BOTKINS – Two Sidney women were named as recipients of annual honors at the Shelby County Democrats Jefferson Jackson Day annual dinner here Wednesday night. Two candidates in upcoming elections also addressed the crowd.
Carole Leffler was named as the Shelby County Outstanding Citizen with Maureen O’Keefe chosen as Shelby County Democrat of the Year. Also on hand were Janet Garrett of Oberlin, a challenger for the U.S. House Fourth Congressional District seat currently held by Jim Jordan, R-Urbana; and Danny O’Connor of Columbus, formerly of Sidney, who is seeking re-election as Franklin County Recorder.
More than 80 people gathered at The Palazzo in Botkins. Representatives from Allen, Auglaize Mercer and Champaign counties were also in attendance.
Party Chairman Tom Kerrigan said Leffler was more than deserving of the good citizen award. A lifelong Democrat, Leffler had a 47-year career in nursing retiring as RN Supervisor from Twin Valley Behavioral Health Center in Dayton in 2005. She was certified in psychiatric and mental health nursing.
Over the years, Leffler began as a nursing home aide at the age of 16 and was a youth volunteer for the American Red Cross. She taught classes on nursing and first aid working in natural disaster areas for 18 years. She was honored by the Ohio governor’s office for her participation in the New York City 9-11 disaster, where she met Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Kerrigan said Leffler continues to be active in several volunteer positions including local union and church activities.
For 10 years, Leffler served on the executive board of Local 1199 covering Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. She was a union representative on the Ohio Department of Mental Health board and the Ohio Cross Agency board.
She is currently a legislative representative for the Public Employee Retiree’s Inc. (PERI). She serves as PERI treasurer for eight years and for the past seven months has assisted members navigate new health insurance changes. She is also a volunteer at the Senior Center in Sidney.
Speaking briefly, Leffler said, “I just want to thank God and my family for having the opportunity to volunteer and help people.” She has two children and four grandchildren.
O’Keefe was considered “young blood” by Kerrigan referring to the next generation of people becoming active in party politics. “She is fun. She is artsy and she is a professional. She has youthful enthusiasm we need in our Democratic party.”
She is a 1998 graduate of Lehman Catholic High School and the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2005. She has served as an art instructor at Edison Community College and leads a Daisy/Brownie Girl Scout Troop in Shelby County.
Currently, O’Keefe works at the Dayton Art Institute as a museum storage/inventory and control sales associate. She and her husband, Dylan, have two daughters.
Kerrigan said O’Keefe is passionate about politics and will do her best to help the party in many ways. She is currently the secretary/treasurer of the Shelby County Democratic Party.
Political candidates on hand
A former school teacher, Garrett said her idea to run was based on what she perceives as failures of Jim Jordan when it came to women’s rights and civil liberties. She said she is simply “a school teacher who can’t take it anymore.”
Aiming at Jordan, Garrett said she champions equal rights for women and other quality of life issues. She railed against eminent domain to further commercial growth and plans to enhance the medical and mental health of military veterans upon their return home.
Garrett was born in Troy in 1953. She earned a teaching degree from Kent State University and three years later joined the Peace Corps serving in Micronesia. Upon returning home, she earned a master’s degree and began teaching in Lorain County, near Cleveland. In 1991, she began teaching special education in Oberlin and retired as a kindergarten teacher last year.
For 20 years, Garrett served on the executive council of the local teacher’s union including a stint as president. She served the Democratic Party since 1988 working campaigns for Michael Dukakis and Barack Obama. She and her husband, Mike, have three adult children.
Also, Danny O’Connor returned to Shelby County with friends and family on hand. The 2005 Lehman Catholic grad said, “We (the Democrats) are the party of positive changes.” He spoke of President Obama’s positive impact on the availability of affordable healthcare and the lessening number of military personnel in Iraq, with the room erupting in applause.
Kerrigan recalled O’Connor working on the John Kerry campaign against George W. Bush in 2005. “He wasn’t old enough to vote, but like a good Democrat he was still serving.”
Garrett earned a degree in political science at Wright State University. Upon graduation, he served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the Bronx, N.Y., as a volunteer a legal assistant. Afterwards, he graduated Syracuse University College of Law.
He continued his involvement in politics throughout his college years and established himself at a Columbus law firm. He currently serves as Franklin County Recorder.