Pettit is this year's winner of the Jefferson Awards for public service from San Angelo,Texas,which gave her the opportunity to finally visit Washington for the award ceremony.
After getting up at 3:30 a.m. Monday,she and her daughter,Lois Stanley,flew to Washington and were able to see the Lincoln Memorial before catching some rest and meeting other winners from across the country for dinner.
Pettit said she was surprised by how tall many of the buildings are in Washington. She took a quick tour of the capital Tuesday so she could see the highlights of the city before a gala dinner honoring the winners.
Her favorite part of the city was the National World War II Memorial because she had four brothers who were in the war. She also said she loves the architecture and history of the city.
Public service is important to Pettit because she can relate to many of the people she is helping and she always enjoys helping others.
“I didn't realize I'd done anything,” she said.
In the early 1970s,Pettit started a school for special education students,the South Oakes School for the Emotionally Disturbed. She raised all of the money herself,through donations and her own savings,and she was the head teacher for 10 years. Pettit was one of the first teachers in the area to be certified to teach emotionally disturbed students.
Starting the school was important to Pettit because many emotionally disturbed children are not adequately cared for,she said.
Pettit has also participated in a number of walks to raise money,such as the March of Dimes,The American Hearth Association and the walk to benefit Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty.
Often one of the top money raisers,Pettit said these walks are important because she knows people who have suffered from heart disease,and she is a breast cancer survivor. She also said she knows what it is like to be hungry from when she was first married.
“These are things she just really believed in,” Stanley said. “That's why she has been able to raise so much money.”
“I've enjoyed what I was doing so much,” Pettit said. “I can look back and see I've made a difference.”
The San Angelo Standard-Times in chose Pettit to represent the community.
“Somebody really remembered the things she has done,” Stanley said.
The American Institute for Public service gives the Jefferson Awards each year to honor people who have contributed to their communities. Five of the 76 local winners were named recipients of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Awards at the dinner Tuesday night.
They are Lia Rowley,Santa Rosa,Calif.,who founded and runs a housing program for foster children; Hank and Debbie Perret,Lafayette,La.,who founded a center to help cancer patients and their caretakers; Jackie Betz,Erin Drischler and Megan Neuf,Pittsburgh,who as high school students founded a group that counsels girls about sexual assault; Harry Vogler,Denver,who founded a center for abused,neglected and mentally ill children; and Nancy Collins,Tupelo,Miss.,who founded a hospice.
Four national winners of the Jefferson Awards were also honored at the dinner.
They are Sen. Joseph Lieberman,Ind.-Conn.,greatest service by a public servant; Darell Hammond,greatest public service to the disadvantaged for his nonprofit group KaBOOM! that builds playgrounds in poor neighborhoods; Edward Michael Jagen,greatest public service by a private citizen for his nonprofit the Good Knight Child Empowerment Network that teaches children to avoid predators,and Ocean Robbins,greatest public service by someone age 35 or younger,who has worked as an environmental advocate since he was a teenager and founded Youth for Environmental Sanity.