05/26/11 6:14pm

CARRIE ANN SALVI PHOTO | Laury Dowd, Lions Club president, presents the club’s Citizen of the Year award to Joe O’Brien.

Last Sunday at the Pridwin Hotel, Joe O’Brien received the acclamation of the community, as Citizen of the Year, at the 34th annual Lion’s Club Citizenship Award Dinner.

Dr. Frank Adipietro, the master of ceremonies, said, “I am proud to be associated with you,” after congratulating Mr. O’Brien and his wife Jane and daughter Susan on their 7,000 hours of combined volunteer service.

He described some of the ways the O’Briens are active in the community, helping senior citizens, such as picking up food and pharmacy items. Dr. Adipietro introduced Father Peter DeSanctis, who led the invocation and referred to Mr. O’Brien as “the example of a Catholic American gentleman.” Good friend Bob DeStefano, the first of many speakers that night, joked that “Joe is always putting a basket in front of me, and taking my money for something.” He congratulated the selection committee, “You made a wise choice,” he said, adding that he tried to get some “dirt” on Mr. O’Brien by asking his wife of 51 years, Jane, but all she could come up with was that he doesn’t always push in his chair. When he was finished speaking, Mr. DeStefano presented his friend with a picture he had carried in his wallet for years, in honor of their shared experience of each carrying pictures of both Doris Day and Roy Rogers.

When another longtime friend, Julius Manchise, took the microphone, he said that he “never heard him use a foul word, or say something negative about anyone.”

Town Supervisor James Dougherty spoke for many in the room. “You can just feel the vibes of affection and respect,” he said, describing Mr. O’Brien as “a true gentleman … his word is his bond. There are those who talk and don’t know, and those who know and don’t talk,” Mr Dougherty said, adding that Mr. O’Brien is often the authority in the room on most topics. The supervisor read the proclamation adopted on behalf of all of the residents of the town, citing Mr. O’Brien’s volunteer work at Eastern Long Island Hospital and with the Gift of Life Foundation and the Shelter Island Red Cross.

Mr. O’Brien, 74, has been a homeowner in the Silver Beach community since September 1996, after visiting for many years while living in Port Washington, and working in Manhattan for Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield. “We just fell in love with the Island,” he said, and after feeling the relaxation of taking the ferry each Friday, he knew that when his 25 years as an executive account manager were over, he wanted to live here full time. Mr. O’Brien got involved with the Meals on Wheels program, the Town’s Recreation Committee, the Town Planning Board, and is a 12-year volunteer at Eastern Long Island Hospital. In addition to starting the Junior Volunteer Program at the hospital, a program that has been going for eight years, he organizes the hospital’s golf outing each year. Mr. O’Brien is also on the board of the Suffolk County Red Cross, and volunteers for San Simeon on the Sound fundraisers as well as the St. Gabriel’s golf tournament.

Mr. O’Brien, a “retired runner,” who has run marathons and triathalons, is a volunteer for the Shelter Island 10K race. A seven-year golfing member of the Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, he still occasionally plays golf and tennis, when not walking or bike riding.

“You’ve got to be active,” Mr. O’Brien said. He joked that he told a friend who was new to the Island, “Don’t go to the post office and the bank on the same day, because the next day, there will be nothing to do.”

Laury Dowd, president of the Shelter Island Lions Club, which is celebrating its 60th year, presented the award to Mr. O’Brien, stating that she hopes he inspires all in attendance to volunteer more. Ed Romaine of the 1st Legislative District, proclaimed May 22 as Joseph O’Brien Day in Suffolk County, and remarked that Mr. O’Brien exemplifies the “people” that make Shelter Island so special, people that know and help each other, and spend their time, effort and energy to support and love their community.