Jay Knapp, the first Oro Valley Citizen of the Year as named by the Rotary Club of Oro Valley, was brought near tears by his recognition Saturday night.
"I'm overwhelmed and you humble me tremendously," Knapp said at the Oro Valley Country Club, where he received a standing ovation from a crowd near 200 people. "I only did what I thought was really right, and nothing more than that. I'm grateful and humbled, and you're making me cry."
Knapp, 81, is a Sun City Vistoso retiree and 15-year resident. When he left the working world, Knapp decided to pursue a lifelong fascination, the world of magic. He taught himself the art of illusion. After tutoring children, and trying his magic on them, Knapp expanded the offering.
Now, just about every week for the last 12 years, he's driven to the Tucson Medical Center, performing magic for children in the pediatric intensive care unit.
"Today we are here to honor a common man, Jay Knapp, who brings joy to critically ill children," said speaker Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the United States. People like Knapp "understand the importance of this selfless service. It is more important today than it ever has been in the history of this nation, because of the challenges we have before us."
In part, the club intends its annual Citizen of the Year Award to recognize "unsung heroes whose contributions might go unnoticed," said Rotary Club President Chuck Sweet. Knapp fit the criteria. "Your magic brought them hope," Sweet said.
Rotary presented The Tucson Medical Center a $1,000 check in Knapp's honor. Knapp was also made a Paul Harris Fellow, a $1,000 contribution to the Rotary International Foundation made in Knapp's name.
"Your life exemplifies the humanitarian and educational objectives of the Rotary Foundation," Sweet said.
Carmona contemplated his remarks before Saturday's event, then realized how Knapp embodied the Rotary motto of "Service Above Self." In Knapp's case, it is "the magic of service above self."
Americans are disenchanted, Carmona realizes. The nation is "void of the heroes of the past. Yet in our own communities, the Jay Knapps of the world arise." Anymore, "we highlight the fools," Carmona said, when in fact people like Knapp are "the stories we need to hear every day."