Three honored for athletics contributions

Sunday Times Newspapers

RIVERVIEW — The three residents honored this year by the Riverview Hall of Fame and Scholarship Foundation have diverse backgrounds but share in common a devotion to athletics in Riverview Community Schools.

The program, which has been in place since 1989, seeks to provide positive role models to Riverview’s young people while promoting the positive contributions of community members, said Mary Zellner, who serves as chairwoman of its steering committee.

“There’s a lot of individuals out there who quietly do things,” she said. “Not that they’re looking for recognition, but it does not hurt to say thank you for those people who have had an impact on the city and the school.”

The distinction this year goes to Board of Education Treasurer Catherine Wells, attorney Neill Riddell, and the late Jeff Orto, who was an assistant varsity coach for the high school’s football team.

The honorees were recognized at a ceremony Friday.

Catherine Wells
Wells was active as a dispatcher in the Riverview Community Radio Watch program through the Riverview Police Department. She also was involved as a guest reader in the elementary schools and was involved in the Michigan Educational Assessment Program committee that ensured students had a nutritional snack during breaks in the test.

In 2000, she became the first Seitz Middle School football Booster Club trustee, a position she held for two years. She also assisted in the wrestling club and organized golf outings and fundraisers.

In 2004, Wells became president of the Football Booster Club as well as concession stand chairwoman. She also created a scrapbook for each football player to remember their time with the team.

She was elected to the school board in 2006. In 2009, she and other volunteers started the Riverview Alumni Club, which funds school projects.

Neill Riddell
Riddell, a lifelong Downriver resident, is vice president and chairman of Troy-based law firm Dean & Fulkerson’s Transportation and Logistics Law Group.

He earned national attention after success in litigation with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service before the U.S. Court of Appeals. From the 1960s through the 1990s, he was a member of various bands that performed throughout the area. At one performance in the 1980s at Sportsmen’s Den in Riverview, he met his wife, Debora, who was a waitress there.

He has been active in the Riverview Baseball Association for many years, coaching teams at every level of the organization, including one United States Speciality Sports Association state championship. He has served in the RBA in a variety of capacities, including several terms as president, and has run the annual hardball tournament for nearly 20 years. In 1998, he co-founded the Downriver Baseball Association with Mark Elliot, of Trenton.

Jeff Orto
Growing up in Riverview, Orto was active in the district’s football and rowing programs.

After graduating from Eastern Michigan University, he went on to coach all levels of football in the district and with his brother, Paul, served as the core of the coaching staff for its rapidly growing rowing program. The two later founded the Midwest Scholastic Rowing Association.

During his tenure with the school’s rowing program, he and his brother sent more rowers to Division I colleges with athletic scholarships than all other Riverview sports combined.

Orto’s “missionary’s zeal” is credited with encouraging hundreds of students to try out for sports in Riverview. He also was an early proponent of women’s rowing programs at Riverview High School and the Wyandotte Boat Club. He also served as an in-school suspension supervisor at Seitz Middle School.

Starting at age 16, he became active in the Meals on Wheels program. The organization later named their annual golf fundraiser in his honor.

Orto was elected to the board of directors of the Wyandotte Boat Club and held a variety of positions there. He died at age 36 while preparing WBC crews for the U.S. National Championships in the summer of 2001.