Shapiro award winner honors Fort Drum soldiers and the north country

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING
Gilbert H. Pearsall Jr., 2016 Israel A. Shapiro Citizenship Award recipient, right, speaks with Cathy Pircsuk, left, prior to the award ceremony.

By CRAIG FOX
CFOX@WDT.NET

Gilbert H. Pearsall Jr. spoke little about himself when he received the 2016 Israel A. Shapiro Citizenship Award on Thursday night.

Just as he had done to get the North Country Honors the Mountain monument built, Mr. Pearsall used his time before a packed room at the Hilton Garden Inn to honor active and retired Fort Drum soldiers — and how the community has a special bond with them.

“The north country has a long tradition of welcoming soldiers, their families and retirees as full-fledged members of this community,” he said, stressing that about 30 percent of them remain in the area.

Mr. Pearsall, who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars locally as chairman of the North Country Honors the Mountain monument committee and for the Watertown Rotary Club’s Purple Heart Scholarship Fund, downplayed his role in those efforts.

“It’s about a team,” he said afterward. “It’s about team effort. Everything in the Army and in life is about a team. You’re only as strong as the team.”

Mr. Pearsall, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, served at Fort Drum at multiple points during his 22-year career, including time as inspector general of the 10th Mountain Division and as 2nd Brigade Combat Team executive officer.

After retiring from the Army, he worked as human resources director for the Johnson Newspaper Corporation before retiring in 2014.

He and his wife, Kathleen, raised their three now-grown children, Jennifer, Gilbert III and Robert, in Carthage because they fell in love with the north country and how it welcomes Fort Drum soldiers, Mr. Pearsall said.

Michael T. Plummer, a fellow Army veteran and 2010 Shapiro Award recipient, nominated Mr. Pearsall for the award, citing that his friend was instrumental in getting the monument project off the ground.

But it took a bit of cajoling to get Mr. Pearsall to take on the assignment, Mr. Plummer recalled. He told his friend that maybe they were starting at the bottom of Mount Everest, but it’s worth all of the effort once you reach the summit.

“Then you’re touching heaven,” Mr. Plummer said, recalling what he told his friend.

Instead of raising $500,000 for the monument project, the public ended up donating $650,000 and the efforts continue. The group is selling brick pavers that are placed around the monument for $50 each, with about 200 already sold.

The Rev. Frederick G. Garry, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, joked that Mr. Pearsall is such a strong fundraiser that he made sure everyone at the dinner had pins commemorating the monument and the Purple Heart scholarship fund at their place setting.

“I got a great deal on them,” Mr. Pearsall responded. “I bought 3,000 of them, so I had to use them.”

The nearly 20-foot-tall monument — a “permanent and prominent” recognition to honor the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division, their family members and Fort Drum’s civilian workforce — was unveiled in July.

“The monument serves as a visible reminder that the north country support for our military and Fort Drum is in deeds, not just words,” Mr. Pearsall told the crowd.

The Shapiro Award — given by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce — was created by Arnold I. Shapiro to honor the memory of his father, a longtime business leader and former chamber director.

The award, in its 65th year, is presented on the basis of outstanding citizenship or for outstanding contribution in civic or social welfare activity.