SIDNEY — The first Veteran of the Year, along with the Civilian of the Year were honored Monday night during Veterans Day at the Shelby County Fair.
Army veteran Robert “Bob” Shoffner, of Sidney, was named Veteran of the Year, while Shelby County Historical Society Director Matilda “Tilda” Phlipot, of Sidney, was named Civilian of the Year by the Shelby County Veterans Service Commission. The awards were presented by Chris North, Veterans Service Commission executive director.
“I was very surprised,” said Shoffner. “This is a very big honor and very big surprise.”
Shoffner was nominated by Judy Johnson.
In the nomination, she wrote, “Bob selfishly volunteers his time to assist with various projects within the community. He diligently works with the Shelby County Historical Society on several of their events. He was highly motivated and extremely instrumental as demonstrated by his donation of countless hours prior, during, and after the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall was brought to Sidney in 2015 and again in 2021. His carpentry ability was noteworthy in assisting with building the 1,000 crosses placed in the Field of Crosses. He dedicated his time in playing TAPS every evening during the 2021 event and served on guard duty to safeguard the Wall.
“He graciously volunteered his time to help the Historical Society prepare for Manufacturing Day at several schools and for the Civil War Living History weekend. Additionally, he assisted with a Third Grade Educational Day, he has built exhibits, and is readily available to assist the Historical Society whatever and whenever the need arises,” Johnson wrote.
“He continuously displays pride in the military values, his appearance, and encounters with the public. Bob is highly active in the Sidney American Legion Post 217. From 2021 to present he serves honorably as Sergeant-at-Arms. When a position became vacant on the Sidney Veterans Association Board of Directors, without hesitation, he volunteered to be Post 217 representative. He exceptionally displays his profound love for his country and fellow veterans by serving on the Sidney Veterans Honor Guard since 2018, performing at community events and military funerals honoring fallen service member or veteran’s commitment and sacrifice to their country.
“Bob is truly an exceptional, proud, and dedicated veteran who deserves the recognition of Veteran of the Year award,” she concluded.
Shoffner is a 1972 graduate of Houston High School. He served on active duty in the United States Army from 1972 to 1975 as a Fire Control Operator/Supervisor on Hawk Missile System, West Germany. From 1975 to 1978 he served in the United States Army Reserve. After his service to the military, he worked with the U.S. Postal Service in Sidney from 1980 to 2013 when he retired.
Shoffner said he never thought he was be as involved with veterans programs as he is when his service to his country ended in 1978.
“I thought when it was over, it was over,” he said. “But it goes beyond that. This was a very big honor but all veterans should be honored. The programs with the historical society can’t be accomplished with one set of hands. It takes many hands and many of the hands were veterans. They deserve this award more than I do.”
Phlipot was nominated for the Civilian of the Year award by Jane Bailey and Sharon Mohrbacher.
“I got a phone call yesterday (Monday) morning asking me if I was going to the fair,” Phlipot shared Tuesday morning. “I said no I was getting my hair done. He (Chris North) told me I had to come to the fair because I was getting an award.”
On the nomination form, Bailey and Mohrbacher wrote, “Throughout the past few decades, she has worked diligently beside hundreds of veterans for a multitude of different programs involving the local schools and surrounding community, from helping them find veterans willing to share their experience with high schoolers on Veteran’s Day, to community-oriented programs dedicated to honoring the memory of those that have given us the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom: their lives.
“We have witnessed how emotional some of these events can be for certain veterans who have had traumatic experiences during their time serving their country. Sometimes, when a veteran is overwhelmed, they will come into our office, to which Tilda will sit aside with them and patiently allow the person to tell their story in private first, merely listening and giving them the emotional support needed to continue. As one volunteer has remarked, she’s always willing to just sit and listen, never judges, and has just the right thing to say that will make you feel better. If not for one of these healing moments, we might not have gotten to witness one of our local veterans give the closing remarks after the Traveling Vietnam Wall arrived in Sidney last year,” the pair wrote.
Phlipot oversaw and helped with the installation of 1,000 wooden crosses carrying the names of men and women who have sacrificed themselves since the end of the Vietnam War from all across America. After making a road trip to Sunbury, Ohio, with two of her volunteers, they agreed that recreating a monument similar to what was installed there in marble would be the best solution.
“Tilda went above and beyond her duties … to create a successful attempt at bringing the AVTT Traveling Vietnam Wall to Sidney for the third time in September of 2021. This week-long event touched the lives of thousands of people, and most especially, veterans within and outside of our community. Tilda worked tirelessly with Judy Johnson to enlist the aid of veterans and their families to participate in the various activities associated with the wall’s arrival, such as coordinating speakers with a relevant background and finding men and women to sit with the wall and field of crosses day and night. No one else put in as many hours as she did during the entire week: well over 100 hours’ worth of time dedicated to making the event a success, despite losing one of our most dedicated volunteers at the end of the week,”they said.
Phlipot has also been involved with the Wreaths Across America program. Each December, she orchestrates a number of volunteers to help place pine wreaths on the graves of past soldiers in the United States armed forces. She also coordinates veterans and active military members to present a wreath for their branch of the military to be placed around the flag pole in Graceland Cemetery. In the spring, Tilda is right back at the cemetery helping to collect all of the wreaths to be disposed of.”
Phlipot said she was totally astonished by the award.
“I nevr do these things for recognition,” said Phlipot. “I do them because it’s right for our community. One person doesn’t do it, it takes a whole team.”
Phlipot said the veterans she works with say they never expect recognition for what they do. They just do what they were supposed to do (serving their country). For the first time I understood what they meant. This has been a learning experience for me. Last night was an amazing evening.”
The guest speaker Monday night was Ron Leininger, of Jackson Center, who is the Veterans Service Commission president. He talked about freedom and how it has changed in the United States.
“This country has been at a crossroads for a long time,” he said. He shared some of the terrorist attacks which happened on U.S. soil: the bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995, and the day that changed the world, Sept. 11, 2021.
“We live in an uncertain world,” he said. “Terrorism roams in many countries including the United States.”
Freedom, he said, can mean the Liberty Bell, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial.
“These are part of our past, present and future,” he said. “I’m proud to live in a free world. War is not a pretty picture. We went and served our country because we love America and what it stood for. They (soldiers) have given of themselves for the freedoms we have.
“If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will? Who gave up their lives for other countries? America. I’m proud to live in America but I’m not proud of the way veterans from the Korean War and Vietnam War are treated.
“We have to stand up and let our voices be heard,” he continued. “We have to get back to what our forefathers founded this country on — God and country. Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance need to be back in our schools. We need to keep God in the Pledge of Allegiance. We need to speak up, be heard and be part of the majority and not the minority.”
North recognized the Veterans Service Commission members: Tom Kinninger, Judy Johnson, Richard “Dick” Snider, Zack Bosslet and Leininger.
Fairboard member Jerry Schmidt welcomed the veterans to the fair. He is the adviser for the Starting Farmers 4-H Club, who led the audience in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I was willing to give my life to protect my country,” said Schmidt. “Today I’d give my life for my family because of what this country has become.”
Amanda Shaffer sang the “National Anthem” and the Senior Center Singers provided musical entertainment. The Sidney Veterans Association Honor Guard honored the fallen with a 21-gun salute and Taps.