Joe Bill Brannon thought he was invited to a Rotary Club meeting Monday to speak about the Statesboro Food Bank. But, the joint meeting of two clubs — the Rotary Club of Downtown Statesboro and the Rotary Club of Statesboro — was the annual Citizen of the Year Banquet, and Brannon was the guest of honor.
He just didn't know it.
The Statesboro Kiwanis Club and Statesboro Lions Club member had prepared a short speech about the food bank's programs, but as he sat listening to Charles Brown introduce the day's honored guest, his face drained of color and he sat stunned, floored by the realization that he was the man about whom Brown was speaking.
Later, he said he knew it had to be him as soon as Brown mentioned the Lions Club, because there were no Lions members that were also Rotarians, he said.
But true to Brannon's character, as soon as he stepped up to receive his award — a plaque presented by Brown — he began talking about the food bank.
"They brought me here under false pretenses," he said, then immediately launched into a short speech about the food bank's programs to feed the Boys and Girls Club children five hot meals a week; the morning outreach program where 60 families receive food from local grocery stores
"So, I was coming here today to ask you for money," he told the group. "Other than that, thank you, thank you."
Brannon still appeared stunned as Brown handed him the plaque and commented on his pitch for the food bank, "which speaks of your service above self," he said.
Holding the plaque high, Brannon said "This will go on my wall."
Nominated by Rotarian David Ball, who is also highly involved with the Boys and Girls Club, Brannon was recognized for his tireless work in helping the sight-challenged through his Lions Club efforts; his work as captain of the Bulloch County American Red Cross Disaster Team; and his significant efforts with the Statesboro Food Bank. Brannon is also an active member with the Statesboro Kiwanis Club and is a retired mail carrier.
After the meeting was over, Brannon was surrounded by members of each club — as well as his family, whom he had not known were there — who all offered congratulations, handshakes and hugs.
"You have no idea how honored I am," he said. "I'm sure there has to be someone else ... who is more qualified. I do not do it as a service. I do it because I love it."
He said Ball "does ten times what I do — he's the one who deserves this." He also gave citizens credit for the food bank's success. "It's actually the people of Bulloch County — without the people the food bank would not exist."
Brannon was one of about a dozen former recipients of the Rotary Citizen of the Year who is not a Rotary Club member. Other non-members who received the honor in the past include Ellis Wood, Charlotte White, and Kemp Mabry.
Honorary Rotarians Emma Kelly and Erk Russell also received the honor.
The Rotary Citizen of the Year has been awarded annually since 1971, and recipients are persons of "high moral character, residents of Bulloch County, active in civic affairs affecting all segments of county and city population," according to Rotary standards.
The honor began as "Rotary Man of the Year," and was changed to "Citizen of the Year" in 1993 with White's nomination.