The Venango Area Chamber of Commerce will host our Annual Awards Banquet on Wednesday, February 27, at Cross Creek Resort in Titusville. At this year’s event, we will recognize the Citizen of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Business of the Year, and Partner in Business of the Year.
The Outstanding Citizen of the Year award is given each year by the Chamber to an individual who consistently shows leadership through extensive and diverse participation in volunteerism and service to community.
Leah Gesing, the 2018 Citizen of the Year, has been a tireless volunteer in her neighborhood and in several organizations.
A President Township native, Leah graduated in 1972 from West Forest High School in Tionesta, worked in the food preparation department at Oil City Hospital and retired as “a lunch lady” in 2007 from Oil City High School.
“I was retired and I saw things happening in my neighborhood – drug activity and violence – and I wanted to help change that,” she said. “So some of us got together and formed the South Side Neighborhood Association in the summer of 2007.”
The organization’s first project was the creation of a neighborhood playground because “there was nothing in the East End for children,” said Gesing. In less than two years, the all-volunteer group had secured a vacant lot, raised funds, purchased equipment and installed a Laugh and Play playground.
“It was one of our greatest accomplishments because we got a playground but we also brought the community together,” she said. “We showed it was time to step up, pay attention to your neighborhood, bring people together and get stuff done.”
It was just the first installment in what Gesing describes as her personal agenda to “step up” to identify problems and find solutions in her home community.
The Oil City Main Street program drew Gesing’s attention and she volunteered for the Adopt-A-Block program, seasonal planting projects and more.
Noting Gesing’s “can do attitude” lends itself to successful projects, former county commissioner Bonnie Summers wrote that the award recipient was keenly involved in drug and alcohol prevention programs, the Safe House initiative, summer playground series and the county’s Land Bank project. Summers adds, “She does these many acts of kindness for us in this community because of her love and passion. Helping others and making our community strong and safe is the foundation of Leah Gesing’s life.”
Sonja Hawkins, former mayor of Oil City, credited Gesing with “making each participant feel personally valued” in the various city projects she tackled. There was a private side, too, as Gesing “quietly provided meals for shut-ins, visited those with needs and consistently helped many people who have felt alone,” noted Hawkins.
Jodi, Dave and Elicia Donze, owners of Best Printing, said they met Gesing when she was promoting the new neighborhood association. She has the knack of keeping volunteers energized over the long haul and could be counted on “to turn on the lights at the beginning of an event and turn them off at the end,” they wrote.
On the private side, Gesing was honored this fall by her church, the Crossing Free Methodist Church of Oil City, that held a “Leah, You Rock!” surprise party to honor her service that includes organizing meals for church events, working with contractors on building projects, helping with the church youth ministry and more.
Her service, too, has extended to the Pleasantville Family Camp, a Christian camp affiliated with the Free Methodist Conference, where she works on camp improvements and finds ways to “improve and grow the ministry.”
While Gesing leans back from the platitudes and insists they reflect “the work that a lot of us together do rather than just one person,” her husband Frank, a retired General Telephone Co. employee, is quick to argue the other side.
“She’s offered her services all her life, to her church and her community,” he said. “She has a lot of energy and she doesn’t waste it but instead makes it work for good things. And, it doesn’t take long to like her. She’s not in it for the glory.”
For Leah, life has a lot of lessons but a few are easy ones.
“I hate negativity and I just want to say to someone ‘get over yourself’. Just get out there and help someone or some project. I will tell you, it makes your heart happy to do things for someone. So, get involved and make it better. Start loving your city and enjoying it,” she said.
“I would hope all kids have their heart in helping their neighborhoods. We need them. All you have to do is reach out, step forward and help,” said Leah.
She and her husband, Frank, married in 1985 and have lived on Central Avenue for many years. The Gesing’s have two sons, Frank Jr. and Karl, and three grandchildren.
Leah will be recognized at the Chamber’s Annual Dinner on Wednesday, February 27, at Cross Creek Resort in Titusville, along with our Business of the Year, Matric Group, and Partner in Business of the Year, the Barrow-Civic Theatre. Learn more about the Annual Dinner here.
This article was published in the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce’s January 2019 VenangoWorks! Newsletter.