A Lorain native committed to serving his community has been named Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper of the Year from among nine District Troopers of the Year across the state. Ray Santiago is honored to be named trooper of the year, but says it is still unbelievable. “It is all so surreal,” Santiago said. “Once they called my name, I took a deep breath and did a mental checklist — kiss your wife, shake captain’s hand, and hug your mother — before walking to the stage.” Santiago said he had no idea he would receive this recognition. “It’s one of the state’s best kept secrets, literally,” he said. “It’s human nature to want to know, but no one would budge.” Santiago said his passion and longing to make a difference in the community came from a childhood dream of being a member of the military. “I had a regret of not joining the military when I was younger,” he said. “When the opportunity presented itself to me to join the Patrol, I felt it was kind of a way to fulfill that regret. “It gives me a chance to serve at a local level, at home and still get that sense of service .” Santiago joined the Highway Patrol in 2010 as a member of the 150th Academy Class. In 2011, he earned his commission and was assigned to the Ashland Post. In 2013, he was transferred to the Elyria Post in North Ridgeville. “I was blessed to be able to return home and I have been here ever since, which is about four years now,” Santiago said. He has earned the Criminal Patrol Award in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Santiago was selected as the Elyria Post Trooper of the Year in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. He also was selected as District Trooper of the Year for the Bucyrus District and Cleveland District and earned the Chiaramonte Humanitarian Award in 2014 and 2016. While appreciative of the recognition, Santiago said he feels everyone who was nominated for Trooper of the Year merits it as well. “Every trooper nominated deserves the title because we all contribute in different ways,” he said. “The only thing I take credit for is the blessing to be able to help my community.” Without his great support system, he said he would not be where he is now. “I have amazingly supportive coworkers, supervisors and family members,” Santiago said. “If I don’t have any one of those ingredients, I would not be able to do half as much as I do.” Aside from Highway Patrol duties, Santiago is active with Operation Open Heart, a nonprofit organization started in 1962 by former trooper David Harper. It facilitates support and mentorship by law enforcement and public safety services of boys ages 6-17, receiving assistance through Lorain County Children Services. “I’m a huge proponent of early intervention and interaction; going to visit them is very fulfilling,” Santiago said. “I’m not there because something bad happened, but because I want to be there.” Santiago also is active in his church, Sacred Heart Chapel, 4301 Pearl Ave. in Lorain, and participates with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lorain County. He said he makes frequent visits and last year he was able to provide school supplies for the children at the Boys and Girls Clubs. “I truly want young people to know that I’m not their adversary; I’m here to serve them, like a friend,” Santiago said. “Too often, we are viewed as the bad guys. But that’s not the case. We are here to serve them.” Santiago said he wants to continue being a positive influence in the community. “I want to continue contributing to my hometown and making a safer Ohio,” he said.