteers nominated.
"These nominees give up their time and talents, perhaps the most precious item we each have to offer, to help their communities," Haitz said of Vaitis in a speech read at the banquet. "The winner this year shows up and shows up and shows up. And each time she shows up, the community benefits from her time and talents."
Even in accepting her award, Vaitis, known in the community as "Mrs. Rescue," shared the glory of winning with her peers.
"This gives so much affirmation to what I do, what you do, what we do," Vaitis told the audience of about 230 people. "I didn't expect this, but I thank you very much."
She will be considered for a national Jefferson Award and will receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., in June. The Jefferson Awards, sponsored by the American Institute for Public Service, honors community and public service in America on a national and local level.
Vaitis joined the North Myrtle Beach Rescue Squad in 1990, becoming a certified emergency medical technician and paramedic.
She also teaches cardiopulmonary resuscitation, coordinates training to ensure departmental certification for state standards and provides counseling to colleagues to help them cope with tragedies.
"Volunteering has changed my life," she said. "It has become my life."
While the squad gets her attention most of the time, the former commercial artist is active in her church at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church; has worked to ensure area churches are equipped with defibrillators; visits nursing homes; and counsels the grieving.
"She really is a very special lady," Ed Vaitis said. "I'm so lucky God gave her to me."
After several congratulatory hugs and handshakes, Joan Vaitis embraced her husband, who jokingly asked: "You still love me, don't you?"
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Go to Myrtle BeachOnline.com for a video of the event.Contact ELAINE GASTON at 626-0299 or firstname.lastname@example.org