This year, The Pennsylvania Society held its 119th annual awards dinner. At these dinners, the society honors an individual, from the commonwealth or beyond, with the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement “in recognition of leadership, citizenship and contributions to the arts, science, education and industry.” Among its other functions, the society also contributes to Pennsylvania-based charities and provides awards and scholarships to deserving students within the state.The Pennsylvania Society has always held its annual awards dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, though this year, ongoing renovation at this storied old hotel required a change of venue to the New York Hilton Midtown. Given the venue change, as well as a date change, there were some absences at this year’s annual dinner — but not among elected officials or hopefuls running for office next year. They seemed to be well represented at the event.
So why is the Pennsylvania Society dinner held in New York? Tradition. The first dinner was held at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1899, and attended by a group of Pennsylvanians living in New York. They established The Pennsylvania Society of New York, which ultimately became today’s Pennsylvania Society.In addition to the dinner, receptions are traditionally organized throughout the weekend by different groups. Since the weather cooperated, attendees could walk a few blocks to various gatherings. Although some of the major receptions did not take place this year, they will hopefully be back on the schedule in 2018. Nevertheless, there were still many opportunities to catch up to Gov. Tom Wolf, state legislators, U.S. senators, mayors and council members, and to let our voices be heard on different issues. Penn and Temple hosted brunches, and several major law firms, including Cozen O’Connor, Duane Morris, Arent Fox and Blank Rome, held receptions, which attracted high-visibility elected officials, in various locations around town. The Latino reception, called Pennsylvania Leaders Connection, sponsored by the media organization Al Dia, focused on women and Latinos in leadership roles, including political candidates.
At this year’s society dinner, the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement was awarded to the Sheetz Family, which operates hundreds of convenience stores and has a presence in several other states in addition to Pennsylvania. Travis Sheetz, the company’s executive vice president of operations, accepted the award and gave a very witty speech. He did needle the Philadelphia side of the audience, though, because his family favors the Pittsburgh teams. Still, he was impressive.
The Pennsylvania Society Dinner is an exciting event because it offers the opportunity to see the people who vote on laws and budgets up close and personal, and to share our views with them. Gov. Wolf, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey and many members of the state’s congressional delegation were present and accessible. And they seemed to be listening.
Photos by Bonnie Squires.