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Annual Awards Recognize Six Unsung Heroes

A half-dozen unsung heroes, including a football star who gave up a professional career to help abandoned children and a CEO who kept paying his workers after a fire destroyed his textile mill, were honored Friday as winners of the 1996 America’s Awards.

The awards, created in 1990 by minister and author Norman Vincent Peale, annually cite unappreciated Americans who personify the country’s character and spirit. Each winner receives $1,000 from the Positive Thinking Foundation.

This year’s recipients:

John Croyle, 45, of Gadsden, Ala., a former college football star. He passed up a shot at pro football and founded the Big Oak Ranch, which has served as home to more than 2,000 abused and abandoned kids since 1974.

Aaron Feuerstein, 71, of Lawrence, Mass., who kept his 3,000 employees on the payroll while he rebuilt a textile mill destroyed in a December 1995 fire. Today, the plant is 85 percent operational and 2,600 workers are back on the job.

William Kofmehl, 54, of West View, Pa., founder of the non-profit Christian Literacy Associates. He uses 25,000 tutors and nondenominational Bible passages to teach reading to people worldwide.

Edie Lewis, 70, of Garland, Texas, who has allowed more than 200 young adults to turn their lives around by moving in with her over the last 20 years.

Jim Newman, 89, of Azle, Texas, a widower and retired engineer who befriended a pair of mentally retarded youths in a nursing home. When the state moved one of them to a facility 320 miles away, Newman packed up and moved with him.

Bill Porter, 64, of Portland, a cerebral palsy victim who has supported himself by selling household products door-to-door for the last 40 years.

The panel that chose the winners included religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley and talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford. There were 716 people nominated for the award.