Citizen Awards winners honored
HUNTINGTON -- Anyone who has heard Sylvia Ridgeway speak in public knows that she always finds an opening in her speech to advocate for civil rights.
On Sunday, the president of the Huntington and statewide chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People didn't disappoint when she was honored as The Herald-Dispatch's Citizen of the Year for 2012.
"There are so many people out there whose human and civil rights need to be protected," she said during her acceptance speech at the Huntington Museum of Art. "We have a troubled society, and we have to make sure people are treated fairly. That's what I do."
Ridgeway wasn't the only one honored by The Herald-Dispatch on Sunday. Also receiving the newspaper's Citizen Awards were dentist Leo Fleckenstein (Zack Binkley Award for Community Service); Jack Bazemore, president of JABO Supply Corp. (Business Innovator of the Year); Dot Hicks, a longtime advocate for women's sports at Marshall University (The Lowell Cade Sportsperson of the Year); David Graley, chief operating officer of the Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation (Special Community Impact Award); Katherine Cox, director of the education program at the Huntington Museum of Art (The Herald-Dispatch Award for the Arts); and Mike Sellards, chief executive officer of St. Mary's Medical Center (Special Community Impact Award).
Having a positive impact on others' lives and working tirelessly to improve the region were the common threads among this year's recipients.
Fleckenstein was recognized as the driving force behind the opening of a dental clinic at Ebenezer Medical Outreach in 2005. The medical clinic offers free services to the uninsured in eight Tri-State counties.
Those who nominated Fleckenstein said he spent countless hours equipping, funding and staffing the facility, all the while battling a rare neurological disorder that attacked part of his spine and left him partially paralyzed from the waist down.
Yvonne Jones, executive director of Ebenezer, said Fleckenstein was able to amass more than $100,000 worth of equipment and services to set up the dental clinic for less than $10,000. He then went out and recruited dentists, she said.
"The thing I love about him is he didn't do it for all of the glory," Jones said. "He did it just because it was what he was called to do."
Fleckenstein said the dental clinic will always have a special meaning to him and that "with help from the man upstairs, things just fell into place."
Bazemore was recognized for investing in his community by building a business from the ground up in Huntington. JABO Supply is on the brink of its 50th anniversary. The wholesaler of industrial pipes, valves and fittings has grown from a four-man operation in an old Amoco service station to a company of more than 80 employees in four locations.
Bazemore also has found time to give back to his community. He's been board president of the Huntington City Mission for 21 years and been a board member since 1974. He's also active in his church community as chairman of the Deacon Board for almost 40 years at Fellowship Baptist Church and participated in numerous mission trips.
"In my 43 years of employment at JABO, Jack has always told his employees that if you're willing to learn, work hard and apply yourself, he will help you grow," said Curtis Drown, who started as a warehouse employee 43 years ago and now is the company's vice president of sales and marketing. "He's demonstrated that the American dream of success is still there for those who believe in hard work."
Bazemore said all of the accomplishments in his personal and professional life are due to his family, his employees and God.
"I will only accept this award on behalf of my family and employees, but I also thank the Lord for the blesings he has bestowed upon me," he said.
Hicks worked doggedly to get women's athletics up and running after she arrived at Marshall University in 1969. She did it as a teacher, coach and athletic department administrator through 1999, when she retired.
Even after her official departure, Hicks is still on the benefactor radar for Thundering Herd women's sports in particular and the university in general. She's a member of several major academic organizations. Her name is on numerous awards/scholarships/facilities. The most visible is the $2.5 million Dot Hicks Field, the state-of-the-art home of Marshall softball since March 2008.
Linda Holmes, director of development at the Marshall University School of Medicine, said Hicks is her mentor and called her the "mom" of women's athletics at Marshall.
"This pioneer made all of the difference in the world," Holmes said of Hicks. "She left a program at East Tennessee State that had a lot of sports programs for women and came to Marshall, which had no sports of any kind for women. She took it upon herself to make it happen, and that she did."
Hicks, who fought back tears during her speech, thanked former Marshall President Dr. Robert Hayes for giving her the opportunity to excel at Marshall as well as faculty members.
"And to all of my students, you challenged me to be the best possible leader in life, on and off the field," she said.
Those who've crossed paths with Graley describe him as a tireless champion for the Tri-State's children, someone with zeal, determination and tenacity, a man who has made a "significant impact on the daily lives of people in our region."
After a successful three-decade banking career, he became the head of the Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation where he led a successful campaign to raise more than $12 million in just over five years for the Hoops Family Children's Hospital. His behind-the-scenes work is becoming more visible along Hal Greer Boulevard as work on the children's hospital progresses.
Graley refused to let a downturn in the economy in 2008 become an obstacle when he started raising money for the hospital, said Ed Dawson, Herald-Dispatch executive editor and publisher. Dawson introduced Graley during the ceremony.
"He's a remarkable advocate for the Tri-State and embodies the spirit of the community impact award for moving the hospital from a vision to reality," Dawson said.
Graley said it's the Huntington community that has left an impact on him after raising money for the hospital.
"Tough economic times didn't have one nickel's worth of impact on the heartfelt difference that this community wanted to make for our children," he said. "The outpouring has been unbelievable.
Cox was nominated for The Herald-Dispatch Award for the Arts for her work with the Museum Making Connections education program at the Huntington Museum of Art. When she took over the program in 1995, it reached about 1,000 students. This past year, it touched the lives of almost 26,000 students in rural schools.
Those who nominated Cox said her training as an artist and as an educator has empowered her to craft the museum's reach to ignite a passion for art and learning.
"She believes in the creative spirit of every child and realizes the importance of art in each of us," said Sarah Denman, who presented the award to Cox. "More than that, she has given a voice to children who otherwise would have no voice."
Sellards was recognized for his ability to successfully merge the compassion and mission of the Pallotine Sisters with a 21st century health care system and St. Mary's Medical Center.
As CEO of the hospital, he has overseen completion of an $18 million campus in Ironton, Ohio, which had been without around-the-clock medical care for more than a decade, and the transformation of the former Big Bear supermarket building at 29th Street and 5th Avenue in Huntington into the St. Mary's Center for Education.
"Seldom does an individual have an opportunity to have a chance to make a lasting impact on the community, education, economic development, employment and health care," said Herald-Dispatch Advertising and Marketing Director Amy Howat, relaying comments about Sellards from A. Michael Perry.
Sellards could not attend the ceremony. Doug Korstanje, director of marketing and community relations for St. Mary's, accepted the award on his behalf.
Sylvia Ridgeway retired in 2000 after 24 years of teaching, but those who are close to her say she has never stopped inspiring people to become leaders in their community.
The lifelong Huntington resident has been a driving force behind the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in West Virginia, first becoming the president of the Huntington chapter and now serving dual roles as the local president and leader at the state level.
"She's been a tireless worker for the NAACP, said Delores Johnson, a longtime friend who was one of many people who nominated Ridgeway. "She revived the organization on the local level and inspired young people from the high schools and colleges to get involved."
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