On November 14 the Potomac Chamber of Commerce will celebrate its citizen, youth, businessperson, and charity of the year at a special awards dinner at Normandie Farms restaurant. A brief glance at the award winners:
Flora Singer, Citizen of the Year
Since she published her memoir, “Flora: I Was but a Child,” Flora Singer has received a lot of attention. A former foreign language teacher in the Montgomery County Public School system, she was honored in an April public ceremony by the Board of Education. She has had audiences with Elie Wiesel and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and at last month’s Potomac Day parade she rode down River Road in a Chrysler convertible.
“She was in the parade, riding in the convertible with the top down, waving to the people, it was a good experience for her,” said Jack Singer, her husband of 57 years.
Singer’s book recounts her youth in Nazi-occupied Belgium. Her father left for Canada just before World War II, but Flora, her sisters and her mother were unable to join him. When Belgium fell under Nazi control the Singer women were hidden by a Benedictine monk for two years in Catholic convents. When the war ended her family came to the United States and settled in New York City where they reunited with Flora’s father.
When Flora came to America in 1946 she was 16 years old. She worked initially as a seamstress, then she studied stenography and became a secretary.
It was in New York City that she met Jack Singer, and the couple moved first to Long Island, then to Pennsylvania before they settled in Potomac.
Flora went back to school and earned her B.A. and M.A., both in French, from the University of Maryland. She began teaching both at the University of Maryland and the County schools. In addition to teaching French, she helped to prepare a Holocaust history course for the county’s teachers, but it wasn’t until several years ago that she ever considered putting her story to paper.
Then she saw literature from an organization that denied the Holocaust and she felt compelled to share all that she had experienced and witnessed. In April 2006, shortly after she completed her book, she suffered a stroke and now is virtually unable to speak, Jack Singer said.
It is that book, though, that now speaks for her, and that has now brought her all of this attention.
“We’re all very proud that she was selected [for the Citizen of the Year Award], of course, it’s a big honor. She appreciates it too,” said Jack Singer.
Jack Singer described their meeting with McCarrick when he invited them for a personal audience with him.
“He got down on his knees and he blessed her, it was quite an emotional scene, let me tell you,” said Jack Singer.
The Singers will continue to stay busy with events related to Flora’s memoir. They will take part in the Jewish Community Center’s annual book fair this month, and despite Flora’s health, Jack Singer said that there is much to be learned from Flora’s words and her life.
“It’s a shame what happened to her because she really was doing a lot for the country, so to speak, teaching students what hatred can do, what it means to be tolerant,” said Jack Singer.
Tristram Coffin Kruger, D.D.S., Businessperson of the Year
Dr. Tris Kruger has been cleaning the teeth of Potomac residents for 30 years. He has volunteered his time in his community and the Dominican Republic, and he has served as the president of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association and the Potomac Chamber of Commerce. But 2007 Potomac Chamber of Commerce Businessperson of the Year?
“I feel that they are obviously lacking in candidates and they have simply reached the bottom of the barrel and they had no on else to give it to,” Kruger joked.
After he graduated from the Georgetown University School of Dentistry in 1977, Kruger opened up shop in the Potomac Promenade shopping center. After eight years there he wanted to find a permanent home for his office where he wouldn’t have to pay rent. He found the perfect house with the perfect location where he could both live and work near the corner of Accord Drive and River Road. There was only one problem — the house wasn’t for sale.
Or so he thought. When the seasons turned and the leaves fell, a For Sale sign that had been obscured by foliage appeared.
“It had been for sale for a year,” Kruger said. “I went up to the owner and said, “Hey, I want to buy your house,’ and he said, ‘Fine.’”
An avid runner, Kruger ran in 13 Marine Corps marathons, 12 Boston marathons and one New York marathon before the wear and tear on his body began to catch up with him.
“Running is great, I mean it clears your mind,” said Kruger, who organizes the Potomac Day 5K race each year. “The last [marathon] I ran was in ‘91. I can’t do it at that level anymore.”
The pounding from the pavement has left Kruger without any cartilage in his knees, but that doesn’t keep him from running, even if it isn’t as serious as it used to be.
“I used to love just going out and losing myself in a twenty-mile run. Now I go out and lose myself in a five-mile run,” Kruger said. “My knees are shot, [but] I’m still able to stumble around a bit,” he joked.
After 30 years of living and working in Potomac, the same things that made him open his store here keep him working in Potomac Village today.
“It’s just been fun working out here in this community,” said Kruger, who grew up locally and graduated from Walt Whitman High School. “It is a terrific community. The people are delightful. For the very most part everybody couldn’t be nicer, it’s a terrific working environment. They’re regular people, they’re no different from any other area.”
Kruger owns and operates a second practice in Hyattsville, and most of his customers are regulars. He has had some notable patients over the years — in his Potomac office he used to see former Life and Time Magazine correspondent Hugh Sidey and continues to see members of his family. He sees some other familiar faces as well.
“I see old girlfriends as patients, they’re married now with kids,” Kruger said. “That sometimes is humorous.”
Sasha Hamilton-Cotter, Youth of the Year
When the last bell of the school day rings at the Connelly School of the Holy Child, Sasha Hamilton-Cotter is just getting warmed up. Between varsity sports, student government, school clubs, volunteer work, and serving as a lector and altar server with her church, she has her fingers in a lot of different pies.
“I just try to make time,” she said. “I don’t focus on everything every day, I set aside certain days for certain clubs. It’s a lot of time management.”
Hamilton-Cotter, a Holy Child senior, has attended the school since the sixth grade. She is the president of Best Buddies, an organization that pairs high school students with developmental disabilities, and the vice president of Small Wonders Club, a pro-life club that raises money for a variety of organizations that help underage mothers and those contemplating abortions with the financial burdens of pregnancy and motherhood.
She is also a member of her school’s varsity volleyball and softball teams, a leader in the Campus Ministry Program, a yearbook staff member, and a member of the Diversity Club, not to mention that she is also the Senior Class President.
She has also volunteered with a variety of groups including Meals on Wheels and Martha’s Table.
“Sasha has a natural ability to lead in a most effective and benevolent manner,” wrote Michelle Smith, the Dean of Students at Holy Child in her letter of nomination for Hamilton-Cotter. “The respect and pride we have for this fine young woman is immense.”
The Youth of the Year Award is an honor that Hamilton-Cotter never saw coming because Smith didn’t tell her about the nomination.
“I was honestly pretty shocked, it was … pretty unexpected,” said Hamilton-Cotter. “I had no idea. It was really right out of the blue.”
Hamilton-Cotter said that she hopes to study special education in college.
“I have a couple of aunts that work in that type of field ... of learning development and that's become more and more interesting to me.”
With her extensive body of work that speaks for itself, and now with the Youth of the Year Award to add to her growing list of achievements, she is likely to be a strong candidate for whatever college or university she wants to go to. As soon as she can find the time to apply, that is.
“That’s probably the one thing that’s gotten pushed aside is my college applications,” she said. “I should probably do that.”