Effingham Daily News
Loretta Koester's nearly 40-year dedication to the pro-life movement almost kept her from being honored for her work as Effingham Daily News Citizen of the Year during the annual Effingham County Chamber of Commerce Banquet Saturday.
Because the recipient is not revealed until the banquet, friends and family were faced with the challenge of getting Koester to attend the event on the eve of one of the biggest Right to Life fundraisers, a pro-life organization she has been an integral part of since its inception in Effingham County.
In order to persuade Koester to attend, those close to her told her a good friend, Dr. Henry Poterucha, had won the award.
"I must have told 50 people he was getting the honor," said Koester.
Even granddaughter Michaela Vahling found it difficult to keep a secret.
"She told us Poterucha got it, and I went to the bathroom and started cracking up. I didn't come out until I was sure I could keep a straight face," she admitted.
But in the days leading up to the event, Koester felt it would be nearly impossible to attend the late evening function after tireless hours setting up for the annual Right to Life breakfast. Koester may not have attended the banquet if not for being told she won the award the morning of the event.
"I about fell over," she said upon hearing the news.
It's an award Koester says she doesn't deserve but attributes to those who share her cause.
"I couldn't do anything without the people helping me. It's all of us working together. It takes everyone. We couldn't have a breakfast or rummage sale without you," she said to Chamber members and guests at the Thelma Keller Convention Center.
Koester said her desire to protect the unborn was instilled by her father.
"Ever since I was a little girl, my father always taught us it was wrong to harm another human being let alone a helpless one," she said. "I had to do something."
That something led her to help start the local Right to Life organization and years later the Family Life Center dedicated to helping those faced with unplanned pregnancies. In addition, she has devoted most of her time to organizing monthly prayer vigils, events and trips.
Although Koester was appreciative of the honor, she wasn't about to let the long day stop her from resuming her passion the next morning.
"I plan to be up at 5 a.m. and be there tomorrow," she said of the breakfast.
Even Siemer Milling CEO Rick Siemer, who along with Heartland Dental, accepted the chamber's Excellence in Business awards during the banquet, found Koester's dedication admirable.
"Loretta is a wonderful person who devoted a good part of her adult life for a cause. I have admiration for something that difficult, but needs to be done," he said.
Past recipients of Effingham Daily News Citizen of the Year are Michael Fortner, 1987; Ginnie Swanson, 1988; Norbert “Bud” Althoff, 1989; Ron Meek, 1990; Lowell Samuel, 1991; Maxine Williams, 1992; Katie Kroeger, 1993; Consuello Luttrell, 1994; Thelma Keller, 1995; Sister Beth Marie Ruder, 1996; the Rev. Lawrence Beebe, 1997; John Schimmelpfenning, 1998; Frank Kabbes, 1999; Newlin Martin, 2000; Carl Koerner Jr., 2001; Joseph McNaughton, 2002; Delbert Mundt, 2003; Jerry Moon, 2004; Dr. David Bristow, 2005; Jack Thies, 2006; Fran Schultz, 2007; Jim McDaniel, 2008; Greg Sapp, 2009; Richard “Rick” Siemer, 2010 and Monsignor Leo Enlow, 2011; Don Niehart, 2012.
For a full story on Koester and the other nominees, see Friday's print edition of the Daily News.
Cathy Thoele can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 126 or email@example.com.