As a resident of the city for more than 37 years, Nick Berkuta has waited a long time to receive the distinction of being chosen La Cañadan of the Year.
But he said at a La Cañada Kiwanis Club ceremony at Descanso Gardens on Wednesday afternoon that his years serving the city in various public safety and community roles was enough of an honor.
"It's been said that a proud man counts his newspaper clippings, but a humble man his blessings," he said. "I have been blessed."
Berkuta is a former public safety commissioner with 36 years at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department under his belt. He is currently a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission and membership chair of the La Cañada Coordinating Council. He also is a longtime volunteer with both the Boy Scouts of America and YMCA.
City Councilman Donald Voss touched on Berkuta's volunteerism by reading a satire of a Wikipedia entry. He said he looked up the definition of a community volunteer on the online encyclopedia and Berkuta was listed as an example.
"The typical volunteer is relatively tall, mustachioed, deep voice, and looks remarkably like the person in the portrait to the right," he said, getting laughs from the audience.
On a more serious note, he painted Berkuta as a person who has dedicated his life in the city to helping others.
City Manager Mark Alexander said Berkuta is always willing to volunteer, and is reliable.
"When you find that the right person repeatedly shows up in your life at the right place and at the right time," said Alexander, "it's probably not good fortune, it's probably Nick Berkuta."
Other speakers at the event, which was attended by more than 100 people, included Chamber of Commerce President Pat Anderson, YMCA of the Foothills President Tyler Wright and members of Berkuta's family.
Berkuta's wife, Mary Ann, said the two met when they were "just puppies." She said it took awhile to recognize his virtues.
"My mom … always told me, 'He is such a keeper,'" she said. "I knew it, I got it, but it just took a few years."
She said her husband of 43 years is a fair person, who always wants to hear both sides of an issue before making any decisions. He is also always alert, placing calls to the city if he sees something that doesn't look right when taking walks around his neighborhood, she said.
The couple moved to La Cañada in 1975 after Nick became attached to the community while patrolling the area as a lieutenant.
"He loves this community," she said. "He talks about it all the time. We'll wake up and he'll say, 'Look, look where we live!' We've lived here 37-and-a-half years and he still looks at this community like we just moved here."