By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
The Fairmont Arts and Humanities Commission recognized individuals who have impacted the hearts and minds of people across the community through their talents.
On Sunday afternoon, the commission held its 29th annual awards ceremony “Honoring Fairmont’s Finest” at Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont. Since 1984, the Fairmont Arts and Humanities Commission has been giving awards to local people in the arts, said Jack Hussey, member of the commission.
“We’re here to honor folks who ... affect our lives, who give us pleasure and insight and hopefulness and truth, and have given themselves entirely through their lives or at least a great part of their lives to the creative fire which lights the heart,” he said.
The members of the Fairmont Arts and Humanities Commission are appointed by the City of Fairmont, but they volunteer their time freely to try to promote the arts in Marion County, said Mandy Steele, president of the commission.
This year’s honorees represented a variety of arts. The six recipients were each presented with a trophy featuring a red glass cardinal and also a certificate of appreciation.
Commission member and past president Rhonda Lemke Sanford introduced 16-year-old Fairmont ballerina Sophie Silnicki, who was celebrated for her accomplishments in dance. Silnicki, who has received national recognition, is a student at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School and is also the assistant choreographer at Movements in Dance, the Fairmont dance studio her mother Stephanie Lopez owns.
Silnicki said her biggest goal is to become a professional ballerina with a ballet company, but she’s also interested in other forms of dance and would like to be a Radio City Rockette, appear in a broadway show and explore choreography. She thanked her family for their constant support and for encouraging her to follow her dreams.
“I am grateful and honored and will continue to work hard to make my community proud,” said Silnicki, who gave two dance performances during the event.
Robert Elliott was presented an award for his work as a blacksmith and tinsmith by commission member Susan Haley. Elliott’s love for blacksmithing and working with different metals began when he was a kid, and he has been practicing this art for 29 years. He is a juried Tamarack artist and has been commissioned to make various pieces, and displayed some of his work at the church on Sunday.
Elliott said he has met a lot of people throughout his life who have had an impact on him.
“I would like to thank them all for their support, their encouragement and their help,” he said.
He expressed his appreciation to the audience for taking the time to share this moment with him.
Commission member Judy Byers gave the introduction for Charlie Pitrolo, who received the award for music. Byers said Pitrolo has been making music go round in the community for years and has inspired and entertained countless audiences. In addition to being a lifelong musician, he is an educator and has worked for Marion County Schools since 1980.
Pitrolo, who sang two songs for the audience, said God gave him this gift, and many individuals helped develop it and played a part in directing, encouraging and coaching him.
“We’re given the gift,” he said. “God puts people in our lives to nurture that gift so that it can mature and glorify him. This is a very special occasion.”
Dora Grubb, who has served as president of the Marion County Historical Society for nine years, received the historian award from commission member Sue Montgomery. Grubb is fascinated with Marion County’s heritage and believes strongly in its preservation. She said many people don’t realize the influence that Fairmont and Marion County had in establishing West Virginia.
Grubb said she was very surprised and felt privileged to be awarded this honor. She commented that it’s so important for the community to learn about Marion County’s history and to promote it. She expressed her appreciation to all those who are involved in the Marion County Historical Society.
“You’re only as good as your volunteers and your workers,” Grubb said. “It’s volunteers that deserve this award, not I.”
Grubb set up a display on the Marion County Historical Society and Museum at the event.
Hussey introduced award winner Jeff Ingman, who was acknowledged for his achievements in theater. Hussey said Fairmont State University, where Ingman is an associate professor of theater, offers valuable arts to the community, and Ingman has great imagination and theatrical gifts.
Ingman, who is a teacher, actor and director, said he was humbled and grateful for the award. He thanked Fairmont State, community members and students for each helping him to become who he is today. He has directed more than 80 shows in his career, and has formed some great collaborations during that time.
“It is an honor to have been a part of the community and to have been a part of the family here,” he said.
Ingman encouraged people to go to the theater for the experience. His colleague in Fairmont State’s School of Fine Arts, Dr. Francene Kirk, performed a scene from the upcoming production of “The Original and True Rocket Boys,” which is directed by Troy Snyder and R.J. Nestor with performances scheduled for later this month.
The final award went to East Fairmont High School senior Laura Laratta, who was introduced by Peggy Edwards, a member of the commission, as “an artist of the future.” She was nominated by commission treasurer Mary Reed for the award because of her writing ability.
Laratta, who stays busy with various activities at her school, won third place in the statewide West Virginia Writer’s “Voice of the Mountains” competition and has also received other writing awards.
Laratta said she was proud to be recognized with this talented group of people. She commented that she applies hard work to everything she does.
“I found that writing allows me to express my feelings,” she said. “I will cherish this award and promise you that I will continue to earn your faith in me.”
Email Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.