GENEVA — The turnout at Friday night’s 31st annual Freedom Fund dinner was one of the largest in recent memory.
Lucile Mallard, president of the Geneva branch of the NAACP, believes there was one reason for that: Dr. Winston Hamilton.
The city’s first black physician, who retired earlier this year after 33 years of practice, received the NAACP Appreciation Award Friday night at Club 86.
Hamilton attended the event with his wife, Nancy, despite his ongoing health problems. He was recently diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a disease in which inflammation occurs in the lungs, liver, skin or lymph nodes.
Many of Hamilton’s former patients attended, as did family members who came from out of state.
“I appreciate this. It’s overwhelming,” said Hamilton, who got several standing ovations at the event. “I am humbled to receive this honor.”
A native of Panama who moved with his family to Rochester in 1964, Hamilton came to Geneva in 1979. He had offices on Mason Street and Pre-Emption Road before retiring in March.
Despite losing some patients in the first weeks and months after his practice started, Hamilton said most of them came back and were loyal during his more than three decades of practice.
“Geneva has improved significantly during those 30 years, and I want to thank my patients and friends for being here tonight,” he said. “These friendships will last forever.”
The evening’s keynote speaker was Eva Doyle, an activist, historian, columnist, author and education pioneer in the Buffalo area. She plans on writing about Hamilton in a future issue of the Buffalo Criterion, the oldest, continuously published African American newspaper in western New York.
“Dr. Hamilton’s story needs to be recorded not only in Geneva, but in all of western New York,” she said.
The theme for this year’s dinner coincided with the national NAACP motto in this presidential election year: “Your Power, Your Decision-Vote.”
“In my view, your vote is like gold,” said Doyle, who ran for the state’s lieutenant governor position in 2010 on the Freedom Party ticket. “These are important elections, both locally and nationally.”
In addition to the Appreciation Award, the NAACP also handed out its annual Clarence Day Memorial and Mary Ann Mallard Community Service awards.
Geneva native Chris Singleton received the former. Singleton, a former president of the Geneva NAACP youth branch, is a graduate of Geneva High School, SUNY Albany and Villanova University. The New Jersey resident is an engineer with a telecommunications firm in New York City.
Shirley Reid, secretary of the Geneva NAACP, said Singleton returns to Geneva every year to march in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade and is still involved in community issues.
“You name it, he’s done it,” Reid said.
The Mary Ann Mallard Award went to the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Through the center, students at the Colleges have contributed more than 30,000 hours of service to the area.
Among its many programs are America Reads, Campus Compact and First Book Geneva. Its students have volunteered with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, at the Boys & Girls Clubs and with the community lunch program.
Jeremy Wattles, assistant director of the center, accepted the award on behalf of Director Katie Flowers.