Bio information provided by Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration.
For nearly 40 years, the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration has taken place in Wheeling. A joint effort among the celebration committee, Wheeling University, the Wheeling NAACP, Ohio Valley Ministerial Alliance, West Liberty University and the YWCA of Wheeling, the event is an opportunity for the community to honor Dr. King and Black community members who have dedicated their lives to the service of others.
In years past, the celebration would consist of many events throughout the day. Following a recognition breakfast and religious service, a march would take place in Wheeling. The day would culminate with an awards dinner to honor the Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks award winners and an entertainment program.
With the Ohio Valley, like much of the country, still battling rising transmission of COVID-19, this year’s celebration has been moved to a virtual format. The march and in-person gatherings will not take place, but an online awards ceremony and visual presentation video will be available on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Facebook page beginning Sunday, Jan. 17. The committee is hopeful to return to “normal” next year.
“This year, like many other groups, we have moved to a virtual celebration with speeches, words of reflection, and performances done online,” said Ron Scott, Jr., Cultural Diversity & Community Outreach Director of the YWCA. “We plan to really bring back the celebration full force once we are allowed to gather in groups again.”
Each year, the organization presents the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award two to exemplary males and the Rosa Parks award to two exemplary females. The honorees are chosen for their impact and dedication to positive change in their community or environment. This year’s honorees are as follows:
After graduating from Martins Ferry High School, Ohio State Trooper Chase Watts has dedicated the last ten years to a career in law enforcement. He is currently assigned to the Office of Recruitment and Diversity, helping to recruit OSHP applicants from Southeast Ohio.
Watts is also the founder and executive director of Books with Badges, a reading program that places first responders in elementary school classrooms to promote reading and literacy while building positive relationships with emergency personnel. Since its inception in 2016, the organization has grown to operate in six states and has reached over 10 thousand students.
Having recently opened SoundBox Studios, Watts works in his spare time as a producer and engineer for local aspiring artists. The studio works with artists from any musical genre in recording their music and pursuing their passions. Additionally, Watts and his father host and produce the podcast “Positive Push,” in which they highlight individuals and organizations that work to unite and promote positive resources in the Ohio Valley.
Daniel Dudley is a Wellsburg resident and city councilman. Representing the city’s First Ward, Dudley is just the second African American to be elected to the Wellsburg City Council. Dudley worked a 43-year career at Eagle Manufacturing, serving as a union representative and volunteer for the Eagle Manufacturing Civil Rights Committee before his retirement in 2015.
He has served for ten years as the president of Eagle Can Employees Federal Credit Union and is Vice President of the Weirton-Wellsburg Chapter of Credit Unions. He is a lifelong member of Henderson Chapel AME Church and has been a past “Member of the Year.” Dudley is also a member of the Wheeling branch of the NAACP.
Dudley is an active member of his community and enjoys volunteering at his church. Additionally, he has been a volunteer coach for youth soccer, t-ball, girls middle school basketball and Ohio County Special Olympics girls basketball. He and his wife, Pamela Paige Dudley, have two children and two grandchildren.
Judi Saunders has been employed by Laughlin Memorial Chapel since 2016, serving as a mentor and coordinator of the after-school program. She helps children with homework and goal setting. Additionally, she helps with LMC’s “Blossoms” program for homeless women.
Saunders is a lifelong member of Wayman AME Church and has served as the church’s financial secretary for the past 20 years. She is also a member of the Belmont County chapter of the NAACP. Saunders has received the Bethlehem Temple “Dorcas Award” for acts of charity and goodwill and the “Unsung Hero” award from the African Methodist Episcopal Regional Conference.
Saunders and her husband of 47 years, George, have one child and two grandchildren.
Ellen Saunders is the administrative assistant for Laughlin Memorial Chapel and previously served as the education mentor, working to provide love, structure, nutrition and education for children. She is a lifelong member and an exhorter/steward at Wayman AME Church in Wheeling, and she is president of the Women’s Missionary Society.
In addition to working with Wayman AME’s “Blossoms” program, Saunders is also a board member for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), a member of the Moundsville Lions Club, and a former chair of the Moundsville Zoning Board of Appeals. Her past community service includes graduation from the Wheeling Police Civil Service Academy, Sexual Assault Help Center advocacy, John Marshall High School band parents, and McNinch Elementary School PTA. She has also been honored in the YWCA Tribute to Women.
She has been married for 52 years to Eugene L. Saunders Sr., councilman and former mayor of the city of Moundsville. Together they have four children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grand-children.
• Wheeling native Jennifer Materkoski is a graduate of West Liberty University and Kent State University, where she earned a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications. Before beginning her current role as director of communications and employee engagement for a global business process outsourcing firm, Jennifer worked in local media and non-profit communications. She is a current board member of Generation Wheeling, also chairing the organization’s Work Committee. She lives in Wheeling with her husband, Rich, and her three children: Mason, Mercer and Miller.