Lara Jester, a member of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was listening to regent Janet Hoover explain how the chapter could make itself more relevant.
One opportunity the chapter had never previously taken advantage of was the DAR's community service award, which honors "outstanding voluntary, heroic, civil or benevolent" accomplishments.
Immediately, Jester nominated local physician Zane Gates for his work with two medical clinics, the Gloria Gates Foundation after-school program and his promotion of health care reform ideas based on the clinic model.
"As soon as I said 'Zane Gates,' everybody said, 'Oh, yeah, that's perfect," she said.
Not only did the chapter members unanimously and immediately second Jester's idea, but Gates then won community service recognition at the regional and state levels as well.
And today, in a black-tie affair at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., the national DAR will name Gates - who grew up in the Evergreen Manors low-income housing project in Altoona - its overall community service winner.
"It will be quite a pomp and circumstance situation," said Hoover, who will miss the affair because she'll be having a thrice-postponed root canal.
"His credentials, according to the people at the state level, were overwhelming," said Jester.
It's the third national recognition in four years for Gates, who was named one of five Health Heroes by the magazine WebMD in 2009 and one of 10 Community Health Leaders by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation last year.
"It's crazy," Gates said of the latest award. "I just hope it helps my cause."
"I'd be hard pressed to find anyone anywhere that gives back more," Jester said.
The nature of Gates' projects shows a willingness to work without anything like equivalent compensation, Jester said.
Gates runs Partnering for Health Services, which provides free care annually to about 3,500 patients who earn too much for Medicaid but not enough for private insurance.
He also runs a federally qualified health clinic, the Altoona Community Health Center.
He is the founder of the Gloria Gates Foundation - named after his mother - which provides after-school programming at Evergreen Manors and three other locations.
And he is an advocate among state lawmakers for an expansion of the clinic concept, including a low-cost insurance plan that makes use of his clinic's partnership with Altoona Regional Health System.
It's ironic that Gates will get his award on the day the Supreme Court will announce the fate of ObamaCare - a complicated reform attempt whose aims are similar to the ultimate aims of Gates' efforts.
In contrast to the highly politicized arena in which ObamaCare has been promoted and lambasted, Gates' ideas have been bipartisan, according to Jester.
That's part of the appeal of Gates' work, she said.
"He's one of the persons who is trying to come up with an answer and who's not worried who gets the credit," she said.