DANSVILLE, N.Y. (Oct. 31, 2006) — It's fair to say that Jon Shay doesn't know all 6,000 of Dansville's inhabitants, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say most of those same residents know Jon Shay or have been affected by the community projects he supports.
“Jon doesn't know how to say no,” is how Debbie Schuyler, credit and collection manager for Main Tire Exchange Inc.—Mr. Shay's company—describes her boss's attitude toward community involvement.
“If he can't help somebody himself, he'll find someone who can,” commented Linda Shay, Jon's wife of 42 years. “He's happiest when he's busy.”
“Jon's a catalyst,” said Rich De Assis, president of the local Rotary Club and a self-described “protÃ&Copy;gÃ&Copy;” of Mr. Shay. “The Rotary motto is 'Service Above Self,' and Jon exemplifies this. He's a puppeteer—in the good sense—pulling strings and greasing the wheels.”
Indeed, whether it's spearheading a multi-million dollar fund-raising effort for the local hospital or umpiring a local Little League game, Mr. Shay is a familiar face around Dansville and Livingston County.
For his ceaseless volunteering and selfless attention to his fellow citizens, Mr. Shay, vice president and co-owner of Main Tire Exchange, is the Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award winner for 2006. He is the 13th recipient of the award presented annually by Tire Business to a tire dealer or retreader who is making a difference in his or her community through civic and charitable contributions.
The selection committee—a group of three individuals from the United Way of Summit County (Ohio) Volunteer Center—chose Mr. Shay “because of all the significant contributions and impact he has made for the betterment of others locally and beyond.”
His rÃ&Copy;sumÃ&Copy; of community service projects seems to stretch on forever: more than 20 years as a member of the executive council of the Five Rivers Council of the Boy Scouts of America; member of the Dansville Protective Fire Department; member of the Dansville Fish & Game Club; past president of the New York State Motor Truck Association; founding director of the New York State Motor Truck Association Insurance Co.; past president and member of the Dansville Rotary Club; member of the long-range planning committee for the Dansville Central School System; 15 years on the board of directors of the Noyes Memorial Hospital and co-chair of the fund-raising campaign for an expansion there; on the board of directors of the Dansville Economic Development Corp.; a representative on the Genessee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming County Work Force Investment Board; a volunteer Junior Achievement teacher in Livingston County Business Education Alliance; and on and on.
“When there's something that needs to get done, Jon's attitude is always, 'How can we get it done?'” said William Bacon, president of the local chamber of commerce. “He's always positive.”
“Jon embodies the spirit of volunteerism and giving back to those in your community,” said Carrie Malone, director of the Livingston County Business/Education Alliance, describing Mr. Shay's involvement in Junior Achievement.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Shay has received his share of accolades for his volunteering, including being named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International, awarded the Silver Beaver by the Boy Scouts of America—the highest national Scouts' honor for an adult volunteer—and most recently the inaugural recipient of the Founder's Award by the Clara Barton Chapter of the American Red Cross. Clara Barton was living in Dansville in 1881 when she founded the first U.S. chapter of the Red Cross.
Of all the volunteer activities in which Mr. Shay is involved, he said he would rate the work he does with Rotary and Vincent House—a comfort care home in nearby Wayland, N.Y.—as the ones he's most passionate about.
For that reason Mr. Shay chose to donate the $1,000 honorarium that comes with the Humanitarian Award to Vincent House, a hospice-type non-profit organization that provides care—physical, spiritual and emotional—for the terminally ill in their final stages of life. A comfort home is a private home housing no more than two terminally ill patients at a time, a situation that also provides the families of the residents the opportunity to spend time with their loved one during the final weeks and days.
Mr. Shay got involved seven years ago setting up Vincent House after learning about the concept through fund raisers for a comfort care home in nearby Geneseo, N.Y. At about the same time that Mr. Shay started thinking aloud about starting one in Dansville, he heard that the Catholic Diocese in Wayland had an empty house—previously used to house nuns but no longer used—it wanted to donate for just such a purpose.
It took about a year from idea to reality, with Mr. Shay leading the fund-raising effort: All food and supplies are donated, and patients accepted into a comfort care home pay nothing to stay there. That courtesy also is extended to family members who wish to visit.
A few years later the house was forced to close temporarily because of personnel and staffing issues, and again Mr. Shay stepped in, personally making the rounds of local churches to solicit volunteers to help out the paid staff. Mr. Shay even slotted himself in for one of the four-hour volunteer shifts needed to help provide care 24/7 and often can be found mowing the grass at the house or doing other minor repair work.
Why is Vincent House so important to Mr. Shay?
“There's no single reason,” he told Tire Business. “I don't know anyone personally who needs this. But it just is something that needs to be.”
Sharon Silsby is someone who knows how important Vincent House is. She and her sisters Tammy Keefe and Sara Silsby were able to spend three weeks at Vincent House this past summer with their mother Eleanor Silsby Wood, from nearby Canisteo, N.Y., who was suffering from pancreatic cancer.
“It was wonderful for us,” she said. “I can't say enough about the house and the volunteers. We were able to say goodbye in that quiet setting.”
In gratitude, the family asked mourners to make donations to Vincent House, she said.
When asked about his influences, his role models, Mr. Shay ponders the question briefly before his brother Tim, president and co-owner of Main Tire, answers, half jokingly: “Mom, Dad and Father O'Donnell,” the local parish priest for much of their time growing up.
In fact, Harold Shay, Jon and Tim's dad, would have been a candidate for TB's Humanitarian Award years ago had it existed then, according to those who know him.
“Jon definitely picked up a lot of his drive from his parents,” said Mrs. Shay, who also credited Jon's faith and life-long work with St. Mary's Church, where he has served on the Parish Council and headed up numerous fund-raising campaigns for the Holy Family School.
Harold Shay, 93, still stops by the business a few times a week—sitting at a desk in Jon Shay's office reserved for him—and “consults” with Jon and Tim on the business.
“Dad always used to say, 'You live and die by your reputation,'” Tim Shay said about his father. “And in Jon's case, you could say the fruit didn't fall too far from the tree. He has a true dedication to help those who don't have.”
During his prime, Harold Shay was part of the town council and president of the local school board for 12 years along with countless other community volunteer duties. The Shay family even donated the land for the local hospital.
“Why do I do what I do?” Jon Shay asked rhetorically. “I honestly don't know.... A lot of it was Dad. Most people are not doers, they're not participators…. It's just a feeling that maybe I've made it a little better place than when it started.”
Tim Shay said the goodwill generated by the business and philanthropic philosophies espoused by his family “is probably the most valuable part of our balance sheet.”
Jon Shay's spirit of community doesn't end at the city or county limits, though. A year ago when Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Mr. Shay was among the first in the county to jump into the fray, setting up a company trailer on his property to collect clothing and necessary supplies for those displaced.
Working with the local Red Cross and Rotary Club, Mr. Shay made sure the items collected were delivered to deserving families along the Gulf Coast.
One of the hardest aspects of being a community booster and volunteer is being asked to help in various fund-raising efforts, Mr. Shay said, but others say it's one of his best talents.
Jim Wissler, president and CEO of Hoyes Hospital, said recently at the Red Cross Founder's Award ceremony: “Jon's leadership both through his volunteerism and philanthropy set the stage for many gifts from others.”
The fund-raising effort generated $3 million toward the hospital's expansion.
Mr. Shay said his only regret related to his volunteerism was that the time given to volunteer—he estimates he spent 15 to 20 hours a week at the peak—was time away from his family.
He and Linda raised four children, none of whom is involved directly in Main Tire, although one son-in-law does work at the dealership's Rochester outlet.