ELYRIA — Six well-known champions of Lorain County who have spent decades collectively working to improve health care, keeping the community safe and advocating for children and animals are this year’s Difference Makers and will be lauded Feb. 17 at the 14th annual Difference Makers Gala and Excellence in Leadership Awards ceremony at Lorain County Community College.
Each year, Leadership Lorain County sets out to find and honor the exceptional leaders in the county, those who have put their skills to work to help residents. This year, the organization received more than 32 nominations and a selection committee made up of three Lorain County community leaders and three LLC Board members went through the arduous process of selecting the honors.
The year’s highest honor, the Eric Nord Award for Excellence in Leadership, will go to Edwin Oley, president and CEO of Mercy Regional Medical Center. Oley, who started out as a pharmacist, has a career spanning nearly 40 years. Highlights include construction of Mercy Cancer Center, bringing Oberlin hospital back from the brink of closure and into the Mercy fold and forging relationships with the Lorain County Metro Parks to create the Mercy Health and Recreation Center, as well as with University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital to improve pediatric care in Mercy’s emergency rooms.
Greg Willey, executive director of Friendship Animal Protective League, will be honored with the Emerald Award for Inspirational Leadership. This award is given to emerging leaders in the county.
Willey graduated with a degree in communications from Cleveland State University in 2001. Unable to find a job in the field and after applying for dozens of jobs, he accepted a job with the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter as the volunteer coordinator.
His wife, Kristina, told him to apply for the position because it was on Willey Avenue and she felt that was a sign. Willey didn’t think he was qualified. He is allergic to animals.
But with the help of antihistamines, Willey spent eight years building very successful volunteer and adoption programs. He came to Lorain County in 2009 to revamp the Friendship APL. It now shelters and finds homes for thousands of animals a year, has an extensive volunteer program and runs trap, neuter and release programs in North Ridgeville and Elyria.
Three Excellence in Leadership Awards will be given to Patricia O’Brien, executive director of the Stocker Foundation, Lorain County Sheriff Phil Stammitti and Stephanie Wiersma, president and CEO of Lorain County Health and Dentistry.
O’Brien joined the Stocker Foundation in 1998 as the organization’s first program officer. Beth K. Stocker appointed her executive director in 2001 and she continues to lead the foundation and board.
Stammitti has been involved in police work for more than 41 years as a police officer, sheriff’s deputy and county jail administrator before being elected to office in November 2000. He has been re-elected three times and is serving his fourth term.
Wiersma started Lorain County Health and Dentistry in 2002 after decades of work in the nursing and mental health fields. Since October 2014, the health organization has served almost 18,000 unduplicated patients in more than 79,000 doctor and dentist visits and employs 90.
The honored organization for this year receiving the Excellence in Leadership Award for an organization is Blessing House, Lorain County’s only children’s crisis care center started by three women who saw the need for a place for children when families were experiencing difficulties.
Leadership Lorain County will celebrate this year’s award recipients at the annual Difference Makers Gala on Feb. 17 at the Spitzer Conference Center.