2014 Panther Valley Irish American Association Shamrock Award - My Experience

          In March 2014, I received the Panther Valley Irish American Shamrock Award on St. Patrick's Day, which is my birthday as well.  It all started one evening in February when my two cousins, Billy O'Gurek and Tim Hoben, came to my house. When my Mom told me Billy was coming to see me, I was thinking she meant my Uncle Bill. As to my surprise, it was not who I was expecting. When they came in my room, I was confused. Billy proceeded to tell me I was unanimously nominated to receive the 2014 Panther Valley Irish American Association Shamrock Award. I was very very surprised, because I did not expect to be nominated for this prestigious award because there are so many people in the valley who I believe deserve the award. 

          After I came down from cloud nine, I accepted the association members' nomination. Billy informed me he was going to be the master of ceremonies.   I was excited about that!  They told me I can make an acceptance speech and I can select a guest speaker. I took some time to think about it and a few people came in mind.   However, one person who I felt was the perfect choice - My Uncle Bill O'Gurek. The reason I selected my Uncle Bill is because he knew what I accomplished in my life and he knows how my work ethic is. Plus he is an excellent public speaker.  After I decided who I was going to ask, I e-mailed my Uncle Bill and asked him to come over to my house because I wanted to tell him something and I did not want to tell him over the internet. The day after he came to see me and I was so excited to ask him that I could not type right on my communication device. I asked him to be my guest speaker and I could tell how happy he was that I asked him.

          When I stated to write my acceptance speech, I had a tough time getting started. "What should I talk about?",  " What should I say?  What first came to mind was: I wanted to express how thankful I was for being nominated for the Shamrock Award. They could have nominated so many Irish-American individuals in the valley and they selected me.  I was so amazed and numb. Although my speech started serious, I wanted to throw some humor in it. I know! I know! I said SOME humor, but if you were there, you will say my speech was hysterical. At least that is what people tell me. When I give speeches, I always try to make the people who are listening to me laugh. It makes them get more interested what I have to say.

          In my speech, I really wanted to express how proud and lucky I am to be born on the greatest day of the year for the Irish - St. Patrick's Day.  Now that I had a couple of good and funny paragraphs for my speech, I was amazed how the ideas and the words flowed to me. I talked about how O'Gurek is not Irish, it is actually Polish. I get my Irish background from my Mom's side of the family. My grandfather, William O'Donnell, was Irish. 2014 was the 40th anniversary of when my grandfather passed away. Even though he passed away before I was born, I wanted to talk about him in my speech.  Maybe someday I will meet him in heaven. I hear he was like my uncle Fuzzy. If that is right, I really can not wait to meet him now!

          I have been very lucky throughout my life to have a wonderful support system. My support system starts with my parents, Robert and Patricia O’Gurek. They raised me like any other child, with support and discipline, and they urged to be the best that I can be. I am very thankful they did not treat me any different. I believe by my parents doing this, it made me who I am today, a successful and respectful individual. My brothers and sister are another reason why I am lucky. They are always there for me whenever I need them.  When we were children, we would play and fight like any other children. My disability did not have any part of our relationship. I was simply just one of four children.

           In my speech, I wanted to express how thankful I am and will always be for my support system. I named everyone who I knew was coming to the Shamrock Award Dinner.  I am sure there were many more people I could have named, but my speech was long enough!  If it was not for my awesome support system, I don't know where I would be.

          When I started my acceptance speech, I knew exactly how I wanted to end it - to memorialize my uncle Toot.  Unfortunately, my uncle Toot passed away fighting cancer. He was brave and very tough. I have no doubt in my mind he is still tough up there in heaven.  I came up with what I thought was a great idea. I was going to play the Notre Dame Victory March to memorialize my uncle Toot. I told myself I was not going to tell anybody what I was going to do, because I felt like it would have more meaning if nobody knew. However, I sought advice from my cousins, Erin,who lives around Phildelphia, Pennsylvania, and Jackie, who lives in Alabama. They both agreed I should carry out my idea. 

          The weekend before St. Patrick's Day, I had the honor to march in the Carbon Couny St. Patrick's Day Parade in Jim Thorpe with Panther Valley Irish American Association, including my brother Justin and my Dad, who was driving my van. I had the option of riding in my van or riding my wheelchair with the PVIAA members. I opted to ride my wheelchair down Broadway. This was an amazing experience and it was even better having the Diligence Fire Company, Summit Hill, of which I am a member, ride behind the association. I remember this day like it was yesterday. It was sunny but cold. I had to put layers on with my fire company coat.

         The night before the big night, Justin took me to Kelly's Irish Pub to test the sound system and to get familiar with the surroundings. Billy set up the sound system. At first they said I can test it with my speech. Well, I did not want to say a part of my speech, so I tested the sound system with the speech I gave at East Stroudsburg University. With little adjustments, the sound system was good to go. When we were finished going over everything for the award ceremony, we went into the bar area to hang out. There, I got to know Ben, the 2014 PVIAA president. We talked for an hour or two or three about a bunch of subjects. That is when I found out he loves the Penn State Nittany Lions in college football. I thought to myself: "I will have to joke about this in my speech." - I am sure he would love it! 

