Baran was nominated for the honor, given by the New York State Senate, by Senator Catharine Young (R,C,I –Olean) for her work in fighting for rural health care and agriculture as well as promoting both wine and grape industry and tourism.
“I immediately thought of Helen because of her advocacy for Westfield and all of Chautauqua County.” Young said. “She is a go-getter and she’s an unsung hero and I thought that it was time that we publicly sang her praises to thank her.
“I can’t think of a better person to be named Woman of Distinction in the Senate,” Young said. “It’s really quite an honor because you have to do something extraordinary to in order to qualify. And I think that what Helen has been able to do for this community, this county and this state is extraordinary.”
In addition to being a co-owner of Baran Vineyards with her husband, Steve, Baran is the President of the Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association and a successful realtor. She is also involved in the creation of the Grape Discovery Center, which is slated to open in the spring or summer of 2012.
On June 17. 2011, the state legislature adopted a new resolution celebrating Women of Distinction from across the state, one from each legislative district.
“She was celebrated in Albany, but I think it’s even more important to bring that message home so that all of you can be here to say ‘Thank you’ to Helen,” Young said. “It’s great to have the celebration in the state capital, … but it really means the most at home,”
“I think it’s very appropriate because this is the area that we all appreciate and love and live in and work in,” Baran said of celebrating the award in Westfield. “It means much more. This way I can share this with my friends and family because they’re the people that worked right along beside me to make all this happen.”
One of the reasons Baran was chosen for the award is the work she did to keep the Westfield Memorial Hospital from being shut down. Over past year, it was finally announced that hospital would remain viable.
“She’s touched the lives of many people and she battled very hard to keep Westfield Memorial Hospital operating,” Young said. “That was a dire situation that had to be solved and Helen helped lead the charge and it really made a difference.
“This literally was the difference between life and death,” Young said. “And Helen was there constantly fighting along side us.”
Over 50 people were in attendance at the celebration, which took place at Noble Winery in Westfield, including state and local dignitaries like County Executive Greg Edwards, New York State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell and Village of Westfield Mayor David Carr.
“I think there’s one word that expresses how I feel right now, and that’s very humble,” Baran said. “I look around and I see friends and friends are what make life perfect.”
According to Baran, her advocacy work began in the 1970’s and she is happy with where Westfield stands today, but also knows the work is not over yet.
“I’m pleased, but it’s a constantly changing dynamic,” Baran said. “You have to be able to find a positive out of the negatives that are impacting the area.”
Next on her agenda is continuing work in preserving rural health care and getting the Grape Discovery Center open.
As far as how she felt when she first learned she was receiving the award, “I was totally shocked,” Baran said.
Goodell worked with Baran when she was on the County Planning board and described her as being very well respected, thoughtful and active. He said she played key role in prioritizing and implementing long-term capital projects for the county that have and will impact Western New Yorkers for years to come.
“Helen Baran has had such a positive influence on not just Westfield, but Chautauqua County for so many years, it was incredibly important to recognize and honor her contribution,” Goodell said. “It’s people like Helen Baran that make Chautauqua County special.”
He said that, for the ceremony in Albany, each woman being honored had a poster with their name, picture and list of accomplishments. Even in that crowd, Goodell said Baran stood out.
“I could not be more proud of Helen getting this award,” Goodell said. “That’s the kind of person that represents Chautauqua County.”
“She typifies the type of person who makes our area so special,” Young said.
“In rural Chautauqua County, there’s a saying and that is that you leave your place on Earth a better place when you leave here for the people that you leave behind to carry on,” Baran said. “And I think that’s what all of us really do in this area of the state.”
Baran’s actions certainly exemplify that saying, making her a 2011 Woman of Distinction.
Created in 1998, the Senate’s “Women of Distinction” recognition seeks to honor New York women who exemplify personal excellence or whose professional achievements or acts of courage, selflessness, integrity or perseverance serve as an example to all New Yorkers.
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Photo by Jenna Loughlin
Senator Catharine Young, left, and husband Steve Baran, right, applaud Westfield advocate Helen Baran during a celebration on Thursday, Sept. 1 at Noble Winery in Westfield honoring her as a 2011 New York State Woman of Distinction.