Thursday, February 11, 2021

Hometown Heroes honored

Romulus pays tribute to local volunteers

Outstanding Citizen Jeff Pyles, center with flowers,
entire family was on hand and in on
the surprise visit from Mayor LeRoy Burcroff
presenting him with the award.
While the usual celebration had to be cancelled, the gratitude and recognition of Romulus  Hometown Heroes remained undeterred.

Mayor LeRoy Burcroff and a team of organizers made surprise visits to the lawns of the honorees this year to demonstrate the appreciation of the entire community for their efforts.

Jessica Mills-Rais was named as the Outstanding Educator in the city while Jeff Pyles was chosen as the Outstanding Citizen in the community for 2020.

The two were chosen from a host of nominations from city residents who suggested friends, family members peers and community members for the awards. Those nominations went to a committee appointed by the members of the police, fire and safety commission who reviewed them and selected the honorees based on their outstanding community contributions.

Jessica Mills-Rais, named as the Outstanding Educator in the
city, accepts congratulations from Mayor LeRoy Burcroff,
far right, and members of her family.
This year, officials said, with so many challenges facing local residents, they wanted to focus the spotlight on people who strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Mills-Rais is a Romulus High School alumnus and now serves as the school band director while Pyles is known for purchasing meals and delivering them to students and community members in need. During his mother's fight with COVID-19 in April, Pyles  spent hours outside the hospital holding signs thanking frontline workers for their service. 

He continued doing so for several weeks, even after his mother lost her battle with the disease.  There were more than 45 letters from grateful workers nominating Pyles for the honor, officials said. His daughter, Tarah Pyles of Virginia, and his wife, Debi Pyles, helped city officials surprise him with the award, hand-delivered by the mayor.

“I had no idea,” Pyles said, although he said he couldn't fathom the reason his wife wanted him to wear a good shirt and clean jeans to help his brother-in-law assemble a treadmill, all part of the ruse to surprise him. When the doorbell sounded at his brother-in-law's home, and he was urged to answer, he had no idea who might be there. He actually closed the door on Burcroff, there to present him with the Citizen of the Year award.

Mills-Rais, grew up in Romulus and graduated from Romulus High School in 2007. She said it was an honor for her to be able to give back to the community and to the school music program that gave her so much. She is credited by those who nominated her for assuming leadership of the entire band program and streamlining it.  After 11 band directors in seven years, Mills-Rais is credited with bringing the program to an award winning level. Under her leadership last year, each of the Romulus school bands participating in the Michigan State Band and Orchestra Festival received an A1 rating, an accomplishment the entire school and community recognized and mentioned in her nominations.

She said the award is a validation of her efforts and demonstrates that her fellow residents notice and appreciate what she is doing. 

 “It's like a big thank you for the amount of work I've put into this program,” she said. “There have been a lot of hours,” she said. “This is very uplifting.”

“This was a huge surprise,” she said. “I'm very familiar with the award. My band usually plays at the ceremony.”