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Rotarian Judy Cochran presents a Paul Harris Fellowship Award to Marilyn Wise. Photo by Ann McDonald
By Emily Banks Wooten
Three local citizens were recently awarded Paul Harris Fellowship Awards by the Rotary Club of Livingston and were recognized for their contributions. A Paul Harris Fellowship Award is the highest honor that Rotary can bestow on an individual.
It is named after Paul Harris who founded Rotary Club in 1905 in Chicago. The award is available to both Rotarians and non-Rotarians who demonstrate the high professional and personal standards exemplified by Paul Harris. It is given by the Rotary Foundation in recognition of substantial and exemplary community service in support of Rotary ideals.
This year’s recipients were Marilyn Wise, Will Watson and Brandon Wigent.
Rotarian Judy Cochran presented the award to Marilyn Wise.
“Marilyn Wise was born in Ponca City, Okla. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and her master’s degree in library science from Oklahoma State. She worked at Houston Lighting & Power and then as the librarian at several elementary schools in the Fort Bend County ISD.
“She has been married to GB Wise for 52 years. They have two children, Heather and Gary. However, the apples of their eyes are Abby and Ellie, their granddaughters.
“Marilyn has been involved in community work for many years. She has served on the National Board of Directors of the Feeding America program. She retired from serving on the Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors. She also retired from serving on the Community Board of Local Agencies. She has been a very active member of First Methodist Church in Livingston since moving here and she is on a rotation to teach Sunday School in one of the adult SS classes.
“Marilyn has served as the director of MannaFest Food Pantry since October 2013. She is retiring in November of 2023. Ten years of service to others reflects the Rotary way of “Service Above Self.” MannaFest began in 1999 as a joint outreach effort between local Christian churches to provide a Thanksgiving dinner for needy neighbors in Polk County. It has been an approved 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization since 2001. This allows the volunteers to purchase many food items through the Southeast Texas Food Bank at the current rate of 16 cents per pound. They now have a storage warehouse where food, hygiene items and God’s love are shared.
“That Thanksgiving dinner which began in 1999 still continues today except now it is delivered to folks who are homebound, alone or ill. Other ministries that MannaFest provides are Christmas and summer food boxes, senior commodity boxes for low-income seniors age 60 and over, first Saturday delivery of food boxes to seniors at the senior apartments along with birthday cakes for the monthly birthday lunch at Livingston Senior apartments. They also deliver Easter flowers the day before Easter to residents in the senior apartments.
“In 2013 MannaFest served an average of 321 families per month. In 2022, an average of 436 families were served per month. During the first five months of 2023, an average of 462 families per month were served. So you can see being director of an organization such as this can be a full time job.
“MannaFest is governed by a board of directors made up of representatives from local churches and businesses, and there are currently about 56 active volunteers who work monthly, plus employees of Church Street Financial Services and First National Bank who volunteer monthly and about 50 others who participate in special projects like the Thanksgiving meal.
“You can see that Marilyn stays a very busy lady. She also manages over 50 volunteers and their schedules and oversees their various programs. Marilyn is retiring and they are looking for her replacement. If you feel so inclined, please let Marilyn know. I am proud to introduce our newest Paul Harris Fellow, Marilyn Wise,” Cochran said.
Rotarian Bill Watson presented the award to Will Watson.
“This Rotarian is receiving this award because of his work assisting the last two Rotary presidents in requesting Rotary grants. He also helps coordinate with the recipients of the Rotary grants – Polk County SPCA and Habitat for Humanity of Polk County. He is a past officer and director and stands ready to serve again as a director. He is currently serving with Blair and Ann McDonald as counselors and chauffeurs for our Rotary exchange student Ben. He steps up and helps in any capacity required. This is his second Paul Harris Fellow award. I am proud to present it to Will Watson,” Watson said.
Rotarian Corky Evans presented the award to Brandon Wigent.
“Brandon graduated from Livingston High School in 2002. He obtained a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a minor in banking from Sam Houston State University in 2007. He started his banking career at the Bank of San Jacinto County in Coldspring. After 14 years, he made the move to First National Bank of Livingston in January of 2020.
“Brandon married his high school sweetheart, Tara, and has a daughter, Lexi, who will start third grade this year. In 2020 Brandon finally got the boy he always wanted, in the form of his dream boat that is now called Baby Brother.
“Outside of work, Brandon can be found at the gym, hunting, fishing or enjoying an Astros game with his family. He has shared his loves with his daughter Lexi which has brought new joy and excitement to it all.
“Brandon is involved in many civic organizations. He has been a member of the Rotary Club of Livingston for three years and Coldspring Chamber of Commerce for six years, during which time he served as president in 2018 and 2019. He has served on the board of directors of the Polk County Chamber of Commerce for three years and has been on the executrive board since 2022. Brandon recently joined Don’t Meth with Me and is serving on the board and he als serves on the board for Crime Stoppers.
“Brandon takes pride in his commitments and helping his community. His drive is admirable. He starts his day at 3 a.m., having accomplished so much, long before most people even wake up. Brandon gives 110% to all that he does without sacrificing time with his family,” Evans said.