5 nominees surprised by honor, though no one else in the state wasBy TIM BUCKLAND
New Hampshire Union Leader
June 13. 2013 9:37PM
The recipients of the 2013 Granite State Legacy Awards share several traits, including civic-mindedness, community leadership and a desire to help others.
They also shared another — none could believe they were selected for the honors, which were presented Thursday night at the Palace Theatre.
"This sounds silly, but I just love what I do," said Carolyn Benthien, who before retiring had been chief executive officer for three United Ways, including 11 years at the United Way of Greater Manchester. "I never, ever thought about (the award). I came last year and I thought, 'Oh, this is just a wonderful award and look at who got it. And if you had told me last year that I would be standing here, I'd have said you're nuts."
The Granite State Legacy Awards are given to New Hampshire residents who have made significant contributions over an extended period to their profession, community and state. Presented by the New Hampshire Union Leader and sponsored by Centrix Bank, the annual awards program was launched last year.
Joseph W. McQuaid, president and publisher of the Union Leader, said the event grew out of the Union Leader-sponsored Forty Under 40 awards, which single out 40 young leaders around the state.
The Forty Under 40 program "is to inspire young people to do the kinds of things that the people we are about to recognize have been doing for years," McQuaid said in opening the ceremony. Thursday's honorees "are really distinguished citizens of the state of New Hampshire, but we want to encourage them to do even more for the state."
The other honorees were former New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, who served an unprecedented four terms in office, Claira Monier, a former aide to Republican Gov. Meldrim Thomson and the widow of Senate President Robert Monier, former House Speaker Donna Sytek and former Manchester Mayor Sylvio Dupuis. Lynch was not able to attend Thursday's ceremony.
"You have truly, both individually and collectively, made inspirational contributions to community betterment," said Centrix Bank President, CEO and co-founder Joseph B. Reilly.
Dupuis, an optometrist who resigned as mayor in 1975 during his second term to become the first president of Catholic Medical Center, said he would not be in a position to collect any awards for his service had it not been for the family supporting him.
"They're the ones, when you're sometimes not at the baseball game or the softball game, or whatever is going on, because you're out doing something on some kind of civic project; they are all very special and they share in this recognition," he said.
Sytek, who served in the House for 23 years, as chairman of the state Republican Party from 1981 to 1984 and as House speaker from 1996 to 2000, said she was stunned that she won the award, given that she grew up in Massachusetts. She said work brought her and her husband to the Granite State. Then they both fell in love with New Hampshire; she decided she wanted to get involved in volunteering and politics.
"We came here by accident," she said, "but we stayed here on purpose."
Monier, who spent 20 years as the executive director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority before retiring in 2007 at the age of 67, said she was surprised at her selection, given the political and civic leaders she was being honored beside.
"Normally, I've been a bureaucrat. I've done the behind-the-scenes stuff and not the front-end stuff. I was surprised I was nominated, that they would understand what I did," she said. "So I'm saying, 'Why am I in that group?'"