          Monday, March 17, 2014, wow what a memorable day. I turned 34 years old on this day. I took off of work just to go over my speech a couple more times. I had my volume down on my communication device in case somebody came in my room. Nobody was going to hear it until that night. When it was time to get ready, I decided to wear my new black dress coat with a bright green dress shirt.  When I arrived at Kelly's Irish Pub in Lansford, all I could think about was that I could not wait to give my speech, because I felt like it was one of the best speeches I have written and I have wrote so many.  I remember telling someone (I do not remember who it was) but I told them that I was going to hit a homerun with my speech and that I did!  I had not presented a speech in the local area so I felt like this is my chance to show the attendees how I can communicate with my communication device and more importantly how I overcame the obstacles in my life to be successful as I am.

          When the ceremony started, the Master of Ceremonies, Billy O'Gurek was so hysterical! He told a few stories about me. He talked about how they love to take me to Walt Disney World or other amusement resorts because I get them in front of the line so we can get on the rides faster. He also joked about me being a Orioles fan. Little did he know, the Orioles won the American League East and advanced to the American League championship that year, where they lost to the Kansas City Royals. I knew the Orioles would be good that year. The jokes in Billy's speech kept coming at me. I could not stop laughing! It was very funny because he brought back memories. One of the memories he brought back was when we were out in Notre Dame and we went in a bar called The Linebacker and I did not have my identification card. I do not drink so I did not think I would need it. Well needless to say, I needed it because they kicked me out and all of the 20 people picked up and left. At that time, I did not understand and agree with what they did, however, it is the law in Indiana that everyone who goes in a bar is required to have an identification. Lesson learned - Bring your identification card with you when you go out to South Bend, Indiana!!! Billy ended his speech explaining how when he and Tim Hoben and came to vist me to tell me I was nominated to receive the Shamrock Award and informed me I can pick a guest speaker, I quickly said "How about Justin?", to be funny.

         I was sitting at the front of the banquet hall with my wheelchair elevated when I gave my acceptance speech.  It was awesome to see all of my family and so many friends.  I enjoyed the reaction of the attendees, especially when they laughed when I made funny references during my speech … I was laughing, too.  I will never forget that view … it was so very special!

          The night got even more special when my cousin, Fire Chief Shawn Hoben, came to the podium and presented a plaque to me. It had a green firefighter shield with “Diligence” at the top and “O’Gurek” at the bottom. I love it!  I also received citations from Summit Hill’s Mayor Paul McArdle, proclaiming March 17, 2014 as “Bobby O’Gurek Day” in Summit Hill, PA. He joked by saying the day was almost over, then laughed the same laugh I used in my speech (ha ha ha). It was really funny and the crowd loved it! Then I received a citation from the Carbon County Commissioners, which was presented by Mr. Gerhard and Mr. Nothstein. It was very nice of them to honor me. I also received a citation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, presented by Reps. Jerry Knowels and Doyle Heffley. I remember a hysterical statement Doyle said to the attendees. He commented that whenever he is running for re-election, I always seem to be making a web site for his opponent. Everyone in the room was laughing, including me! I will never forget that funny moment!

          After receiving the citations, they had two special surprises for me. The first surprise was a letter from the University of Notre Dame, congratulating me on receiving the Shamrock Award. They recognized what I accomplished in my life.  As a lifelong Notre Dame fan, this is very special to me. 

          The second surprise was a letter from the Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who invited me to an Orioles game at Oriole Park At Camden Yards!!! When I heard this, I was very happy and surprised. I was about to cry!! I was beside myself. I selected the game I wanted to go to with Billy. I picked a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Orioles game in August of 2014. I received 6 game tickets. At first, I decided to ask my immediate family, because I wanted to share my experience with them.  Unfortunately, my Mom, Justin and Trish could not go because they were busy. Then I asked Billy and my Uncle Bill. I knew they would be interested in going and I felt it would be a fun time with them. Also, I asked Colin Jones, who is one of my best friends and an Orioles fan. Colin and I are the biggest Orioles fans in our area. We are always talking about how the Orioles are doing. 

       August 10, 2014, game day!! We traveled to Baltimore in my van. When we arrived at Camden Yards, to my amazement, parking was not an issue. I had VIP parking in front of the warehouse. It was awesome to hear my Dad and Billy tell the security guard my name and tell him that I was a guest of Peter Angelos. After we parked, we went in the warehouse to get our tickets. Our seats were awesome. They were along the third base line, but a few rows up. The view of the baseball field was amazing!! Once we got settled in our seats, a man in a suit came up to me and my dad and asked if I was Bobby O'Gurek. We said yes and he proceeded to hand my dad a box with a baseball in it, signed by one of my favorite Orioles, Manny Machado. I was excited to get the signed baseball! I wish I could have met Mr. Angelos when we were there. I programmed a thank you statement in my communication device just in case I did. Unfortunately, I did not meet him. However, when I got home, I wrote him a thank you letter.  Even though the Orioles lost to the Cardinals, I had a fun and awesome time!!

          As I finish telling you about my experience receiving the 2014 Shamrock Award, I would like to thank the Panther Valley Irish American Association for the amazing honor its members bestowed upon me. From the time I was notified, to the days leading up to the banquet, to the amazing banquet, having the opportunity to parade with the PVIAA members in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Jim Thorpe, to the trip to Baltimore, every minute of being the PVIAA's 2014 Shamrock Award recipient was very very special to me. I can't thank enough the PVIAA, my family and friends, and especially those who recognized me at this most special moment in my life, I will always be grateful and appreciative. Thank you!