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Local men awarded Moose highest honors

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

MOOSEHEART — Sarah Remy-Airey is a little girl who had a big job to do during a ceremony at Mooseheart this month.

Sarah, 7, presented a gold blazer with a “P” in a triangle, surrounded by a circle, inside the packed P.J. O’Hollaren Centre for Tomorrow building. More than 250 people filled the space, coming from the United States, parts of Canada, Bermuda and Great Britain.

“It felt like my dad was really happy,” Sarah said of her father, Don Airey. “And I was happy, too. And I liked it and I’m sure my dad did. And I was happy for him.”

Airey, 44, an Aurora resident and Joe Serwa, 59, a Naperville resident, are two people out of 136 to receive the Pilgrim Degree of Merit for 2010.

Airey and Serwa are both members of Illinois Moose Lodge 682, which is based in Batavia.

Moose International is a fraternal organization. Moose offers support to children and senior citizens. It supports the children on the Mooseheart campus on Route 31 between North Aurora and Batavia, who could be orphans or live there because their parents do not have money to support them.

“It’s an honor to be picked to be a pilgrim in the Moose,” Airey said. “ … There’s very few of us that get picked to be a pilgrim.”

According to a news release, 3,800 out of 700,000 Moose members carry the Pilgrim Degree of Merit title, which is considered the highest honor in the organization. Fewer than 150 members get this distinction each year.

“I’m a type of person that worked in a factory and everything, and never get recognized,” Serwa said. “I’m overwhelmed that I got selected.”

Airey explained that to be selected for the pilgrim degree, a Moose member must do community service, help the community and get the Legion of the Moose and Fellowship of the Moose degrees.

“And from the Fellowship Degree — you might get chosen to be a pilgrim,” Airey said.

Helping out is what Serwa and Airey do.

Airey’s father is William B. Airey, Moose International director general and CEO. Airey said that before his dad had his current title, he was a Moose lodge administrator.

Airey, thus, has been around the Moose all of his life.

“It’s pretty much bred into me,” Airey said. “ ... I just believe in their concepts, which is taking care of each other … I think it’s a beautiful thing. Most people should do it.”

Serwa said he and Airey are involved in the Flight 93 memorial, which is to be built in Pennsylvania.

Closer to home, Serwa is volunteering to help with a Special Olympics for next year in Elgin.

“My time is spent giving back to the fraternity, just helping out as most I could,” Serwa said.

Serwa has even cooked up what he calls “short-order stuff” for his lodge, whipping up hamburgers, chicken wings, fish and steak fries.

Come 6:30 a.m. for an upcoming founder’s breakfast, Serwa and “crew” will cook up and serve plain, blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes for children at Mooseheart.

Serwa becomes emotional as he talks about the children of Mooseheart.

“The expression on the kids’ face — it’s amazing, that come in to get their pancakes,” Serwa said. “ … The kids will come back after they get done and come up to each one of us individuals and look at you in the face and say, ‘Sir, thank you for cooking me breakfast this morning.’ That’s what it’s all about.”

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