William and Martha Hunter
FRANKLINTON -- A group of people braved summer-like temperatures last Sunday afternoon to come together in downtown Franklinton and pay tribute to a woman who has done so much for her community, her church and, especially for local children.
Mrs. Martha Hunter was presented the Elizabeth May Service Award during a brief ceremony in front of the Franklinton Middle School, a presentation that was witnessed by her friends, family, fellow church members and officials of the Willie B. Robertson and Kay Robertson Memorial Foundation, which presents the award.
Mrs. Hunter is perhaps best known for creating and operating the Helping Hands Summer Camp in Franklinton, a three-week camp for local children ages 5 to 18, noted Erin May, the granddaughter of the late Elizabeth May and the official presenter on Sunday.
"This award is presented to someone who has provided similar selfless service to the Franklin County Community as Elizabeth May did," Erin May said. "Elizabeth May spent a lifetime in service to others and the recipient of this award represents a person that shares and lives the ideals of commitment to service and humanity that Elizabeth showed throughout her life," Erin May said.
She noted that Mrs. Hunter spent 30 years as a Franklin County Schools employee, and that's where her service to the community and children began, May said.
"That accomplishment is enough to deem her a dedicated citizen, but like each recipient of this award, she didn't stop there.
"After retirement, Mrs. Hunter began the summer camp in her hometown to provide children with an outlet during their time away from school.
"From recreational activities to hot meals and even goody-bags for the children, Mrs. Hunter made sure these children were cared for and given an opportunity to enjoy the simplicities of childhood," May said during the presentation.
"Aside from her service to the children, she gave parents the assurance of knowing their children were in her watchful care and less likely to be led astray.
"The summer camp coordination was not an easy task, but Martha pressed on," May told the audience. "Working tirelessly year-round, she utilized the donations from local businesses and non-profit organizations as well as her own funds to put on this program."
Reading from the nomination form, May said the person nominating Mrs. Hunter noted that she "didn't have to extend her loyalty to her community with her summer camp. She had retired and could have thrown up both hands and said, 'I'm done!' but instead she decided to do more, her way."
Mrs. Hunter also volunteers with the Community Garden Center at the Senior Center, acquires grants for Christmas programs for needy families and other activities, Erin May noted during the ceremony.
"By speaking with town commissioners from summer camp program partners to family and friends, I believe I could write a book on how wonderful Mrs. Hunter is for this community," May said.
"It is evident that her selfless service and dedication to improving small town community involvement in the lives of our youth speaks for itself and her actions are more evidence than words could ever be," May continued.
"Thank you for all your service and your dedication to the citizens of Franklin County; you are one of the people who makes Franklin County the best place to live," May said as she presented Mrs. Hunter with a large silver award.
At the ceremony, several members of Mrs. Hunter's family spoke to the audience, including her brother John Perry.
"She has a spirit like you'd never believe," he said. "If she says she is going to do something, give her some time and she'll get the job done."
Perry recalled the time when Mrs. Hunter began thinking about creating the summer camp and was questioned about where all the food, materials, volunteers and other necessities would come from.
"She said, 'God will provide what we need,'" her brother recalled -- and the camp became a reality.
"She has done a wonderful job with that camp," he recalled.
Fannie Allen, a sister of Mrs. Hunter, said that Mrs. Hunter constantly reminds her siblings that she is the older sister -- and now is the unofficial "mother" of the family since their own mother has passed on.
"She is a pillar of the community who has given her talent, time and her prayers to Franklinton," Allen said.
A sister-in-law, Anita Moore, noted that Mrs. Hunter has been an "inspiration to me. She is always positive, a true leader."
She noted that the summer camp has "meant a lot to Mrs. Hunter, adding that she managed to get a governor, doctor and pro ball players to visit the camp to inspire the children.
"That lets kids know what is involved in creating careers," she said.
Mrs. Hunter has always been positive. "She is a jewel to her community, to her church and to her family," Moore said.
As she accepted the award, Mrs. Hunter was quick to say that the honors were not hers alone. "Praise goes to God and to all the volunteers who didn't get a dime working with the summer camp.
"We all worked hard. It was hard, hard work," she said.
"But God told me to do it," she said. The honors should go to the volunteers and to God."
Mrs. Hunter also thanked her husband, William, for his help and patience with her projects, even when she used some of his money to further her goals.
But, first and always, she was quick to give the credit to God for her successes -- and for the inspiration and courage to tackle such complex, difficult projects and make them happen successfully.
Last year's Elizabeth May Service Award winner, Dr. Peggy McGhee, attended the ceremony and said of Mrs. Hunter, "She's wonderful."
"It takes special people" to make such good things happen in a community, Dr. McGhee said.
"Martha, we love you for what you've done."
About the award
The Elizabeth May Service Award was created in the name of a woman who unselfishly served the community for many years in a variety of capacities.
It was created by a foundation that also honors the memory of two other local people, Kay Foy (Culbertson) Robertson who died June 6, 2011, as the result of an equestrian accident, and the late local businessman Willie Briggs Robertson.
Named for Mrs. Elizabeth May, who died in January of 2016, the award is set up to pay tribute to the lives of all three individuals.
The lady for whom the award is named, Mrs. Elizabeth W. May, spent a lifetime in service to others. She worked as a nurse. She was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church and was actively involved in church and community service. She was an active and long-time member of the Person Place Society, (providing the recipe for the Person Place Society annual Brunswick Stew fundraiser as well as working tirelessly on the project), the Ingleside Community Club, and the Ingleside Lioness Club.
She organized the community to make "Ugly Quilts" for the homeless.
She was twice awarded a state Volunteer of the Year award by a North Carolina governor.
"She was a really, really humble woman who loved doing things for the community," recalls her granddaughter, Erin May. "She always tried to make the community a better place but she didn't let people know about what she was doing. Her attitude was that 'I need to do what the Lord wants me to do'," Erin May said.
The award consists of an engraved silver bowl. It will be presented in each year that a nomination is made that, in the opinion of the Awards Committee, represents a person most sharing and living the ideals of commitment to service and humanity that Elizabeth May showed throughout her life. The spokesperson for the foundation explained that the award was developed to honor persons who are making significant contributions to the Franklin County community through their time, actions, talents, and dedication (outside of any volunteer work done for their employer). The honoree selected will serve as a role model for compassion, service, and efforts to make Franklin County and the world a better place.
Nominations for the award are accepted every spring.