Gripka was one of three finalists for the award. Other nominees were Betty Bierkortte and Clyde Stephens.
The Dale Taunton Helping Hands Award recognizes residents in the Pierce City School District for their efforts in continuing to cultivate the spirit of "neighbor helping neighbor." This award is named in honor of the late Dale Taunton, of Pierce City, who lost his life during the May 4, 2003, tornado helping save the lives of others at the cost of his own.
Gripka was unable to attend the banquet, so her husband, Tom Gripka, accepted the award on her behalf.
"Susan wrote some notes in case she was chosen for this honor," Gripka said. "This comes as a surprise."
The letter indicated Susan Gripka could not have achieved success with the backpack program without the continuing support of churches, individuals, civic groups and organizations who contribute time and funding to the effort.
She recognized the weekly volunteers who pack food items into backpacks so children participating in the program will have nutrition to last through the weekend. The volunteers include: Don and Vickie Iman, Anthony Gripka, Sue Fischer, Phyllis Gunter, Megan Levitt and the late Jenny Garner.
"This program gives us the opportunity to feed numerous children and make a difference in their lives," she wrote.
The program cost approximately $5,900 in its second year of operation and has supplied over 14,400 meals to children.
Jonie Moore, Hospice Compassus care coordinator, then spoke to those attending about her role in that organization.
"This is the best job that I could ever hope to have," Moore said. "It allows us to take care of people in our community who have six months or less life expectancy. Some of the most profound lessons I have learned in life are from those that are near death."
Moore said hearing each patient's personal story helped volunteers put things in perspective concerning their own lives.
She went on to say that volunteers served many roles in hospice, from writing cards of encouragement to sitting with loved ones of patients who had less than 24 hours of life remaining.
"Hospice is available to assist clients with pain management," Moore said. "We help those people live as comfortably as possible. We have trained nurses on staff that are available 24 hours per day to administer medications, if needed.
"We have others who volunteer to assist with personal care, light housekeeping and meal preparation," Moore said, "and we provide social care to assist families with coping skills and other needs."
Moore said hospice is the only federally mandated organization that provides for spiritual care.
One thing all clients have in common is the services that hospice can provide.
"I can drive up to a mansion, or to a pull-behind trailer parked in a field and provide the same services to both people," Moore said. "I've done it."
For those who can't afford service, there is a foundation to help with those costs.
"The donations we receive from Barry and Lawrence counties are greater than they are for Greene County and the surrounding area," Moore said. "We are hard-working folks who donate and give back to our community."
"Volunteering is a wide open field," Moore said. "Pick what you want to do and go from there."
Also speaking at the banquet was Polly McCrillis, owner of Bookmarks, LLC, in Pierce City.
McCrillis encouraged diners to attend the fourth annual Pierce City Arts Festival on June 9, and listed a number of events scheduled to take place at this year's event.
McCrillis said 34 artists have already pledged to attend, and free workshops will be offered throughout the day to those interested in learning various crafts.
Wine tasting and food sampling will also take place at Bookmarks, located at Walnut and Commercial in Pierce City.
Artists and vendors, including a glassblower, will line the street offering their products and demonstrating their crafts.
Major contributors for this year's event include First State Bank, Pennington Seeds and Boy Scout Troop #38.
A silent auction of goods and services netted $405, to benefir the Pierce City backpack program.