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Tonglao earns inaugural Flash Family Inspirational Award

Peter Tonglao, winner of the Flash Family Inspiration Award, poses in the Chevy Corvette that carried him through the streets of downtown Mercer Island during the Summer Celebration! parade on Saturday, July 11. - Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter
Peter Tonglao, winner of the Flash Family Inspiration Award, poses in the Chevy Corvette that carried him through the streets of downtown Mercer Island during the Summer Celebration! parade on Saturday, July 11.
— image credit: Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter

Island senior Peter Tonglao has won the first annual Flash Family Inspirational Award, put on by the Youth and Family Services Department (YFS) and Island citizen Phil Flash. Tonglao, 77, stood out — according to the committee that voted him winner — for his natural inclination toward helping Island residents, whatever their needs.

Since 1998, Tonglao has volunteered with the Community Center’s senior transportation program, driving seniors around the Island as required. He is a long-standing Summer Celebration! volunteer. He actively tends to a pea patch at the Community Center with his wife, Betty, and he regularly participates in a fitness program at the CCMV. His presence in the community cannot be missed.

“I’ve worked with him almost nine years,” said YFS Director Cindy Goodwin. “He truly is a special individual. He has such consideration for his fellow man. Whatever needs to be done, Peter does it.”

Asked how he felt to receive such an honor, Tonglao answered modestly.

“I was really surprised that I won this award. I didn’t even know that I had been nominated,” the senior said.

Instead of speaking about himself, Tonglao deflected the question toward the community. He has enjoyed living on Mercer Island for over 30 years. He and his wife watched their children pass through the Island’s school system. They attend as many community events as possible, whether in the Town Center, at the Community Center or within their neighborhood.

As for his volunteer work, the reason Tonglao donates hours each week to the CCMV’s senior transportation system, the awardee said, is simple: he enjoys it.

“Ed McKinney, who has since passed on, was a retired fire chief on Mercer Island 10 years ago. He was in charge of the transportation program and asked me if I wanted to help out. That was back in 1998, and I’ve done it ever since. I enjoy driving the bus and meeting lots of wonderful people,” Tonglao said.

Lifelong Island resident Phil Flash, founder of the award, said that Tonglao was “as good a choice as possibly could be.”

Flash said he initiated the award as a means to recognize Island seniors who make a difference to the community. He has set aside ample funds to keep the award alive for years to come. Each awardee will have his or her name engraved into a plaque that is on show at the CCMV. The winner also receives a gift tailored to each individual’s personality. Flash said he hopes the award becomes a lasting tradition on Mercer Island.

“The idea is, if these people can become good role models by being active and taking part in the community, it’s reason for other people to do the same. If this award can be used as a nucleus and challenge others, I think it’s great,” Flash said.

Tonglao was acknowledged publicly during last weekend’s Summer Celebration! parade. He rode through the town streets in a classic Chevy Corvette, waving to the crowd as he passed. The honor was fitting, as Tonglao and his family have attended nearly every Summer Celebration! since moving to the Island.

“I think we only missed one,” he said. “And that was just because we were on a trip. It’s a wonderful event — part of what makes up this wonderful community.”

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