Sheryl Ritchie was given the Citizen of the Year award during Bath’s Citizen Involvement Day Saturday. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

BATH — Twelve years ago, Sheryl Ritchie was not interested in moving from Philadelphia to a small city in Maine.

A visit to the city of Bath during Autumnfest 2007 drew her here though, where her work creating a new book program for school children helped earn her the city’s Citizen of the Year award Saturday.

“It was beautiful,” she remembers of her first visit to Bath with her husband. “I saw this community event happening in town and I instantly fell in love with it.”

The Ritchies moved to Bath and she soon started volunteering for Main Street Bath, a downtown development organization. Once her kids entered school, she joined the Bath Elementary PTA and led its literacy committee.

 “It’s so touching to be here 12 years later,” she said Saturday, following the city’s 21st Annual Bath Citizen Involvement Day.

She was taken by complete surprise though when she was called to the stage as the citizen of the year.

Miriam Johnson, who nominated Ritchie, served on the PTA and the literacy committee with her. That’s where Ritchie came up with the idea for the Books on the Bus program. She was inspired by a similar program started by a bus driver for Maine School Administrative District 75, called the Bus Book Bags program.

“She raised money to create pockets on the backs of the seats, and has collected hundreds of books and worked with the schools and bus drivers to bring the project to fruition,” Johnson said.

Patten Free Library also helped start the program, which keeps donated books on the buses for students to read on their ride to and from school.

“Once my kids were in school I saw how this could really help not just with behavior but also getting books into the hands of kids,” Ritchie said. “Kids can read them on the bus, they can take them home, they can keep them even.”

All Regional School Unit 1 elementary school buses are outfitted with children’s books. The program recently expanded into Brunswick.

“We also started two book nooks in town,” Ritchie said.

A bookshelf at Bath’s teen center and skate park is full of young-adult books for kids to take home and keep. Another bookshelf is at the Bath Area Family YMCA has books for kids ranging from infant to teens.

“She puts in a lot of time,” said her husband, Jason Ritchie, after keeping the secret of his wife’s impending award for nine days. “It’s close to a full-time job. It’s a good program and we see the benefit. This is excellent.”

Other award recipients recognized

Zack Kenyon accepts the Al Smith Community Spirit Award Saturday from Bath City Council chairwoman Mari Eosco on behalf of his uncle, Barry Wyman, posthumously. Wyman died July 31 from injuries he suffered in a car crash on Route 1 in Woolwich 16 days earlier. He had served as a youth mentor, volunteering for two decades as a coach for Bath Youth Football. (Darcie Moore / The Times Record)

The Al Smith Community Spirit Award was given posthumously to Barry Wyman, who died July 31 from injuries he suffered in a car crash 16 days earlier on Route 1 in Woolwich. His nephew, Zack Kenyon, nominated him and accepted the certificate on his uncle’s behalf Saturday.

Wyman, 58, of Woolwich, was a youth mentor and volunteered for two decades as a Bath Youth Football coach. He also volunteered for the Bath Area Family YMCA where he maintained the playground. He was dedicated to his church, the Small Point Baptist Church.

Bath Housing’s Comfortably Homes program received the Community Project Award Saturday. The program provides home improvements to seniors, allowing them to age safely in their homes.

Gavin Hanna and Casper McAllian both got youth awards. Hanna, 17, volunteers at the Bath Area Food Bank. He raised nearly $1,700 for the food bank by organizing a bottle drive over the summer.

McAllian, 13, spent the summer volunteering at Dogwill in Bath, which distributes toys, treats and other items for food-insecure pet owners to help care for their animals. 

Once school started, McAllian worked at Dogwill’s mobile pet pantry serving the Bath Area Food Bank every Tuesday and Thursday evening. He designed a new customer database, “and worked with clients like a well-seasoned pro,” according to Carolyn Lockwood, Dogwill’s founder.

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