By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — St. Patrick’s Day arrived a few days early at the Greater Salem Boys & Girls Club.
Everything and everyone was decked out in green as approximately 350 people turned out yesterday for the 24th annual John P. Ganley St. Patrick’s Day Memorial Award Luncheon.
The men wore green jackets and ties and the women wore green bead necklaces as they sat down to a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner and listened to bagpipes and Irish songs sung by Daniel Clark, known as “The Singing Trooper.”
Spirits were high as the crowd, including Gov. Maggie Hassan and numerous top state and local officials, recognized two men who selflessly gave of themselves.
“Thank you all for being here and recognizing the legacy of John Ganley,” Hassan said.
The annual benefit honors the former Salem town manager and police chief for his dedication to Salem and its residents. Ganley died in 1989, and the Chief John P. Ganley Community Service Award is awarded each year to a local humanitarian.
This year, the winner is the Rev. David Yasenka, pastor at Triumphant Cross Lutheran Church. Yasenka was honored for his efforts over the past 30 years to assist the less fortunate, including the recent establishment of a network to help the homeless.
Hassan praised Yasenka for his work.
“The homeless find shelter, the hungry find food, those who mourn find comfort, the lonely find friendship,” she said. “Thank you, David, for all you have done.”
Yasenka was modest as he accepted the award from Ganley’s daughter, Kathleen Ganley Donovan.
“I’m totally humbled that you chose me,” Yasenka said. “I feel I need to thank at least one of you at every table.”
Yasenka thanked his wife, Karen, and their three children. He also thanked Jesus and those in the community who have helped and inspired him over the years.
“The people of Salem have seen a need, worked hard and met those needs,” he said.
Yasenka spoke of the work of Greater Family Promise and its network of about a dozen churches that began sheltering the homeless in February. There are approximately 155 homeless families in the Salem area, he said.
“We decided something had to be done about that,” Yasenka said.
While Yasenka spoke of his serious mission to help those in need, he also injected a little humor in his acceptance speech as he thanked Hassan, a Democrat, and Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem.
He said political labels don’t matter when the community is in need.
“It’s a nice way of saying I will take money from anyone for my causes,” Yasenka joked.
Morse, who was inducted along with Ann Lally into the club’s board of governors, praised Hassan for her support of his bill that would establish a casino at Rockingham Park.
“I want to thank the governor for supporting my community,” he said. “We’ve had a good week here in Salem and the state of New Hampshire.”
Other top state and local officials on hand included former Executive Councilor Ruth Griffin, Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing, former Senate President Arthur Klemm, Town Manager Keith Hickey, police Chief Paul Donovan, Judge John Korbey, Selectman Everett McBride and former House Speaker Donna Sytek and her husband, state Rep. John Sytek.
Letters of support were presented on behalf of U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-N.H.