By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario - Denise Samson, a retired educator and tireless volunteer, was honoured with the title of Citizen of the Year for her work with numerous service clubs and the physically challenged.
© Adam Brazeau
Denise Samson accepting the title of Cornwall's 2013 Citizen of the Year.
The coveted accolade was handed out at the Cornwall and Area Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards on Saturday at a lavishly decorated disco-themed banquet in the salons of the civic complex.
Before the ceremony started, a moment of silence was shared in memoriam of Raymond Peters, in light of his recent passing. He was remembered for his many contributions to the city.
Cornwallâs 2013 Citizen of the Year was more than surprised when she accepted the honour at the 26th annual awards banquet. As the announcement was made, her family, including several grandchildren with flowers, rushed the stage. Samson graciously thanked the crowd of over 300 people for the unexpected recognition.
âIt was just magical â an overwhelming, and humbling experience,â said Samson, 69.
She started her teaching career in Cornwall in 1964. Samson worked with various school committees, but with a new family there wasnât time to dabble in philanthropy.
âAt first I regretted not being able to volunteer. But as I look past on my life, I really did volunteer all through my teaching years,â she said.
Samson organized trips on the weekends, after school activities, and kept students involved with the Winter Olympics. During the Montreal Expo 67, she took a different student every weekend to the Worldâs Fair and covered all costs.
When it came to local youth, even out-of-towners, Samson had no qualms with lodging them, providing an allowance, and access to her vehicle.
âSo, when I retired and had all this time to myself I said, âOkay. Nowâs the time, letâs get to work,ââ she said.
And thatâs exactly what Samson did.
She joined Meals on Wheels and began volunteering in palliative care. For 16 years, she has delivered meals with the same partner. But when she met Sue Tarle, another Cornwall Citizen of the Year, a new chapter in her altruistic story began.
Tarle is the founder of the Cornwall Handi-Social Club, which operates in conjunction with the Carefor Befriending Program, a volunteer-driven group providing physically disabled adults with more opportunities to socialize and be active.
The club started as a one-on-one concept. But Samson quickly noticed that physically challenged adults were extremely isolated.
âWhen their peers go off to college and university, theyâre left in their house with nothing to do,â she said. âAnd while those 55 and over can belong to the Senior Citizenâs Club, from 20 to 55 there is nothing for them.â
Samsonâs unwavering dedication to their happiness led to weekly meetings, bowling, camping, theatre, Cirque du Soleil, karaoke, dancing, and the list goes on.
Despite all her efforts, the newest Citizen of the Year doesnât see her actions as anything extraordinary.
âThis award is beyond my wildest dream. I never thought that this would come to me,â she admitted. âIâm not involved in business or operate on a national stage. Iâm just a hometown body, not looking for recognition. Iâm happy to be doing something to make life better for others.â