Nazarene Church Pastor Dustin Ledford named Carthage Citizen of the Year

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Beth Simmons, the 2021 Richard M. Webster Carthage Citizen of the Year, presents the award to the 2022 recipient, Carthage Nazarene Church Pastor Dustin Ledford, at a monthly Lunch and Laugh event held at the church on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 as Ledford's wife, Kara, looks on. The award is normally presented at the Carthage Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet in January but that event wasn't held this year. John Hacker / CNO

‘He serves in the trenches’

Dustin Ledford was pleased by the large crowd attending the Carthage Church of the Nazarene’s monthly Lunch and Laugh event, but he didn’t know that the crowd filling the church’s multi-purpose room on Thursday was here at least in part for him.

Usually these monthly events attract a good sized crowd. His father, Martin, was in the audience because Ledford’s sister, Lynnette Holt, was scheduled to sing at the event. Plus the church is gearing up to celebrate its 100th birthday next week, so that explained why a State Senator, the President of the Carthage Chamber of Commerce and other dignitaries were there, right?

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Nope.

The other reason started to become obvious when Susan Wendleton, a coordinator of these Lunch and Laugh events took the stage and started speaking.

Wendleton started talking about the Richard M. Webster Citizen of the Year award, which she won in 2018, and started describing this year’s winner.

The Citizen of the Year winner is normally handed out in January at the Carthage Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet but the banquet had been cancelled the last couple of years because of the pandemic and a change of administration at the Chamber so the 2022 winner had not been announced yet.

And about half way through Wendleton’s presentation, a light bulb went off in Ledford’s mind.

“Probably midway through the introduction I started recognizing the different events that we were a part of, so it began to sink in,” Ledford said. “It caught me completely off guard. My goal is to serve people and to love people and it’s really special to know that the citizens of Carthage recognize this. And it’s my prayer that each one would know that it’s not one person but it’s all of us working together.”

Ledford received the trophy representing the award from last year’s recipient, McCune-Brooks Healthcare Foundation Director Beth Simmons.

Chamber President Julie Reams and State Sen. Bill White presented formal proclamations from the Missouri State House and Senate recognizing the award, which is named for the late State Sen. Richard M. Webster, from Carthage.

“It is an honor to present to you this award. You are very deserving,” Reams said. “I know I’ve only been in Carthage a very short time but you have definitely made an impact on my life and I thank you for that, for welcoming me with open arms.”

“When you were introduced, everything that was said is on my resolution,” White said. “But the servants heart is so impressive. The amount of dedication you put into the community and my community in Joplin — I was in the Joplin tornado and people came from all over, people came from Carthage, to help.”

Ledford’s immediate reaction was humble and humorous all at once.

“I had no idea, I’m glad I ironed my shirt today,” Ledford said. “I thank you for the support and the recognition and it is my prayer that it would be a reflection of who Jesus is. He came and modeled for each one of us and it’s my life’s goal to follow his example. And it comes natural when you follow the ways of the Lord for service to kind of be seen.”

Wendleton’s introduction highlighted some of the reasons for Ledford’s nomination for the award.

“Possibly with a farm background of a Kansas boy, he was taught to work hard in service of others and to live out his faith every day of the week,” Wendleton said. “The nomination from the community reads this: Tirelessly supporting all things in Carthage, his organization supports Marian Days, Maple Leaf, Crisis Center, Food Truck Friday, R-9 Schools and many other groups and events. Not to be overlooked, during the pandemic his personal ministry to those who have been sick, those who provide health care services, school teachers serving in difficult situations, and loved ones lost through COVID. A visionary with quick action plans in times of challenges, whether gathering up wheelchairs the night of the Joplin Tornado, building houses in the aftermath, instigating take-and-bake meals for teachers and their families during COVID, or coming up with the idea for a senior lunch for the citizens of Carthage that we called Lunch and Laugh.”

Wendleton, who works at the church, said said Ledford epitomizes the character of Sen. Webster.

“He’s a visionary, he’s an extremely hard worker and he cares for people in a huge way,” Wendleton said. “He comes up with the ideas of the big things and nothing is off limits if it’s going to feed into people’s lives to help them. He just gives his life away to other people. He’s a humble leader. You just don’t see the ego coming out.”

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