Robert Priestner to Receive Don James Award
Meshoppen resident Robert Priestner was recently selected as the second recipient of the prestigious Don James Lighthouse of Service Award, which will be presented during Memorial Day services at the Black Walnut American Legion Post 510 on May 30, beginning at 11 a.m.
The award was established two years ago by the legion post to recognize an individual who, like Don James, provides exemplary service and love to their country, community, faith and family.
The award’s first recipient was Dean Balcomb of Stevensville who received it last year at Memorial Day services at Post 510.
Don James served in the U.S. Navy in the 1950’s and faithfully participated with local veterans in honoring his country and deceased comrades.
James’s community service included his role as volunteer lay chaplain at Tyler Memorial Hospital, participating in events like Relay for Life and, along with his wife, Gail, providing countless programs of patriotic and faith-based music. His faith was deeply rooted in the Meshoppen United Methodist Church in many ways, including serving as lay leader for many years. His family seemed to be the whole community. He touched so many people that his memorial service overflowed with persons returning their love. Don and Gail were often referred to as “rocks of integrity.”
Don James passed away on Aug. 8, 2009 after a long battle with cancer. He was 74.
To be considered for the award, a person must have served in the armed forces, lived in and widely served the community for a very long period of years.
A committee composed of representatives of Post 510 and the community selected Priestner from a number of nominations.
Priestner considers himself a “regular guy that putters around.” He’s a modest man that doesn’t feel he does or has done anything special; instead, he feels his contributions to society are “what life is all about.” Priestner repeatedly praised all those who also gave their time to the various projects he was involved in. He was very appreciative of them and mentioned his gratitude for his brother, Dick.
A long-time friend of Don James, Priestner worked beside him in many community projects, which included the building of the Meshoppen Sunday School and re-wiring done at the church parsonage. Priestner and his wife shared many memories and various details of the extent of the projects they were involved in. He pays credit to all the volunteers who gave their time to this project and commended his brother on the help he has given on more than one project. He feels there are so many people, that like himself, give their time and talent to people in need and so many never get recognized. It was as though he was sharing this award with them as he spoke with admiration about all the people he’s donated his time with in the past.
Other projects Priestner has given time to include: leading a Youth Group, coaching Squidget baseball and 4-H groups; he’s given his time and knowledge installing emergency lighting at the church, helping with chicken barbecues, painting the church, shoveling, mowing and helping out with the youth building on the Sherwood farm; working at Endless Mountain Nature Center where he spent countless hours clearing, color coding and maintaining miles of trails; clearing trees at Camp Lackawanna and volunteering at the festivals and helped with construction needs at the Meshoppen Fire Company.
Priestner has spent countless hours helping out friends and neighbors by transporting those that are sick to their treatments, helping out a blind friend, getting firewood to those in need and regularly visiting friends in nursing homes. He is willing and ready to help anyone in need and to share his talent to help out with any electrical/plumbing needs. His donations of his time and talent are too many to mention.
Robert Priestner grew up in Midland Park, NJ. He enjoyed a full house growing up with seven brothers and seven sisters. He was raised in a Catholic home and learned from a young age about hard work and contributing yourself and time to those less fortunate. At around 14 years of age, he volunteered with the Red Cross handing out packets to the needy. When given a packet for his own family, he felt bad about it, he didn’t feel he needed it as much as others did, despite the fact that his large family worked hard for their living and was probably just as much in need of it as those he handed packets to. He just never saw it that way at the time, nor did he ever feel deprived growing up.
At the same time, Priestner also began working after school and in the summer. He mowed 10 lawns, many with a reel type push mower. At the age of 19, he enlisted in the Marines. He served his country from 1960 to 1963. His highest rank in the Marines was an E4. He was stationed in Parris Island, Camp Lejeune and was sent overseas to Okinawa, Japan, the Philippines and was in Japan during the Cuban missile crisis. He also had the privilege of visiting his uncle (a priest) while stationed in the Philippines.
Priestner was not the only one in his family to be a part of the military. He had a sister who served in the Navy, two brothers in the Marine Corps, two brothers in the Army and one brother in the National Guard.
He enjoyed his experience in the Marines and feels that everyone should spend time in the military as it helps one appreciate what we have. He feels, after his experience serving his country abroad, that many of us take for granted what we have here in America; we do not realize how fortunate we are and how much we have. He feels “wealthy and grateful” for what he has after being to so many different countries who have so much less than we do here in America. He saw various unfavorable living conditions that stay with him to this day.
Once discharged from the Marines, Priestner returned to New Jersey and eventually met his wife, Alida. They were married on July 1, 1967 and a year later moved to Pennsylvania. He noted that he had always wanted to live in PA. He even had it written in his high school yearbook that he would reside here. Priestner began working at Charmin (now known as P&G) and eventually retired from this job as an electrician.
The Priestners have two sons, David and Bruce. They currently enjoy spending time with their grandchildren, Doug and Jimmy.