Deborah Milne O’Brien (center) holds DeWitt Clinton Award she received at the Union Star Lodge Annual Gala on Saturday evening, March 23, 2024. With her from left to right are her husband Ed O’Brien, Mike Neenan, Deb, Jacob Vogt, Rich Kahl, Worshiper Master of Union Star Lodge and Right Worship Willam J. Edwards, District Deputy of the Monroe District, representing the Grand Lodge of New York State Masons. Both Neenan and Vogt are two of the original founder board members of The Kade Project. Sentinel Photo

Honeoye Falls witnessed a very rare event this past weekend. In the four years William J. Edwards has served as District Deputy Grand Master for the Monroe Masonic District, he has never had the pleasure of presenting the DeWitt Clinton Award to a worthy community volunteer. There are over 40,000 Masons in New York State in more than 545 Lodges.

Partygoers were treated to a fabulous time in the historic Masonic Temple at 3 North Main Street in Honeoye Falls. The building, almost two centuries old, began as a hotel, so it has a history of hosting gala affairs.

“We absolutely love it,” said Mary Therese Friel. “This is an amazing facility. It’s phenomenal. We’re here for Deb. We absolutely adore her.”

Edwards was present at the 2nd Annual Union Star Gala Saturday evening, March 23, 2024, to present Deborah Milne O’Brien with the Grand Lodge of New York’s prestigious DeWitt Clinton Award.

The DeWitt Clinton Award recognizes exceptional Voluntary community service that exemplifies concern for the well-being of the community. It is awarded to non–Masonic organizations or individuals who assist in freeing the community from concern affecting the safety and/or welfare of its citizens. The award is named in honor of DeWitt Clinton, one of 20 Governors of New York State who have been Masons. Clinton also served as Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York.

“When you’re a leader in a community, it’s not about ‘me,’ it becomes ‘we’ and what we can do for others,” said Edwards. “Union Star Lodge has been central to the community. Deb has made exceptional contributions to this community and around the world. When I received the nomination and read through all Deb has done, her activities immediately struck me as the definition of the DeWitt Clinton Award. She has made exceptional contributions to this community and around the world.”

After announcing Deb was the recipient of the DeWitt Clinton Award certificate, and following a sustained applause by the nearly sixty people attending the event, Edwards turned to O’Brien. He told her, “The loss of your son I can’t imagine, having two children of my own, it brings tears to my eyes. But to take that and make that into something that impacts the lives of others is truly tremendous. It’s so easy to lose ourself in grief, to forget about others and focus on ourself, rightfully so. But you were able to overcome that, and then to continue day-in and day-out your influence to make a positive difference in the world.”

Deb and Ed O’Brien’s son Kade lost his life in a tragic motorcycle accident on Clover Street in 2011. After a suitable period of grief, Deb decided to build a legacy for Kade that would carry on his destiny. She wasn’t asked to do this. Upon substantial reflection, this project called to her heart. She would dedicate her free time to what would eventually be called “The Kade Project.”

As a small town, this community is often the first to be cut by larger charities. Deb wanted to help those under the radar. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, so she enlisted the help of other civic associations, including Union Star Lodge No. 320, F&AM. These groups had regular ongoing fundraisers and, one-by-one, she explained the goals of TKP. They happily agreed to help, as TKP was one of the few charities that kept the money in the community.

Jacob Vogt spoke at the event on behalf of The Kade Project as one of its founding members to recognize Deb’s vision and guidance. He mentioned how The Kade Project brought together many members of the community to help others in many ways. Over 5,000 care packages have been sent out throughout the world. Vogt added, “The Kade Project also assisted financially and physically with Lima’s outdoor classroom and also through Noah’s Corner at Mendon Public Library and, of course, our involvement in bringing the national Toys-for-Tots program to the Honeoye Falls area for twelve years.”

Unfortunately, TKP, as it has become known to many, will soon be no more. “After deep and much thought,” said Vogt, “we have decided to shut down The Kade Project moving forward at the close of this year. Kade has made his mark on Honeoye Falls, and we are satisfied with how it has progressed.” Vogt expressed a desire that “somebody else move forward with that.”

Edwards then formally presented Deb with a certificate signifying the DeWitt Clinton Award and offered her the following remarks: “It is so well deserved and the contributions you have made are incredible. When I was reading through what you have accomplished, it was an inspiration because what you’ve been able to do to make a positive difference in the lives of others is exemplary. You are this award.”
Deb then had her husband Ed read her prepared remarks, which we print in full here:

“I am grateful to have been selected for the Dewitt-Clinton Award. Thank you all so much for being here to share on this occasion. I am so honored to have my work recognized in this way by the Masonic Union-Star Lodge #320 Honeoye Falls & the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of the State of New York! Many years went into The Kade Project, and it means so much to me that the work that I am so passionate about also resonates with others. This accomplishment is not something that I did alone, and many others deserve to share in this award. I would like to thank the past and present board members of the Kade Project and its supporters. Last but not least, thank you to the Freemasons of the State of New York at the Grand Lodge for offering recognition to The Kade Project and me. I hope that this recognition of my work can serve as an inspiration to others. Remember – if my work can make a difference, so can yours.”

With that, Rich Kahl, who currently holds the position of Master of Union Star Lodge, invited the many attendees of the Gala to enjoy dancing, eating, and fine fellowship as they submitted their bids for the silent auction charitable fundraiser that represents the keystone of the event.

©2024 Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel

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