A 'Sweet' tribute at Boone Mall
by Sherrie Norris
Sonny Sweet, a retired U.S. Army colonel, was recognized for a lifetime of service to his country and community, which includes, most recently, the MOAA and the local chapter of the American Red Cross.
Because of declining health in recent months due to stage 4 lung cancer, Sweet's active participation has decreased, but his presence at Monday's ceremony reminded everyone in attendance that his influence will long be remembered.
Sweet said he was overwhelmed with the honors and expressed his appreciation for the procession of accolades that were poured out on his behalf on Monday.
Attending the patriotic service were several dozen veterans who were recognized by their branches of service.
They were accompanied by family members and those of fallen heroes, friends and other community representatives, including congressional, state and local elected officials and various military-related organizations.
"We wanted this year's event to be more upbeat than some of those in the past," said George Brudzinksi, local MOAA president. " Memorial Day is traditionally held to honor our service men and women -- those who have sacrificed their lives, those who have served and those still serving -- all for the freedoms we have today. We have chosen to honor someone who has made such a difference in our lives and community, while at the same time, to remember those who have made great sacrifices."
Monday's event was the appropriate time to pay tribute to Sweet, Brudzinski said, on behalf of the MOAA, which Sweet helped organize a decade ago.
"He was also the one who started this Memorial Day Ceremony at the mall.
Without his guidance and leadership in the organization -- like with all the other organizations represented here today -- we would not have accomplished the success that is displayed," Brudzinski said. "Sonny has never been publicly honored for all that he has done for his country and his community. It's not something he ever wanted, but it's something he more than deserves."
In addition to receiving the National MOAA's Presidential Award for his military and community service, Sweet was also recognized with the 2014 Ben Suttle Community Service and Volunteerism Award. Presented on behalf of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, president and CEO Dan Meyer said he could think of no one who deserves the award more so than does Sweet.
Meyer challenged Sweet to look around at the crowd in attendance. "These are the folks who have benefitted from your service through the American Red Cross, the MOAA, your leadership in the Kiwanis Club of Boone and your creative initiation of Blood, Sweat and Gears, which contributes to local nonprofit human services organizations and many more places of voluntary service," Meyer said.
Sweet was also honored by the Kiwanis Club of Boone. A $1,250 donation in his name, announced by Susan Jones, local club president, will go to the Zeller Eliminate Project to help eradicate maternal neo-natal tetanus from the world.
Representing the local Blue Ridge Chapter of the American Red Cross, board chairman Jim Street presented Sweet with an award for his longtime role as director, and shared examples of how Sweet's enthusiasm for community service carried over from one nonprofit organization to another.
"It was never about Sonny," Street said. "He knew how to get people on board, he knew how to work with and care for volunteers and to persuade people to service."
Andy Ball, mayor of Boone, also spoke of Sweet's selfless contributions to the town, in good times as well as those in which crisis was present through fires and other emergency situations.
Scott Nelson, board chairman for BSG Inc., more commonly known as Blood, Sweat and Gears, said that he was a better man, and the community as a whole was a better place, because of Sweet's influence.
Nelson announced that the inaugural Sonny Sweet Honorary Grant between $20,000 and $30,000 will be awarded on June 28 to an organization or organizations that serve underprivileged children, per Sweet's request.
Born Worth Alfred Sweet Jr., Sweet was drafted during the Berlin Crisis in 1961. He served his country during five armed conflicts before retiring in 1992 as a highly decorated colonel after 30 years and 10 months of service. He served as director of the local Red Cross office for 15 years.
Bricca Sweet, Sonny's wife, is also a retired lieutenant colonel, and their oldest son, Jon, is a colonel in the Army's Military Intelligence Corps, serving in Germany since July 2012.
The Sweets were joined at the ceremony by two of their four children, Brianna and Brandt.
The Watauga High School Marine Corps JROTC cadets provided the honor guard on Monday, as the Watauga Community Band presented a selection of patriotic music before, during and following the ceremony.
The invocation was given by Seth Norris, chaplain for the High Country MOAA and pastor of Perkinsville Baptist Church.
A special program was presented by Generation eXcellent, a faith-based nondenominational homeschool group from Ashe County, which depicted various scenes of American history through skits and songs.
Booths were set up around the mall representing various military organizations from the area, including Blue Star Mothers of the High Country, the American Legion, the National Guard and Daughters of the American Revolution.
Correction: Two stories, "A 'Sweet' tribute at Boone Mall' (May 27) and "Getting the
job done with Sonny Sweet" (June 1) incorrectly listed the position of
Jim Street. Street is a board member of the Blue Ridge Chapter of the
American Red Cross.