The Jefferson Award is often called the Nobel Prize for public service. It's a nationwide program started 40 years ago in Washington, D.C.
Every third Friday on News 4 WOAI at 6 pm, we're proud to present this honor to someone who was nominated and specially chosen for going way above and beyond in helping others. Mark Cerda is this month's winner.
"He just went to sleep one night and didn't wake up."
Mark Cerda is remembering his longtime friend, Wade Busby, who died in his sleep of a heart problem in 2005. "
When Busby died, Cerda wanted to do something special to honor him and to help young people.
"We decided we had to do something to keep his memory alive and so we decided to do some type of fundraiser," Cerda tells me. "At that time we didn't really know what we were going to do."
Finally, they came up with the idea of a casino night fundraiser with all the money going to help young people who are involved in agriculture.
They called their non-profit event The Wade Busby Memorial.
"We kind of slammed this thing together pretty quick, just hoping that we would have a fairly decent turnout. And man, we were surprised."
The first year, they were thrilled when they raised $16,000. But the next year they raised $32,000. And it's just kept growing.
The last three years it's been a sellout at the Seguin Knights of Columbus Hall. This year the Casino Night and its live and silent auctions raised $132,000.
"I had no idea this thing would get so big so fast," Cerda says.
All of the money goes to young people involved in agriculture, through support of their 4-H and FFA projects.
"All of that money will go back to the kids. One hundred percent of what we raise goes back to the kids in forms of purchasing their projects at stock shows or scholarships."
Cerda had his own agriculture projects in high school, then after college, he was an agriculture teacher for several years.
Now he works at the Wells Fargo Bank on Seguin's downtown square. But he spends countless hours on the Wade Busby Memorial and other benefit auctions too.
"You know Randy, there's so much negative publicity about things that are so bad in the world, in our communities, that if we can do our little part to help these guys who work so hard all year long on these projects and are doing a good job and not getting in trouble, then I think that's where the real focus should be. To give these guys a pat on the back. To say you're doing a good job. Keep it up. Let's keep you going down the straight and narrow."
Cerda's colleagues say he is passionate about the work year-round. "As soon as he's done with one event, he's already planning for the next year and what we can do better."
"It also helps these kids learn how to build discipline, complete a project, and so it really builds their core skills," says Wells Fargo Bank President Mickey Franz. "And plus, you know, we're still ag background. And it's important for all of us to remember agriculture puts food on our table so it's important.
And it turns out it was another former agriculture teacher-turned-banker who nominated Cerda for the Jefferson Award. Allan Dreibrodt has ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Cerda reads what's on Dreibrodt's computer screen. "I will not be able to verbally participate in the interview because ALS has taken my ability to do so. But Mark can understand me. From day one, he has been able to do so. He has a God-given talent for understanding the needs of others."
Cerda is a little embarassed by his co-worker's kind words. "I don't know. I think he's exaggerating a little bit."
But Dreibrodt nods to me that it's all true.
So I ask Cerda what his friend Wade Busby would think of the memorial named for him which has helped hundreds of young people with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"He's up there, just smiling down on us," Cerda says. "We're doing exactly what he'd be doing if he were here."
You can find out more about the Wade Busby Memorial through their facebook page