MERCED — This Father's Day is extra-special for more than 30 local fathers and father-figures honored at the Merced County Father of the Year Essay Awards Banquet on Thursday.
Timothy Gleason, a Merced chiropractor, won the top honor and was named the Merced County Father of the Year.
Now in its 12th year, the essay contest is open to all kindergarten through 12th-grade students, said Paul Lundberg, co-founder of the competition.
Students are asked to write a 300-word essay titled, "What My Father Means to Me." More than 700 essays were submitted this year, Lundberg said.
A team of Merced County business owners and volunteers read each essay and choose the top three for each grade level one winner and two runner-ups.
"We just want to make good fathers famous for the good job they do," Lundberg said. "The whole purpose is to call attention to and promote exemplary fathers."
A committee then interviews the finalists and selects one top winner. Gleason received a plaque, and the 13 winners from each grade level went home with a medallion, Lundberg said.
The winning essay by Beckham Gleason, 11, detailed his dad's strengths, including staying "calm" if he breaks something in the house. He also said his dad challenges him to try new things.
"It was a great moment, and I was very proud of Beckham for writing the essay," Gleason said. "In some ways it was very humbling because I felt the other 11 dads were also very deserving of the award."
Gleason said his father, who came to the ceremony, taught him how to be a great dad, remain calm and work hard at his job and in the community.
Nathan Quevedo, spokesman for the Merced County Office of Education, said more than 12,000 essays have been written in the past 11 years and more than 300 fathers have been honored.
"It really becomes a challenge to pick the winning essay with so many touching stories from students throughout the county," Quevedo said. "This is such a great event because it highlights fathers and father-figures while promoting creative writing."
The event takes about $3,000 to organize, Lundberg said. Most of the money comes from the Merced Faculty Associates Medical Group and the county's Human Services Agency.
Fathers are given the option of writing a response, which may be submitted along with their child's essay. Students can write the essay about their father, stepfather, grandfather, or a fatherlike figure in their life.
"It's been a very good thing, and we've honored some fabulous guys," Lundberg said. "It's important for these dads to get some recognition."
District 2 Supervisor Hub Walsh, a father of two, attended the ceremony and said the contest reminds all fathers to be the best dad they can.
"Most fathers are pretty busy taking care of things and don't always spend the time we should listening to our kids," Walsh said.
"I think the contest's approach is great because it has children writing about their fathers. They get two things out of that," he added. "One, they get to write, which is always good practice. But they also get to tell their fathers how they feel about them."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.