More than 700 guests, including Gov. Joe Manchin, first lady Gayle Manchin and CEO of the YMCA of USA Ken Gladish, will fill the Raleigh County Armory tonight to honor the 2005 Spirit of Beckley recipient, House Speaker Bob Kiss.

The Spirit of Beckley title, which Beckley YMCA CEO Jim Gilchrist says is the most prestigious recognition anyone from the area can receive, is awarded each year to a person who has dedicated time, resources and energy in hopes of making a positive impact in the community.

The recipient each year lends his or her name to the Spirit award, which is annually the YMCA’s largest fund-raiser. Money contributed in the name of the honoree funds scholarships for the less fortunate and helps the YMCA continue to offer its many youth-oriented programs.

When this year’s Spirit winner was announced, the fund-raising goal was set at $125,000, and Gilchrist said he believes the goal will be met.

“We’ve set a very aggressive goal this year,” Gilchrist said, “and we expect to surpass it.”

Tonight will mark Gladish’s first-ever visit to Beckley. Gilchrist said Gladish met Kiss last year and decided to attend this year’s event after learning he had been named the Spirit recipient.

“We’re ecstatic he’s coming,” Gilchrist said. “The governor is coming and CEOs from both Huntington and Charleston are coming, too, so this is a big, big deal.”

This will be the first time Manchin has attended the Spirit of Beckley dinner. Lara Ramsburg, spokesperson for Manchin, said the governor decided to attend the event out of admiration for Kiss.

“He (Kiss) represents his home area very well and he also represents the people of West Virginia very well,” Ramsburg said. “The governor was very aware of Speaker Kiss before he was elected, but having worked closely with him (since taking office), he has been really impressed by how hard he works. He has great respect for him.”

While the money raised for the YMCA through the fund-raiser is important, Gilchrist says the money-raising portion is over and the focus is now strictly on making the event an enjoyable evening for Kiss.

“We hope to put on a great presentation for him,” Gilchrist said. “We hope everyone shows up to honor him and a lot of people come out to thank Bob Kiss for what he’s done over the years to honor the state. He’s done so much for this area. He’s just been a great leader. He’s never asked for recognition, but if anyone deserves it, it’s Bob Kiss.”

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a reception, followed by a dinner and presentation.

Gladish and Manchin will give brief speeches, followed by a speech from Kiss. Gilchrist said Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh will present Kiss with a key to the city and he will be pinned with the Spirit of Beckley award.

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