SAVANNAH - As Rose MarcAntonio winds through the hallways of the courthouse annex, where hundreds of poll workers wait in line to pick up their Election Day materials, her fellow volunteers have many hellos and kind words for her.
Ms. MarcAntonio stands out not only because of her bright-red hair or small stature. She has an energy that embodies what the electoral process is all about, said Brooks Stillwell, chairman of the Chatham County Board of Elections.
She came to America from Italy in 1936 with her parents. Though she became a citizen in 1939, she went through the naturalization process on her own in 1973 as an adult because she wanted to do it for herself, she says.
"It was hard to become a citizen," she said. "I am proud to walk down the streets where there is freedom of speech and religion. To be able to vote is an honor and a privilege."
Ms. MarcAntonio has volunteered as a poll worker during Chatham County elections since the mid-1960s, she said, with her husband, John.
To honor them both for their years of service, the election board presented a plaque to Ms. MarcAntonio on Monday night. She's the first recipient of the "MarcAntonio Award," which will go to the poll official who demonstrates outstanding service each year.
The MarcAntonios manned the Whitefield Methodist Church polling center at Precinct 1-3. When her six children were younger, they helped out, too.
"Rose and John are our heroes," said Kathy Rogers, election supervisor. "Rose makes lasagna for us every election. ... Rose is as thorough as you can get and for that I am so thankful."
Mr. MarcAntonio died of cancer last year. Although he was in the hospital, Ms. MarcAntonio arranged to have family members stay with him so she could continue to work the polls. He died the next day.
"In a time when voter apathy abounds, Rose really embodies to us what the electoral process is all about," Ms. Rogers said. "Her energy is really amazing. She's a very dynamic lady."
Voter apathy concerns Ms. MarcAntonio, who says she thinks people don't vote because they're lazy. Those people are usually the ones who complain most about elected officials, and there's no excuse for that, she says.
"It's such a privilege," she said. "Everybody has the right to vote. No one can take that away from you."