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Posted: April 29, 2014 11:10 a.m.

Dial named 2013 Hometown Hero

Morgan Steward runner-up

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Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn said it best in helping to honor the two 2013 General Mills and The Covington News Hometown Hero finalists, who both happen to be handicapped.

“Your first response when you encounter somebody like that is what can I do to reach out to help them? How can I bless them in some kind of way?” Ozburn said. “But as you interact with them, you’re the one who is blessed.”

Newton County was blessed in 2013 by the actions of Jim Dial and Morgan Steward.

Dial, who touched Ozburn and others in Newton County, passed away in October after living with Downs Syndrome, and was named the General Mills and The Covington News Hometown Hero for 2013.

Steward, who at a very young age has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, was named an honorary Covington Police Department officer and was voted Hometown Hero runner-up.

The two were honored at a breakfast presented by The Covington News and General Mills at the Newton County Career Academy Tuesday.

The News’ Publisher T. Pat Cavanaugh and General Mills Plant Manager Mark Bible introduced the two finalists, which were selected from a year’s worth of citizens highlighted in print.

Dial was the first special-needs student to graduate from Newton County High School, and became an institution in the community. He went on to work at the judicial center, in the office of Superior Court Clerk Linda Hays. He helped brighten the day of those he worked with and met.

He had lunch every day at the Butcher Block Café and handed out bulletins at Covington First Baptist Church.

“Brother Jim was a real inspiration to so many of us in this community over his 50 years he was with us,” local resident Pete Carter said. “He inspired so many people and so very blessed our paths that he crossed. We’re better people for it.”

Dial was introduced as the Hometown Hero after Cavanaugh named Steward the runner-up.

Five-year-old Steward was diagnosed with SMA Type 2 when he was 15-months old, and his parents were told his life expectancy would be about 20 or 30 years. That hasn’t stopped Steward from possessing what is routinely one of the biggest smiles in any room he is in.

His biggest wish was to become a police officer, and when a photo of him and that desire was posted to Facebook, the idea circulated to the Covington Police Department. The CPD made that dream come true, giving him a uniform and badge, while he rode in the front patrol car of the Covington Lions Club Christmas Parade.

Steward was given a special police wheelchair by the CPD , an honorary degree from the Georgia Piedmont Technical College Law Enforcement Academy, a paver stone honoring him as a CPD member and Steward met with Rep. Paul Brown and former NBA great Shaquille O’Neal during a day in Steward’s honor.

“Why can’t we celebrate our children and our special children,” Morgan’s dad, Baron Steward, said Tuesday. “Let us all be encouraged. Let us all look for good. When I look at Morgan, early on he’s always distinguished right from wrong and good for bad. I said this is a child of truth. That’s what we want him to represent — the truth in this world and the goodness in this world.”

Dial and Steward were featured as Hometown Heroes last year, along with Covington Police Officer Brian Capps, Newton County Sheriff’s Deputy Charlie Cook and a nurse from Atlanta for reviving a man after an accident, and Josh Lowry, Justin Hodges, Moana Hassan and Lee Court for rescuing a woman on the Alcovy River.

The News’ is already busy finding stories of Hometown Heroes for 2014, and will for the fifth straight year honor a hero, along with General Mills, next year.

Past Hometown Heroes include CPD Lt. Jason Cripps in 2012, Pam Dew in 2011 and Kelli Hopkins in 2010.

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