"Every single day there is a test and every single day you pass that test," Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini told the crowd. "You keep us safe. You keep us protected. You keep our water running. You keep our electricity on in our homes.
"You keep our streets clean and safe and you take care of all the residents in our community to make sure that they're getting the services that they so dearly desire. So on behalf of all the citizens and on behalf of myself, I just want to say, 'Thank you,' to everybody in this room who's in the profession of public service."
In 2000, the Public Servants Appreciation Luncheon was spearheaded by Parnick Jennings, who was then with Parnick Jennings Funeral Home and Cremation Services, as a way to recognize the service of government workers, attracting 200 diners to Dellinger Park for hamburgers and hot dogs. After the 2001 terrorist attack, he expanded his efforts, reaching out to the business community to host a larger offering.
"Nine years ago ... I was called into New York to assist a funeral home there that was really overwhelmed by the number of funerals they were having," Jennings said. "I recall having to go to Ground Zero and gather ashes for the families because their loved ones would never be seen again. I remember the sights, the smells. I can still see the jagged building, the front of it hanging sideways. I could see flags, American flags all around it. But what sticks with me more than anything is when I walked out there was some people that had been working there and this was now almost three weeks after 9/11. And as they walked out, six to eight to 10 people deep on the sides of the roads cheered for them -- cheered -- because of the sacrifice that they were making.
"Of course, at that time I think all hope had been given up that they would find any survivors, yet these men and women were still working. And I with my own eyes saw people turn around that I'm sure had worked 12, 18, 24 hours and turn around and went back to see what they could do. I hope we never have a tragedy here in our community. But I purposed in my heart on that day that I would not let a single year go by if it was in my power without letting you people out here know how much I appreciate what you do."
Now including all employees of Bartow County government and its surrounding city municipalities, the luncheon treated workers to a free meal, consisting of steak, baked potato, salad and dessert. In addition to serving as volunteers at the luncheon and donating items, businesses also provided as door prizes gift certificates, which were attached underneath several lucky diners' seats.
The program at noon included an invocation by The Church at Liberty Square Rev. Joe Edwards, music by Lee Castro with NorthPointe Church in Adairsville, presentation of colors and a 21-gun salute by the Bartow County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard, and the ringing of the box-alarm bell by the Cartersville Fire Department to honor the memory of employees who died during the past year.
"There are many ways to pay honor and respect to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice," Cartersville Fire Chief Scott Carter said. "These sacrifices are made each and every day while protecting the citizens of this great country and of our great community. For the fire service, the box alarm bells system would signal fire service companies on where they should be deployed to help citizens in need. Traditionally, the fire service bell signal of 5-5-5 would indicate that the fire company had to return home.
"Today, we grab onto that tradition with a signal of 5-5-5 to pay respect to all firefighters, law enforcement officers, EMTs and all public servants who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. While we are gathered here today, it is important for us to remember those who have gone on before us. This signal of going home is for every public servant who has paid the great sacrifice, arrived at their final destination and made it to their final home."
While the ceremonial 5-5-5 is a moving aspect of the luncheon, Carter said it is one of many memorable moments at the gathering.
"It is a very significant part of the day, however just the fact that we have community leaders that are willing to go through all the efforts that they have to provide such an appreciation luncheon is humbling," he said. "Just for the community to take a pause just to say, 'Thank you,' means more than you'll ever imagine. And while it's so unnecessary, they don't have to do this, we're just very appreciative that they're willing to take the time to do it."
Along with Carter and Santini, the program also featured addresses by Bart Shaw of ShawHankins; Bartow County Commissioner Clarence Brown; State Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen; former State Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville; and State Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville.
In addressing the crowd, Brown read a joint proclamation issued by the city of Cartersville and Bartow County designating Sept. 7, 2010, as Public Servants Appreciation Day. Prior to his speech, Brown voiced his appreciation of the business community for their continued support of public servants.
"I think it's just outstanding ... all the people that have put this together to recognize the public servants because they really are dedicated," Brown said. "Even in tough times, they hang in there. Some of our public servants, they put it on the line when they have to. I really appreciate them and I'm just glad that the people out there like [the event's sponsors, The Daily Tribune News], WBHF and ShawHankins ... think of them on a special day."