Don and Mary Puhr might not see themselves as overly involved people, or ones of great service. But they appreciate that others might take some notice.
The lifelong residents of Sugar Creek are this year's Truman Heartland Community Foundation Citizen of the Year honorees from the city, as selected by Mayor Mike Larson. The Puhrs and other citizen of the year honorees will be recognized at the foundation's 23rd annual Toast to our Towns Gala on Sept. 29 at the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center.
“It's amazing the stuff that they both do, not just what Don does and not just what Mary does,” Larson said.
Perhaps most notably now, Don provides maintenance and lawn care for St. Cyril Catholic Church, and Mary handles secretarial and bookkeeping work for the parish, where they are longtime members.
Mary recalled that Larson asked them at a luncheon about accepting the award.
“'I'm not sure what it is, but I guess we'll accept it,'” Mary said she remembered thinking. “We don't do it for the recognition.”
“I didn't think I did that much,” Don said. “It's nice to know that people recognize it.”
“The only thing is, now I've got to go get a suit (for the gala),” he adds later in jest.
Sitting in the St. Cyril rectory, he and Mary talk about the recent complete modeling of the house across the street from the church. It had been donated to the church many years ago but eventually fell into some disrepair and developed mold issues, preventing priests from living there.
“We stripped it to the studs,” said Don, whose handiwork was not too limited in restoring the house.
Mary's family (maiden name O'Connell) was one of the parish's first families in the early 20th century after they moved from northwest Indiana to work in the refinery. Admittedly, they were a bit different in a town overwhelmingly populated by Slavic and Croatian people. Don grew up in area of Eastern Jackson County near the river that later was annexed by Sugar Creek.
“So, technically I'm a Creeker, too,” he said.
Don and Mary Puhr met at St. Mary's High School – part of the graduating class of 1966 – and have been married 48 years.
An Eagle Scout as a youth who then worked for 42 years with the Union Pacific Railroad before retiring, Don is a member of American Legion Post 21 and an alumnus of the United Transportation Union. Mary serves on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and Business and Civic Club in Sugar Creek and is a member of the Mary Paxton study class, Diocesan Council of Catholic Women and UTU Auxiliary. Together they participate in the United Eastern Democratic Association and National Association of Retired & Veteran Railway Employees.
Don's dedication keeps the church property looking well – especially for Sundays, he said – but his handiwork extends beyond the church, Larson said.
“There's whole sections of the community close to Don's house where he's taken his chainsaw and helped take down stuff,” Larson said. “He's just one of the guys that, you can him at the drop of a hat and he'll be there to help out.”
“Mary's the same way, in her own way, for the city,” he said, adding that she's serving on a committee to plan Sugar Creek's centennial celebration in 2020.
In 2012, the Puhrs received a declaration from then-Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder honoring Missouri seniors who exemplify service and citizenship by community volunteering.
Two years later, they received the Bishop Recognition Award from the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for their commitment and service within the Catholic diocese. Mary also has received an award for her service and contributions to St. Mary's High School.
Says Larson, “They're just a good couple that has Sugar Creek in their hearts and service at the top of their lists.”