VFW Post presents Firefighter, Officer of Year annual awards
Annette Krocker, Erik Kupchik nominated by past, current co-workers
Annette Krocker doesn’t see herself as deserving of Mentor Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9295’s annual Firefighter of the Year award.
After all, she’s not a firefighter. She has served as administrative assistant to the Mentor fire chief for the past 26-plus years.
However, all three of the chiefs she has worked for were unanimous in their support for her receiving the $200 check award, formally presented at the March 6 Mentor City Council meeting. And all three were on hand to speak in her favor.
“I served as your fire chief for 18 years, and during that time were some high points that made up my career, and certainly one of the highest points was when we were able to bring Annette into the department,” said former chief John Preuer, who retired in 2001. “She came in with skill sets that were fabulous, and we saw her ability to help with day-today operations to be outstanding . ... She became literally the right hand for myself and virtually every other commander in the department.”
Even colleagues throughout Lake County would contact Krocker when they needed something done, former chief Richard Harvey added. He worked with her 12 years before retiring in 2014.
“She literally transformed the service delivery and the relationships that the Mentor Fire Department had with the community, and no one was better suited for that than her,” Harvey said. “There’s no one better that could be receiving this award.”
Current Chief Robert Searles said Krocker gives 110 percent, and he lauded her character, abilities, compassion, knowledge, job performance and more.
“She’s always there for us,” he said.
Krocker will be donating her check to her niece’s charity, the Godfrey Project, for special-needs children and young adults in developing countries.
“Firefighters of the Year in my eyes are true heroes,” she said. “Every day, they come to work and put themselves out there not knowing what each day will bring and risk their lives on a daily basis. It takes a special person to be a firefighter, as well as a police officer, and they have all chosen this career and dedicate themselves to be the best that they can be. So truly, in my eyes, all the members of the Mentor Fire Department are the real Firefighters of the Year, and I accepted the award not for myself, but for all the members of our department.”
VFW Service Officer Bob Zonneville also presented a check to Police Officer of the Year Erik Kupchik. He was nominated by Mentor Police Capt. Ken Zbiegien, operations commander.
He said Kupchik distinguishes himself with his “dedication, commitment and his work efforts that have impacted the community of Mentor … by making the citizens of and the visitors to the city safer.”
He has been with the department more than 15 years, is a member of the Aggressive Criminal Enforcement Unit, and is a field training officer and an active member of the United States Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force.
Last year, he was awarded the Ohio Mothers Against Drunk Driving “Award of Excellence” and “Top Cop” for his traffic enforcement efforts in addressing impaired driving.
Zonneville expressed a kinship for the safety forces.
“Our job is to help protect the country away from the borders,” he said. “The firemen and policemen protect our country within our borders. … We have a lot of respect for what they do.”
The winners are now in the running for district — and potentially state — VFW awards.