Aubrey Stewart Project honors Suellen Clay
By Ronda Wertman
KEYSER - “Every generation of children need someone behind them,” says Suellen Clay, and generations of youths and adults turned out recently to celebrate the difference she has made in their lives.
The Aubrey Stewart Project (ASP) recognized Clay with its first Lifetime Service Award celebrating a life a service to veterans and children.
To many in the audience she is “Mom,” while another generation calls her “Grandma Sue,” but all those gathered to celebrate her call her a friend.
“We are the Aubrey Stewart Project. We are here on this special night to honor a special lady,” said ASP scholarship recipient Philip Biser as he blessed the meal prepared by hosts Nancy Hanks Post 3518.
“The Aubrey Stewart Scholarship is different than any other scholarship; our winners come back to help the community,” said TJ Coleman ASP president. “Every chance I get, I want them to shine in front of others.”
This year’s winners, Biser, Molly Kephart and Shawn See, were seated all around Clay for the dinner as well as taking part in the program.
Scholarship winners help with highway clean-up, local programs and help to select future recipients, but the ASP is more including programs to help young boys and girls.
Dean Richardson explained that for the past 14 years the mission of the ASP has been “Unity through one race, the human race.”
“We are so much more than a scholarship and we are so proud to be,” said Richardson, noting that another part of the ASP is the reason for the program honoring Clay for 50 years of service to children and veterans.
“Grandma Sue has spread love,” he added, noting that “this word love describes the unconditional state of her heart.”
“Her passion and dedication could only come from above,” Richardson added. “Grandma Sue, may God be with you always. You have given so much.”
“It all began in Piedmont at Aubrey Robert Stewart Post 5957,” said Coleman of where Clay’s service to veterans and children began.
She would serve as women’s president and then progress through a variety of district and state offices.
“The only office she didn’t hold was state president,” he said.
Kathy Jenkins recalled how when someone asked Clay why she loved children so much, she replied, “I believe it’s my gift from God.”
Clay retired after 20 years working with the Department of Health and Human Resources, many of those dealing with neglected and abused children.
Jenkins said that Clay often times would have to go to the car and pray when she saw some of the things that she saw in her position.
When her beloved 5957 Aubrey Stewart Post closed, Clay continued her efforts with children and veterans with the auxiliary at Nancy Hanks Post 3518.
President of the Ladies Auxiliary Connie Hayes recognized Clay for her service, describing her as “a very important part of our auxiliary.”
“To her the veterans mean everything,” said Hays, noting that she was also recognized for her youth programs earning first place in the state.
Hays presented her with a certificate for 50 years with the VFW Auxiliary, her 50-year pin and a name tag.
Retired Keyser Police chief Tom Golden brought greetings from Sen. Joe Manchin, whose letter commended Clay for her efforts on behalf of others.
Manchin recalled Aubrey Stewart’s patriotism and service, noting that it “has become his legacy.”
“There’s no greater reward than to give back to the community you love. Thank you for representing the very best of West Virginians,” wrote Manchin.
Standing in for the many family and friends who couldn’t be there for Clay’s recognition, Chris Taylor told her on behalf of himself and others, “We love you very much. You don’t forget the bridge that brought you over.”
“You always gave. You never had to want for anything, the Lord provided. Thank you from all of us, your sons,” he continued, presenting her with a plaque. “You made us who we are today.”
With flowers in hand, Angelo Taylor also shared greetings from Clay’s “Backstreet boys.”
“You are very unlimited, nothing stops you,” he said.
Many of these young boys who are now grown men were pictured in the video presentations along with a new generation, including the Little Dudes and Princesses that Clay and others working through to change future lives.
There were photos of the VFW camps and Light a Bike, which are dear to her heart along with fishing trips and bowling with her kids
The final slide said, “Thank you Grandma Sue from all of us whose lives you’ve changed for generations.”
“I was the last VFW president, in name only,” said Bunny Twyman. “When I turned 18 it was a given that you joined the ladies auxiliary. I was the driver; we travelled all over the state of West Virginia. Sue is related to everybody and she knows everybody.”
“You have children smiling and having the opportunity to know what it’s like to have a grandma. I’ve seen the results, they are so happy,” Jenkins said.
Coleman took a moment to honor “Pap,” the late Russell Clay, before moving on to note many other of Suellen’s accomplishments sharing memories of Cody Litten donating hair for Locks of Love, the rides home she gave others, uniforms washed and feeding everyone who came to her house.
“With a heart so full it would have been a shame if she couldn’t express it,” he said, quoting Clay as saying “Somebody has got to help the kids.”
He shared the importance of recognizing those who make a difference during their lifetime.
“We need to do things while there is light. Don’t wait to say it after someone is gone. They can’t hear us,” he said.
In a presentation titled “Give her, her fruit,” quoting Proverbs 31:31, Coleman paid tribute to Clay, recalling the generations that she has taken by the hand and mentored and the children she has made smile and disciplined when needed.
“You can’t put a price on all the lives you’ve touched,” Coleman said. “We say thank you Suellen Clay for all you’ve done for so many for so many years.’
Clay could be seen wiping a tear as the whole room was on their feet in a standing ovation in her honor.
Finally getting a chance to speak, Clay said, “All I can say is thank you. I love all of you and I’m proud of all of you.”
Dave Boden, in closing the program, told Clay, “Congratulations. I know you’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Before the group adjourned, Pat Rogers offered praises to Coleman saying, “He’s fantastic in everything he does. He needs some praise himself,” as the crowd rose for the second standing ovation of the evening.