Wayne Zyra: 2018 Recipient of the Monika W. Andrews Creative Volunteer Leadership Award

By on February 11, 2019
After receiving the Monika W. Andrews Creative Volunteer Leadership Award, Wayne Zyra (center) stands with Mike Zale (left) and Kevin G. Johnson. Johnson, Town of Sweden Supervisor, wrote the nomination letter. Zale, Monroe County Legislature, District 20, wrote one of the supporting letters. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

After receiving the Monika W. Andrews Creative Volunteer Leadership Award, Wayne Zyra (center) stands with Mike Zale (left) and Kevin G. Johnson. Johnson, Town of Sweden Supervisor, wrote the nomination letter. Zale, Monroe County Legislature, District 20, wrote one of the supporting letters. Photo by Dianne Hickerson

In 2012 the Monika W. Andrews Creative Volunteer Leadership Award was established as a memorial by three municipalities “to encourage, recognize, and reward outstanding creative leadership by residents of the Towns of Sweden (including Brockport) and Clarkson who have served as volunteer leaders in improving the lives of their fellow citizens and the greater Brockport community.”

At the February 4, 2019 Brockport Village Board meeting, the award was presented to Wayne Zyra by Linda Ketchum of the Award Selection Committee.

The award cites Mr. Zyra’s leadership as President of the Sweden Community Recreation Foundation, “taking a lead role” with the Foundation in securing funds to build the new Park Lodge and new playground in the Sweden Town Park. The nomination letter from Town of Sweden Supervisor, Kevin G. Johnson, and many supporting letters were the basis of the Selection Committee’s choice.

The scope and span of Mr. Zyra’s leadership

The Sweden Town Park is the main project, but not the sole project, of the Sweden Community Recreation Foundation, Mr. Johnson said in his letter. Showing the Foundation’s wider purview beyond the Park, he said:

The Sweden Community Foundation has raised more than $1,000,000 since 2005 to support a wide range of projects at the Sweden Town Park, the Clarkson Town Parks, the College at Brockport Alumni House, the Sweden/Clarkson Community Center, and the former Sweden Senior Center, as well as support for many different recreation-focused organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, Challenger Baseball and Challenger Tennis.

His letter also reveals that the duration of Mr. Zyra’s “creative volunteer leadership” has been 14 years so far. “Mr. Zyra is a founding member of the Foundation, serving as Vice President from 2005 (its first year) to 2014. Since 2014, he has served as President of the nine-member board.”

For the Sweden Town Park in particular, a new lodge was built and the interactive playground was constructed. Both projects were accomplished through a $446,145 NYS regional Economic Development Grant, plus a $75,000 SAM Grant for the new lodge, and a $250,000 Playground Grant through State Senator Robert Ortt’s office.

Interactive playground facilities

“A grandfather’s love knows no bounds and this shows in the new Sweden Town Park playground that is accessible to all,” Ms. Ketchum said in her presentation.

“Mr. Zyra has a wheelchair-bound grandchild and the Zyra family has experienced first-hand the disadvantage those with disabilities experience at public facilities,” Mr. Johnson wrote. He added, “Of all of Mr. Zyra’s accomplishments related to this award, the accessible playground may be the most meaningful.”

It is not just an accessibility issue, Mr. Zyra said. “I have had this personal interest for some time. When you look at a lot of recreation facilities that are supposed to be friendly to individual developmental issues, there are not many opportunities for a child in a wheelchair to get involved with a child who is not. My goal has been to break down that barrier and allow the interaction.”

Mr. Zyra worked directly with recreation equipment vendors, hearing what they offered and developing plans that reach his goal. “This playground has a merry-go-round that accepts wheelchairs at ground level. A glider has places for children in a wheelchair and those that can sit in a seat. So, you are bringing them together. They have to cooperate in taking turns for example. They interact and you sometimes see a child help another one in a wheelchair.”

Mr. Zyra’s leadership strategies and values 

Having played a principal role in these Foundation endeavors, Mr. Zyra was asked about his strategies and values as a leader.

