BUCKHANNON – The Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce recognized two men dedicated to their community during their annual Awards Dinner Thursday.
Mayor Robbie Skinner emceed the annual dinner March 16, where members and businesses of the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce were recognized for their work in Upshur County.
Every year the chamber recognizes a Citizen of the Year, Businesswoman of the Year, Businessman of the Year, Business of the Year and Organization of the Year.
Captain Joey Baxa with the Buckhannon Fire Department was announced the Citizen of the Year.
“On Oct. 5, 2021, he came dangerously close to losing his life at the site of one of our City’s worst structure fire tragedies, happening at the corner of Main and Spring Streets. That day, everything changed for so many in this community, but especially for Captain Joey Baxa,” Skinner said.
Baxa had another life-endangering experience during a rescue involving a fully engulfed home on Pocahontas Street in late 2022.
“On an early Sunday morning, our fire department was paged to 172 Pocahontas Street for a fully engulfed structure fire with reported entrapment. To save the resident trapped inside, Joey removed his own breathing apparatus and put it on her as he carried her out of the burning home,” Skinner said. “Both were taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital. Joey was released on Tuesday, but the burn patient was then taken to the West Penn Burn Center in Pittsburgh. He saved her life, never considering he could’ve lost his … again.”
“Last year, he opened up in an emotional interview about that day, the post-traumatic stress it caused, and he still faces today,” Skinner said. “He was brutally honest, but he needed to be, and I am grateful for his sincere and thoughtful message. Mental struggles are serious. He’s not weak for sharing his. In fact, he is the strongest and toughest man I know.”
Skinner reflected on his friendship with Baxa and the importance of appreciating what first responders endure on a regular basis.
“You see, Joey and I do not just share a mayor-and-firefighter relationship; Joey and I are nothing short of best friends,” he said. “He and I have a passion for landscape photography, getting lost in the mountains, wading through creeks, and hiking to our state’s high peaks just to capture those perfect shots, but what’s far more important about those trips are our conversations – talking about everything: work, our community, family, women, life, and yes, mental struggles – and by the way, that includes both of us.”
“In-depth community service is hard,” Skinner continued. “It takes a significant toll on anyone who jumps in headfirst without asking what’s in it for me?’ Joey’s strength has helped me and others feel more secure about opening up as well. It’s okay to not be okay.”
Skinner recognized Baxa for what he is: a hero.
“Joey is a hero, and I love him as if he were my own brother,” he said. “[Joey] is tougher than nails, but would give you everything he had at the same time. I could not be prouder to write this from the heart and read you this tonight as we honor a truly incredible human being.”
City Recorder Randy Sanders was also recognized Thursday night, having been tapped as Businessman of the Year. Skinner explained Sanders had previously served on several boards in the 1980s, including that of the West Virginia Strawberry Festival.
“Following his experience with the West Virginia Strawberry Festival, in 1987, he moved to Southwestern Pennsylvania for a full-time position in the pageant industry, a career in which he still enjoys success, owning his own production and marketing company, Pageant Associates. He produces the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA state preliminary pageants under license from the Miss Universe Organization,” Skinner said. “He has served on the State Directors’ Advisory Council for The Miss Universe Organization; has literally traveled the world with the Miss Universe Organization; and has garnered many accolades and the highest awards through that organization.”
In 2018, Sanders returned to Buckhannon and began hosting pageants at the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
“In 2019, he applied and was appointed to fill the Buckhannon City Recorder’s position through May 2020 and was elected to continue to fill that position until May 2022 and was re-elected as City Recorder for the ’22-’26 term,” Skinner said.
In that role, Sanders has a seat at the table of Buckhannon City Council and on numerous city board. Skinner noted that Sanders is a voting member of Buckhannon City Council and the Stockert Youth & Community Center Board and as well the ex-officio secretary for the City of Buckhannon’s Consolidated Public Works Board; Sanitary Board; Water Board; and the Waste Collection Board.
“He is also a non-voting member and recording secretary for the Animal Care and Control Commission; the Fire Civil Service Commission; the Historic Landmarks Commission; the Housing Enforcement Board; the Planning Commission; the Police Civil Service Commission; the Television Cable Board; and the Zoning Board of Appeals.”
Skinner also highlighted Sanders’s work as the city’s information coordinator.
“He keeps Buckhannon and Upshur County up to date on current events, future events, and the latest breaking news regarding the City of Buckhannon via several media outlets,” Skinner said. “His position of City Recorder, by charter, considers him the Vice-Mayor for our City.”
“And I can tell you this, I don’t know what I would do without him,” Skinner continued. “He’s a great advisor, confidant, and most importantly, friend.”
Sanders was also the galvanizing force and a key contributor in persuading the World Association of Marching Show Bands to call Buckhannon home for their 2023 championship event.
“He is currently leading the way as the Chairperson of the World Association of Marching Show Bands 2023 Committee which will bring the world to Buckhannon, July 16-24, 2023,” Skinner said. “This is an undertaking that has required countless hours of fundraising, organizational meetings, security briefings, housing and meal consultations, and the list goes on!”
Stay tuned for future stories on the 2022 Business of the Year, Highland Landscaping, the 2022 Organization of the Year, Buckhannon Community Theatre and the Thursday night’s keynote speaker, Pam Farris, executive director of Leadership West Virginia.