This story was published Sunday, May 23rd, 2004, Tri-City Herald
By Chris Mulick Herald staff writer
About 300 people packed the Pasco Red Lion Saturday to toast Lew and Sara Zirkle as their 2004 Tri-Citians of the Year.
And in Zirkle fashion, they wasted no time in giving back.
“We salute you, too,” Lew Zirkle said.
The award, given by local Rotary clubs every year since 1962 to Tri-Citians who demonstrate “service beyond self,” is the community’s most prestigious.
Like past award winners, the Zirkles have developed lengthy rap sheets when it comes to civic service since moving to the Tri-Cities in 1973.
Dr. Sara Zirkle, who served on the Kadlec Hospital Board for 12 years and long has been active with the Benton-Franklin County Medical Society, has been lauded for her work in examining children who may have been sexually abused, then using the results to testify in court cases. She helped establish the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at Kadlec Medical Center and later the Reading Foundation in the Tri-Cities.
She was honored in 2002 with a distinguished service award by the Tri-City law enforcement community for her two decades of work.
“She is the model of a compassionate, sensitive caring physician,” wrote Richland’s Sunny and Bob Cook in their nomination letter.
Dr. Lew Zirkle is best known for his work in developing countries — most notably Vietnam — teaching new techniques to treat severe fractures. He has developed those techniques at the Surgical Implant Generation Network, or SIGN, a nonprofit organization he founded in Richland which manufactures rods and screws that don’t require expensive equipment to insert.
More than 8,000 of his surgical nails were distributed last year and more than 550 surgeons in 36 countries have been trained to use SIGN instruments and techniques.
“Physician and ambassador of peace, Dr. Zirkle puts the Tri-Cities on the world map one nail at a time,” the Cooks wrote.
“Their lives are an ongoing labor of love and an incredible example of service above self,” Sandy Matheson, last year’s Tri-Citian of the Year, said before introducing the Zirkles.
“We’re very surprised and very happy and, actually, very grateful,” Lew Zirkle said shortly before a long reception line ended.
Surprise is a traditional element of the annual event. Sara Zirkle had been told her husband would win alone. Lew Zirkle, who had never attended the annual ceremony before, had written a speech to honor a colleague he thought was going to win.
But that didn’t explain a visit from his three out-of-town daughters, who normally aren’t all able to get back to the Tri-Cities at the same time more than once a year. Still, the story held.
“He was really upset because he wanted to stay home with us,” Molly said of her dad.
As it turned out, they got to spend the evening together anyway.
“I think they’ve made an incredible contribution to this community,” daughter Liz said. “They are always trying to find ways to help people.”
“It’s a huge honor,” daughter Julie said of the award.