HUNTINGTON -- Cabell Circuit Judge David Pancake didn't want a typical retirement party. Instead, he opted for a good-natured roast that benefited an important cause to him.

"It's been tradition when a judge retires that they throw a big party and it costs someone $8,000 or $10,000," he said. "And I didn't want that, didn't deserve that. I think if you're going to do something like that then it should go to something that's positive."

That something positive was TEAM for West Virginia Children, an organization that works to prevent child abuse and neglect. Pancake was honored with a Service to Children Award at the organization's eighth annual fundraising dinner at the Guyan Country Club Thursday evening.

Pancake, who retired in January as Cabell Circuit Court Judge, worked with the organization's program CASA or Court Appointed Special Advocates, a group of volunteers who represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in court.

Appointed by a judge, these volunteers work to ensure children spend less time in court and the foster care system, increasing their chances of ending up in a loving, permanent home, according to the organization.

"I became very interested in the program and supportive of it because early in my experience these people would report and say things that I wasn't getting anywhere else. They looked at it through the eyes of the children," Pancake said. "They are all people who are extremely busy in the community with their jobs so it's a sacrificial work on their part.

"They wrote reports just like the social workers did, they attended the hearings, and in my court they were permitted to talk and give their opinion."

Laurie McKeown, the organization's executive director, said the award recognizes Pancake's dedication to creating safe and healthy communities for children by supporting the CASA program and appointing its volunteers to cases.

"We could train volunteers but if we didn't have judges that appointed them, they would just be waiting," she said. "We have to have the support of the judges."

She said Pancake has made a difference in ensuring every child in his courtroom has had the support they have needed.

Others who have been honored with the Service to Children Award have included Dr. Joseph Werthammer, Dr. Gilbert Ratcliff, Gayle Machin, Troy Brown, Ruth Sullivan, Janet Bromley, David Glick and Chad Pennington.

"All these folks are important in making sure our families have what they need to raise healthy, happy kids," McKeown said. "It's not just about stopping bad things from happening to kids, it's also about promoting good things, good health outcomes, positive parenting and school readiness so that our kids grow up to be happy, productive citizens."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kristi Murphy is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington.

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