King observance confers honors on Humanitarian Award recipients

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Youth dancers, Purpose II Praise, perform during the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration Sunday afternoon at Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School.


Maderans Wilhelmenia Fryer and Bill Coate were presented Sunday with Humanitarian Awards by the Martin Luther King, Jr., Local Host Committee at a ceremony at Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School.

The event marked the observance of the 50th year since King’s death by an assassin’s bullet as King stood on the balcony of a second-story motel room in Memphis, Tennessee on April 5, 1968. He was in that city to support a strike by sanitation workers.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day was established by Congress, and the bill was signed by President Reagan on Nov. 2, 1983, to observe King’s birthday on the third Monday in January, establishing it as a federal holiday.

King’s actual birthday is Jan. 15, 1929, although it is observed on whatever day the third Monday in January falls.

The Local Host Committee’s observance traditionally falls on the Sunday before the actual holiday.

The local observance includes honoring local individuals whom the host committee feels have shown themselves to be examples of King’s ideals.

Fryer was introduced by Ruth Henderson, who praised Fryer as a humble woman widely respected for the strength of her character and her efforts to help others.

A longtime waitress at the Fruit Basket, she became well known for the quality of the service she provided.

Henderson said Fryer was a longtime Cub Scout den mother, president, vice president and longtime member of the South East Garden Club, and would often cook meals for the sick, the elderly and the disadvantaged.

She gives of her own resources to prepare food for fund-raisers to raise money for high school scholarships and for church building improvements.

Fryer thanked Henderson for introducing her and spoke briefly of her love for community and her admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Coate was introduced by Leon Bass, an educator and past recipient of the Humanitarian Award, and a former student of Coate.

Bass pointed out that Coate had spent 36 years teaching in public schools, and also was a faculty member at National University’s Fresno campus.

A historian, Coate also was host for more than a decade of twice-weekly “Twist in Time” programs on KMPH Fox 26 in Fresno” and writes twice-weekly columns for The Madera Tribune.

He founded the Madera Method Wagon Train, which gives students real-life learning experiences by taking them on trips that replicate pioneer journeys.

He was named National History Teacher of the Year by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was given the Disney American Teacher Award.

He is the author of several history books which have been published nationally.

“He made it his mission to bring out the best in children, regardless of race, creed, color, nationality, religious background, etc.,” Bass said of Coate, calling him “a demonstration of what the Dr. Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award is all about.”

Keynote speaker was former Madera County resident, Capt. Janie Kirvin of the U.S. Public Health Services, where she has been director of nursing and credentialing for the Bureau of Prisons.

A resident of Forth Worth, Texas, she told of how following the principles of King helped her achieve her dream to become a success both through her profession and Life Change Christian Church where her her husband is pastor and she is first lady.

Madera Tribune columnist and sociology textbook author Dr. James Glynn spoke of the 50-year legacy left by King.

The choirs of Desmond, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas Jefferson middle schools provided music, and youth dancers performed one number. Choir teacher Kirstyn Olsen led the choirs and the audience of some 200 in singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Featured student speakers, who received standing ovations, included Gizelle Castillo, a John Adams School 6th grader, and Travis Watson. Both spoke on applying King’s principles of love in following their dreams.