ANDERSON — Each year, an Anderson Noon Exchange Club committee fields nominations from club members for the organization’s annual Book of Golden Deeds Award. The committee then meets and votes on a winner.
“We get cream-of-the-crop nominees every year,” said program coordinator Bonny Clark.
This year, the committee’s work was easy.
Local philanthropists Jay and Nancy Ricker will receive the award at a banquet on Sept. 24 at the Edgewood Golf Course & Event Center. The couple, who in late 2018 sold their successful chain of convenience stores and gas stations to Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, have been involved in a diverse set of community projects and charitable causes for years.
But the magnitude of their generosity during the holiday season was hard to ignore. In December, the Rickers announced they were donating more than $1 million to several nonprofit programs in Madison County, including a $500,000 gift to Habitat for Humanity of Madison County and the creation of a foundation that will provide funding in future years for additional projects.
The centerpiece, however, was a $500,000 gift to the Paramount Theatre Centre & Ballroom to pay off the historic building’s mortgage. Setting the Anderson landmark “on a road to self-sustainability,” in the Rickers’ words, will resonate across the city’s arts and entertainment scene for years to come, its advocates say.
“It’s the dawn of a new day,” said Russ Willis, president of the theater’s board of directors, during a ceremony at the theater in December.
“It just means a lot to the community to have people who care so much and give so lovingly and so willingly,” Clark said. “That’s why Jay and Nancy stood out to us this year.”
The Rickers are also generous with their time, with Jay currently serving on the boards of directors at Conner Prairie and Community Hospital Anderson and as chairman of Essential Senior Health and Living, a network of long-term care facilities in Madison County. Nancy is the current president of the local advisory board for Ivy Tech Community College and serves on the board of the Anderson Symphony Orchestra.
The Rickers say focusing their philanthropy in Madison County, where they started their business, is a natural decision.
“We wanted to give back to the people who got us where we are today, which were the people that were our customers originally on farms and houses and the Middletown area,” Jay said. “When we moved over here and started convenience stores, they were our customers.”
Nancy added: “We just felt a passion to give back to where we’ve got our roots and the people that made us successful.”
The Book of Golden Deeds Award is a national Exchange Club program designed to recognize volunteers who give time, talents and other resources to make their communities a better place to live. The Anderson Noon Exchange Club joined the program in 1955 and, after an eight-year hiatus in the 1990s, resumed bestowing the award annually in 2002.
The Rickers said they hope the honor reminds others that giving back and making a difference in the community is not constrained by occupation or background.
“It is nice to be recognized, and hopefully we can lead by example,” Jay Ricker said. “Hopefully there are some other people that are fortunate in some circumstances that can give back to the community, too. I think we’d like to set an example for other people. It may be time, it may be money or it may be both.”