Why It’s Okay that October is Crazy

A lot of things happen in October. Baseball playoffs. Halloween. The birthday of almost everyone I know. But for me, above all else, October means the Richmond History Makers program here at the History Center. Richmond has many worthy awards programs, but History Makers is the only one that recognizes such a diverse group of people, in a parking lot, on a Tuesday night in October. Bear with me.

Last year was our best year yet, with a hilarious joint speech by Peggy Baggett and Keith Martin on behalf of MINDS WIDE OPEN: Virginia Celebrates Women in the Arts and even funnier remarks by the fiery, straight shooter Anne Lane, who won for her service at the Daily Planet and had everyone in hysterics. Jen Smith-Slabaugh of the Virginia Mentoring Partnership stood alongside board member Kym Grinnage who, pardon the pun, was grinning ear to ear as he accepted their award. Melba Gibbs, one of the toughest, no nonsense women I’ve ever met, got all misty-eyed when she accepted the award on behalf of her outstanding work at Freedom House, and Vanessa Diamond closed the ceremony with enthusiastic kudos for Richmond’s volunteer network via HandsOn Greater Richmond.

Standing off stage, laden with clipboards and radios, I thought, “Wow, how can we ever top this?” But truth be told, each year, that 45 minute ceremony makes the last ten months of hard work 100% worth it.

The process begins in January, when we pull together key partners and recruit members of the Selection Committee. In May, after much preparation, the public is invited to nominate people and organizations that are quietly making an impact on life in the Richmond region. (By region, we mean Richmond city and 13 surrounding counties.) Nominees are nominated in one of the following categories:

  • Creating Quality Educational Opportunities
  • Demonstrating Innovative Solutions
  • Encouraging Regional Collaboration
  • Improving Social Justice
  • Promoting Stronger Communities

We intentionally leave the category descriptions vague and impose few criteria. Nominees have to be living at the time of their nominations and cannot be staff or board members of the History Center. They can be re-nominated from previous years. Most importantly, they should be largely under the radar. Unrecognized. Not a household name. Our tagline is “everyday people doing extraordinary things.”

At the end of June, we close the call for nominations and turn over the applications to the Selection Committee, which has the unenviable task of choosing just five from among 50-75 nominees. After reviewing nominees on their own, members convene in person to decide on the winners. The process is interesting and often complex. The eventual winner is not always the initial frontrunner. A few times, winners have been swapped among categories. Eventually, five are agreed upon, and everyone goes home exhausted but confident. The next day, I get to call the winners and let them know the good news. This is one of my favorite days of the year, because most honorees have no idea that they’ve been nominated and are very surprised to hear from me. I’ve actually been hung up on. Twice! But in seven years, no one has declined the award.

I’m pleased to share with you our 2011 winners: 2011 Richmond History Makers

Creating Quality Educational Opportunities – Dr. Margaret Dabney
Demonstrating Innovative Solutions – Joe Doetzer, ElderHomes
Encouraging Regional Collaboration – Regional Hospital Accompaniment Response Team
Improving Social Justice – Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities
Promoting Stronger Communities – ART 180

My second favorite day of the year is when the winners come together for a group photo, usually on a steamy August morning in the Wickham House garden. Often, they haven’t met one another, and we haven’t met them. Everyone is a little nervous, but the fantastic photographers from the Richmond Times-Dispatch always lighten up the mood. The final product is a beautiful ensemble photograph shot on the steps of a two hundred year old house. How’s that for the past meeting the future?

In early September, the honorees are announced in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and we begin officially accepting reservations for the awards ceremony, which occurs on the third Tuesday in October. The event is $40 per person and is held at the History Center, with heavy hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine, a dj, and lots of mingling. Decorations tend to be a little off the wall, and the museum exhibition galleries and the Wickham House are open for tours.

In seven years, we have yet to raise the ticket price, thanks to our community partners who generously underwrite our expenses. We simply could not do this without them. Two weeks prior to the big event, we host a small, intimate luncheon so that our honorees and partners can meet and chat in an informal setting before being asked to share a stage before 350 people. And then, two weeks later, we transform the museum parking lot into a huge party and the fun begins. What happens during those intervening two weeks? I couldn’t tell you. It’s a blur.

What I do know, however, is that the Richmond region is full of remarkable thinkers and doers, all of which are making history every day in ways large and small. Hard working and humble, most never expect to win an award. These are our History Makers. My colleagues and I couldn’t be prouder of this program and all of the winners we’ve honored over the years. The History Center is as much about people as it is about objects and buildings, and the History Makers program serves as a powerful reminder of our mission.

Please join us on October 18th at 5:30pm as we celebrate this year’s History Makers. On a personal note, this is my last year running this program, so I hope you’ll help me make it the very best.

Happy October,

Lesley Bruno  ⁄⁄   Director of Marketing and Public Relations