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Rotary Club 2023 McGowan Courage Award Nominee

Sean Putt | Mansfield Senior High School

His nominator said, "Sean is an inspiration for any student who has had to navigate the rigor of academics and athletics while simultaneously struggling with a disease that affects his physical health to such an extent."

In 1968, Brigadier “Bill” McGowan most likely didn’t anticipate the enormous impact he’d be making on the youth of Richland and surrounding counties 54 years later when he came up with the idea to start the Mansfield Rotary Club Courage Award, renamed later in 1990 after McGowan himself.

Prior to his involvement in Mansfield’s Rotary Club, which was founded in 1920, McGowan served as Commander of the Salvation Army for 40 years in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio before retiring in 1979.

From Mansfield Richland County Public Library's Sherman Room: An addition of "The Amplifier," the Mansfield Rotary Club's bulletin. This issue is from May 3rd, 1982, reviewing the McGowan Courage Awards.

"In an inspiring talk before the presentations, Bill McGowan stated that 'Life is a complex mysterious quest,' and that 'Life to be full must be courageous.' Bill further said that 'Real courage pits a solitary figure against the world,' and that 'Real heroes are most times nameless.'

Real courage means a 'discovery of values beyond the self and involves mainly three elements:'

1. The courage to live with dignity.

2. The courage to live beyond yourself.

3. The courage the search for the truth, to question and examine what that is."

His vision was clear: the award’s focus was to recognize and honor local high school students who have faced life experiences of adversity and hardship with extraordinary courage, tenacity, and fortitude. 

“He worked with the superintendent of Mansfield City Schools at the time. They wanted to recognize students who had some sort of hardship in their lives that they were able to overcome and show strength and courage,” current President of the Rotary Club Chris May, said. 

“It wasn’t about grades, attendance, athletics or anything like that.”

Serving as a member of the club for 48 years, Mansfield’s current members continue to honor his work and vision through their current projects and dedication to the success of the events following the nominations of the McGowan Courage Award.

Jennifer Alt, a corporate member through OhioHealth since 2019, says when notifying the schools that the time to be nominating students is coming up, she makes sure to put McGowan’s original vision in her notes.

“Schools do a great job of nominating. Stories come through each year and you just think, ‘wow, these are incredible students that we’re around,’” Alt said.

When honored with the award, each recipient is presented with several gifts, including a scholarship. Because Alt has developed a rapport with area schools having updated them on the event each year, she frequently receives updates on former nominees. The Club has even received a letter from a past recipient updating them on where they were in college and thanking them for the recognition.

“It was really cool, they didn’t have to do that, but it was nice to know we did make an impact,” May said.

Each year, the awards ceremony takes place on the first Tuesday of every May. It will open with some encouraging words from a staff member from OhioHealth, and then a showcase of the 10 students who will receive the award.

The recipients this year are as follows: Sam Alonzo, Adison Delp, Ben Gehrisch, Kanija Green, Alex Milligan, Sean Putt, Nicholaus Shaum, Macey Slonaker, Robby Vogel and Miranda Waidler.

“We have some really impactful stories. I’ve read a few, and I really can’t believe what these students have overcome. We’re looking forward to celebrating that with the students and giving them their gifts and having a nice luncheon at the Mid-Ohio Conference Center,” Alt said.

Since its origination, over 260 local youth have received the award. Mansfield’s Rotary Club, and their sister club in Mansfield, England, have honored Brigadier McGowan’s vision and these students for 55 years.

“People really like true life, superhero stories. And these kids are really like superheroes with the things they’ve overcome. Whether it be physical handicap, or having lost parents, they’ve been able to persevere. I think that really resonates with people,” May said.

“Any of us can accomplish things, but when you’re faced with adversity like that, it means something different.”

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