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Butler County Rotary clubs honor region’s Hometown Heroes

Integrity and honor
Hometown Hero honoree Bruce Hezlep, master firefighter with the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company, shakes hands with his father Morgan on Sept. 1 at Cranberry Township’s Hometown Hero ceremony. Hezlep was honored alongside Officer Ed Steinmetz, Cranberry Township Police Department, and Mandy Cousins, community outreach coordinator with Cranberry Township EMS — pictured behind him. Austin Uram/Butler Eagle

The township’s Sunrise, Noon and Sunset Rotary Clubs gathered Sept. 1 for a ceremony exemplifying what the county’s Hometown Heroes program is all about.

“The Hometown Heroes project kicked off in March of this year,” said Denise Etter, organizer and Sunrise Rotary member. “It was a way for the Rotary Clubs to say ‘thank you’ and for the community to say ‘thank you’ and recognize our first responders.”

Gathered in the Cranberry Township Public Safety Training Center, Etter told the room of state and local officials, veterans and — of course — first responders that Rotary Clubs across Butler County have been in the process of nominating their own Hometown Heroes since the spring.

“Each Rotary Club in Butler County — or group of Rotary Clubs, as we have here today the Cranberry Sunrise, the Noon and the Sunset — came together and chose their nominee winner from the group that they received,” she said.

For Cranberry Township’s Rotary Clubs, the honorees this year are officer Ed Steinmetz, Cranberry Township Police Department; Mandy Cousins, community outreach coordinator with Cranberry Township EMS; and master firefighter Bruce Hezlep, Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company.

Each honoree was then introduced by the respective Rotary Club that nominated them, recognizing the qualities that make a Hometown Hero in the community.

Across the county, 29 first responders representing law enforcement, EMS and fire services were honored by the county’s Rotary Clubs.

“Each club is doing a presentation similar to this,” Etter said at the Sept. 1 event.

The honorees then will come together at the Hometown Hero Awards dinner Sept. 30 at Tesla BioHealing & MedBed Center on Route 8 in Butler Township. There, the top three award winners will be honored.

Police, firefighters and EMT workers were eligible to be nominated.

Butler County Sheriff Mike Slupe said the program received a good response from nominators, especially for this being the first year for Hometown Heroes.

“We have a lot of very wonderful qualified and talented first responders in Butler County,” Slupe said.

Nominations could be made by family, friends and the public and were collected by the Butler Eagle and distributed by the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau to Rotary clubs within the county based on the region where the first responders serve.

“Everything we do in Rotary is service above self,” Jack Cohen, president of the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau, said in March, when the program was announced. “That’s what these (first responders) do. They put their lives on the line, and we just go about our business. At the end of the day, these folks don’t get the recognition they deserve.”

The award winners are being chosen by a panel of people who organized the Hometown Heroes program, including representatives of the Butler Eagle, Rotary, Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau and the 2024 Can-Am Police-Fire Games; and Sam Royer, president of Salute Home Loans, which is the program’s presenting sponsor.

“It’s important for us to recognize how much our first responders do to keep our community safe,” said Tammy Schuey, general manager of the Butler Eagle. “We work with these people every day; not a single newspaper goes out that doesn’t have a first responder in it in some way.

“It is an honor for us to show our appreciation.”

With the response the event got in its first year, Slupe said organizers may discuss making Hometown Heroes a recurring program in Butler County.

“We hope that we're able to make that happen,” Slupe said.

Etter said the Rotary Clubs are working in cooperation with Salute Home Loans, the Butler Eagle and the 2024 Can-Am Police-Fire Games for the awards.

“The Hometown Heroes project is a lead-up to the Can-Am Games,” she said. “The Can-Am Games, for those of you who don’t know, are a multisport, Olympic-style event between the United States and Canada.”

Slupe said the Hometown Heroes event is a good lead-in to registration for the Can-Am Police-Fire Games.

“We felt this would be great because it would be a prelude to the Can-Am games,” Slupe said.

The games are an opportunity for first responders in the country to compete in skill and athletic events, according to Etter.

“The Can-Am Games will take place in Butler on July 15 to 21 of 2024 at a variety of venues throughout the county,” she said. “Some of those venues are here in Cranberry Township, and we’re very proud of that.”

More information about the games can be found at butlercanam2024.com, and tickets for the Hometown Hero Awards dinner can be purchased at visitbutlercounty.com.

“It’s about you guys, the first responders, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Michael Ozdinec, president of the Cranberry Township Sunrise Rotary Club. “It’s you guys that keep us safe, who are there when we need you the most and are there to support us when we don’t know what else to do.

“Today is about thanking you for everything you do.”

Eagle staff writer Eddie Trizzino contributed to this report.

From left, state Sen. Elder Vogel Jr., R-47th; Mandy Cousins, community outreach coordinator with Cranberry Township EMS; Officer Ed Steinmetz, Cranberry Township Police Department; master firefighter Bruce Hezlep, Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company; Jack Cohen, former governor for Rotary International District 7280; and state Rep. Stephenie Scialabba, R-12th, attend Cranberry Township’s Hometown Heroes ceremony Sept. 1. Austin Uram/Butler Eagle
Hometown Hero honoree Ed Steinmetz, an officer with the Cranberry Township Police Department, prepares to speak Sept. 1 at Cranberry Township’s Hometown Hero ceremony. Austin Uram/Butler Eagle
From left, John Marshall, governor for Rotary International District 7280; Debbie Crum, president of Cranberry Township Noon Rotary Club; Mandy Cousins, community outreach coordinator with Cranberry Township EMS; Officer Ed Steinmetz, Cranberry Township Police Department; master firefighter Bruce Hezlep, Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company; Jonathan Cohen, president of Cranberry Township Sunset Rotary Club; Jack Cohen, former governor for Rotary International District 7280; and Michael Ozdinec, president of Cranberry Township Sunrise Rotary Club attend Cranberry Township’s Hometown Heroes ceremony Sept. 1. Austin Uram/Butler Eagle
Hometown Hero honoree Bruce Hezlep, master firefighter with the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company, addresses the crowd Sept. 1 at Cranberry Township’s Hometown Hero ceremony. Austin Uram/Butler Eagle

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