“I think a good leader has to be a good listener,” he said. “You need a reliable group of people to work with and I have been very lucky to work with a great board.” Through effective listening, “We share our ideas and visions, then pool our individual strengths to accomplish our goals.”

Mr. Zyra gave two examples from the current board where members have “a variety of backgrounds.” He noted that Dan Hogan’s construction experience “was a tremendous resource for input on building the lodge, playground, and splash pad.” And, Jack Milner, Vice President of the Board, does the preparation work for grant applications “pulling together and filing materials for presentations to grant writers.”

Advance planning and preparation are key words that Mr. Zyra uses regarding grant applications. “We are able to look ahead, set an agenda of projects to accomplish, and have them in our back pocket,” he said. “When the grant opportunities pop up, it is beneficial to have drawings and estimates already done.” As an example, “We were set to go when Senator Ortt came up with state funding in the quarter-million-dollar grant.”

A flexible mission statement refers to “raising funds to support community recreational, wellness, and educational programs in the greater Sweden area.” Asked why it was so wide-ranging, Mr. Zyra said, “It was general enough that we could move into various areas and not confine ourselves to a particular thing. Consequently, over the years the Foundation has given awards of a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars for a broad gamut of activities to serve the whole community from young kids to seniors.”

“Using my background experience and education to benefit the community”

Citizens may not be aware of the extensive background Mr. Zyra has brought to his volunteer work in the community.  Appropriately, his careers in industry and government were not considered for this award. That retrospect is provided here to show Mr. Zyra’s creativity and leadership in transferring appropriate skills to his volunteer community service acknowledged in the award.

With a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from Drexel University and a U. of R. Masters in Optics, Mr. Zyra’s industry career included a 32-year tenure at Eastman Kodak Company in research and engineering. From 1965 to 1997 he had several management roles including the Camera Design Department and the Product Manager for state-of-the-art digital and optical imaging products. For five of the Kodak years, he worked in top secret research on satellite systems.

While still at Kodak, “I started to get interested in what I could do with local government, using my background experience and education to benefit the community,” Mr. Zyra said.

He first ventured into Town of Sweden governance, eventually serving as member of the Planning Board from 1980 to 1991, chairing it in the final three years. He became a member of the Sweden Town Board from 1992 to 1995. He was on the Monroe County Legislature from 2000, serving as its President from 2004 until his term expired in 2010.

His product-design experience at Kodak, and municipal-planning experience with the town, provide a set of skills useful in working with board members on the planning of the various Foundation projects. Negotiating with vendors for the playground equipment’s design and materials is one example.

What the award means to Mr. Zyra

Mr. Zyra was asked how he feels about receiving the award. “I am accepting it for my board members,” he said. “You can’t accomplish anything without a group of good people behind you. I am happy about the recognition the Foundation will get for its work over the years.”

Note: Members of the 2018 award Selection Committee are: Chrys Gross, Town of Clarkson; Linda Ketchum, Village of Brockport; and Robert Westbrook, Town of Sweden.)

Sweden Park Lodge

Since its opening, the Town of Sweden Park Lodge at 4761 Redman Road has been booked for weddings, showers, family reunions, graduation parties, anniversary celebrations, business meetings and government meetings. The Lodge was made possible by the Sweden Community Recreation Foundation, which secured the grant funding. Photo by Dianne Hickerson


Those writing support for Supervisor Johnson’s nomination of Wayne Zyra were:

•Kimberly Gillard, Village of Brockport resident, mother of three children under age eleven and medical health provider for children. Lives near Sweden Town Park and goes regularly.

•Steve Hawley, Assemblyman 139th District, The State of New York Assembly

•Ernest J. Haywood, Senior Vice President, Lifetime Assistance, Inc.

•Robert G. Ortt, Senator, 62nd District, The State of New York Senate

•Mike Rockow, District 2 and Mike Zale District 20, Monroe County Legislature (co-signed)

•Jill A. Wisnowski, Recreation Supervisor, Sweden/Clarkson Recreation Department.